Stephen Curry – Addition through Subtraction

Steph Curry steadied into a rhythm dribble as a nervous hush fell over Chesapeake Arena. The clock ticked down on an overtime thriller between two of the NBA’s best, but Curry was about to add another chapter to the masterpiece. A mere handful of steps over the half-court line, Curry flung an incredible dagger into the Oklahoma sky as the ball ripped the nylon and Thunder hearts. Curry was left in sheer jubilation as commentators searched for the words to do justice to the incredible feat.

It was simply another highlight on the crazy ride that was Curry’s 2015/16 unanimous MVP campaign. In arguably the greatest shooting season of all time, Curry put up absurd percentages from all over the court. However, it was his long-range shooting ability that became his trademark.

Time and time again Curry would unleash a three-point barrage from uncharted territory on a basketball court. He stretched defenses to breaking point with his unmatched gravity and left entire stadiums in silence with his breathtaking shooting displays.

It’s almost two years since Curry’s signature game-winner against the Thunder and while Steph is still Steph, there is a noticeable difference to the now two-time MVP.

Familiarity has become Curry’s main nemesis.

The shock and awe of Curry’s exploits have become expected. He has set the bar so high that even incredible performances can pale into a shrugged shoulder and ‘yeah that’s Steph for you’ tagline.

After a slight drop in his numbers last year, largely due to the acclimatisation of Kevin Durant, Curry is producing another MVP caliber season.

Curry’s game and success is still predominantly based around his three-point wizardry. He leads the league in three-pointers made per game, while connecting on over 43% of his attempts. Since his return from the scary ankle injury that saw him sidelined for 11 games, Curry has connected on over 50% of his attempts from beyond the arc.

He is still the same lethal gun-slinger, but Curry has added a new weapon to his arsenal. Or to be more specific, he has added another layer to his game, by taking away one of his trademark moves.

Curry spent most of his unanimous MVP season re-writing the definition of bad shot selection. The lasers that Curry would fire from unguardable distances were terrible shots for every other player in the NBA.

On attempts from 30 feet and beyond, Curry shot 21-of-45 or just under 47%. That same season (2015-16) the rest of the league combined to make just 13% of those shots, even after you subtract the desperation heaves from outside of 35 feet. Nobody else in the league made more than three shots from 30 feet or beyond that season.

Not only was he lethal when he was set from beyond the arc, but Curry made over 50% of his pull-up triples in transition. He connected on 39-of-73 of the head-scratching threes that generally put the final touches on a devastating Warriors run.

Enter Stephen Curry – 2.0.

After a humbling campaign from beyond 30 feet last season, shooting just 13 of 54 (24%) on such attempts, Curry has almost entirely cut out the long-range bomb from his seemingly endless shot wheelhouse.

This season he is on pace to finish with roughly a third as many attempts from 30 feet or beyond than in his unanimous MVP campaign. More than twenty players sit above Curry when it comes to 30 plus footers attempted, in fact, Curry made more of the outrageous shots in three separate games in 2015/16 than in the entire season so far.

The steady diet of pull-up threes has also waned off, as Curry is on pace to take just 30 triples on the fast-break, compared to 73 two seasons ago.

The result of this shot selection shift has been profound. Curry has managed to use the unparalleled magnetism he still possesses to create opportunities in the mid-range and around the basket.

Put simply, Curry has become less breathtaking, but more efficient.

Curry leads the league in true shooting percentage (67.2%), which is ridiculous for a point-guard who takes over ten threes per game.

He is having a career year from inside the arc, tied with Karl Anthony Towns in seventh spot for two-point percentage in the league. The six players above him combine for an average height of 6-foot-10, while Curry is challenging the leagues tall-timber at 6-foot-3.

Curry is shooting 91% from the line and is getting to the charity stripe at a career-high rate. Prior to this season, Curry was averaging one free-throw for every 4.3 shot attempts. This season that number has nose-dived to one free-throw for every 2.6 shot attempts.

All of this and Curry is shooting 49% from the field (second highest mark of career), averaging 6.5 assists, grabbing 1.7 steals per contest and is putting up 28.1 points per game as he leads the Warriors to the best record in the NBA.

Curry is still legitimately in the MVP discussion, which considering he has missed 14 games this season through injury, highlights the magnitude of the campaign he is piecing together.

Curry is still the same dynamic scorer who can break a team’s back with a pull-up triple from the locker-room.

But he has refined his game and maximised his output through the threat of his shooting prowess.

Curry has used his unanimous MVP season to evolve into the player he is now.

In a scary proposition for the league, this may be the best version of Curry we have ever witnessed.

The version that is just as deadly from 10 feet as from 30. The one who might not dominate the highlight reel on a nightly basis, but is steering his team towards a fourth straight Finals appearance.

Less breathtaking, but more complete.

Addition through subtraction.

Curry, Comebacks and Capitulations: What the season has taught us so far

The 2015-2016 NBA season is heating up. The groundwork has been set as team’s jostle for position in the push for the playoffs. This is where the talking ceases and the action commences, where the true stars stand up and the real questions are answered.

However, before looking forward to what lies ahead, lets look back at what we have learnt so far.

The East is not a one horse race

As of the All-Star break LeBron and his Cavaliers hold the best record in the East and after a rocky start, appear to be rolling under new coach Tyronn Lue. However, the race for top seeding in the East is far from over.

The Toronto Raptors enter the All-Star break with the fifth best record in the NBA and are nipping at the heels of the Cavs.

After falling meekly away last post-season the Raptors have bounced back in superb fashion. Their All-Star point guard, Kyle Lowry, lost several kilos over the off-season and is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, steals and three-point percentage.

Together with DeRozen, who himself is arguably having a career best year, they form an imposing backcourt.

Couple the dynamic duo with role players, Valanciunas, Joesph, Scola and Biyombo and Dwayne Casey has an impressive squad to work with.

The real test for the Raptors awaits in the playoffs, but their current form suggests they will embrace the challenge.

Cleveland, sleep with one eye open. The North is coming.

The Spurs are rolling, but can they beat Golden State?

The Spurs sit with a 45-8 record at the All-Star break, which would be receiving significantly more recognition if it wasn’t for the Warriors record.

While Golden State have been beating teams, the Spurs have been blowing them out. They hold an average winning margin of 13.26 points (Warriors are second at 12.50). They have handed out 20 plus point defeats to 18 of their 53 opponents so far.

However, when the pair met in the much anticipation January clash the Spurs were dismantled by the Warriors. Tony Parker had no answer for Curry, forcing Popovich to switch Kawhi onto him, which didn’t seem to bother him either.

Forgetting the Curry influence, the Warriors pace is the main issue the Spurs face. With their small-ball lineup checked in, the Warriors force teams out of their comfort zones and into Golden States with pure break-neck speed.

The Spurs offensive game is not built to operate at the Warriors speed and the shift saw the Spurs commit 25 turnovers for the game, while also restricting Popovich’s men to 41.9% shooting from the field.

The Spurs will meet the Warriors at least three more times this season, possibly ten if they clash in the playoffs. The first meeting failed to expose a chink in the Warriors armour, but if anyone can crack Golden State it will likely be Popovich and his Spurs.

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Houston, we have a problem

The Rockets know how to play defense. They showed it last season when they ranked 8th in the NBA for defensive rating. At the All-Star break this season, their defensive rating has plummeted to 24th in the association.

They currently sit a hair below .500, with a 27-28 record. Howard wants out, Harden wants to shoot every possession (Harden leads the league in isolation plays with a frequency of 26.9%) and interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff called them a “broken team”.

In case you had forgotten, this is the same team that made the Western Conference Finals last season. The same team that came back from 1-3 down to crush the Clippers playoffs chances.

If the Rockets want any chance of salvaging their season they must find their defensive edge once again and learn to play as a team, not a one-man show.

Warriors are the team to beat

The new season started as the old ended. Golden State wiping the floor with everyone in their path.

With Curry firing on all cylinders the Warriors hit the ground running, smashing the 15-0 record start by the 1948-49 Washington Capitols and 1993-94 Houston Rockets. Their historic run would eventually be undone by the Bucks, breaking the streak at 24 straight wins.

The Warriors enter the All-Star break with a win percentage of .923, the best in NBA history. They have answered every question thrown at them, risen to every challenge. After years of mediocrity they are now the hunted, and the hunters will throw everything at the reigning champs.

Whether they can beat the 95-96 Bulls regular season record (72-10) is still to be seen, but it would mean little if they can’t defend their title come June. The only pass mark for this team is a championship and it would be a brave man to bet against Curry and the Warriors.

Paul George is back 

August 1st, 2014. With just over nine minutes left in the Team USA scrimmage Paul George gives chase to Harden in a desperate bid to stop the fast-break. In a matter of seconds, Georges career and the Pacers season were turned upside down.

After his horrific leg injury, many believed that George would struggle to reach his All-Star level upon return. After finding his feet at the end of last season, George has proven his doubters wrong, enjoying an impressive season to date.

In November, George was named Player of the Month, averaged 29.5 points and 8 rebounds, along with shooting 49% from three and 48% from the field.

While George’s numbers have fallen slightly as the season progresses, he is still averaging 23 points, 7 rebounds and 42% shooting from the field. Couple that with an All-Star appearance and Paul George is officially back.

Porzingis has a bright future ahead

Kristaps Porzingis’ NBA career began to the sound of boos, however in a matter of months the 7’3” Latvian has turned them into cheers.

Porzingis was controversially selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2015 Draft. Many felt that he was a project player and not the savior the Knicks desperately wanted and needed.

Through his first fifty-four games Porzingis is averaging 13.9 points, 7.7 boards and 1.9 blocks (the most of any first-year player). He is shooting 43% from the field and 35% from deep, which is freakishly good for a first-year player standing at 7’3”.

While rumours continue to swirl around Carmelo’s uncertain future in New York, Knicks fans finally have an emerging talent to get excited about.

Durant called him a unicorn, the fans have coined him Porzingod. Whatever you call him, Porzingis has the potential to dominate for years to come and drag the Knicks back into title contention.

The MVP is Steph’s to lose

As of the All-Star break the only person who can stop Steph Curry defending his MVP crown is himself.

While many are hesitant to dethrone LeBron, Curry’s mind-blowing play is turning doubters into believers on a nightly basis.

He may not possess the defensive ability of a LeBron or Kawhi, but what he lacks on the defensive end he makes up for with an endless supply of crushing offensive displays.

The stats speak for themselves, through fifty games Curry averages 29.8 points, 6.6 assists, 2.1 steals, 51% shooting from the field and 45% shooting from beyond the arc.

He is on pace to shatter his record 286 threes he set last year, currently sitting on 245 made threes at the All-Star break.

All of that, while sitting out 14 fourth quarters and averaging only 33.8 minutes per game, which is the lowest minute’s average of the top ten scoring leaders.

Curry’s ridiculous stats are endless, but what truly makes him great are the intangibles he carries.

Nothing breaks an oppositions heart like a three-point barrage, which Curry delivers on a nightly basis. He rips games to shreds in the first half and has defenders on edge the second he crosses half-court.

Steph isn’t just taking over the league, he’s humiliating it. And for a 6’3”, lightly-framed point guard, that’s something to behold.