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And then there's Warriors point guard Stephen Curry, who doesn't need anyone's help to find room to get off a shot
For anyone else, they would have been bad shots. Really bad shots.
Steph Curry is different, though. During the Warriors' six-game first-round victory over the Nuggets, the 6'3" point guard appeared to be engaged in one very long, extremely thorough heat check. He fired step-back jumpers, pull-up jumpers, one-foot running jumpers, step-into-it 31-foot jumpers, one-dribble-reposition jumpers, over-the-double-team jumpers and at least half a dozen holy-hell-did-he-just-shoot-that? jumpers. And those are the ones he made. By my count, of the 51 baskets Curry hit in the series, 41 came off the dribble.
If the Mike Millers and Danny Greens of the NBA are Floor Spacers, sentries arrayed around the arc to create room for their team's stars to operate, Curry is a different breed. He creates his own space, but he also thrives in the absence of it. Against Denver he saw constant double teams designed to make someone else—anyone else—on Golden State shoot. His father, Dell, once an NBA sharpshooter himself, called Steph during the series and told him to be patient but attack hard when the opportunity arose. His coach, Mark Jackson, reminded him during a Game 6 timeout that he was the best player on the floor and needed to keep firing. "I wasn't worried," Curry said last Saturday, as the team prepared to board its flight to San Antonio for the second round. "But it was a message I needed to hear."
So Curry adapted by shooting more quickly, and from even more unlikely angles. He tried to get into a rhythm by taking pull-up threes—"one of my strengths all season"—before the defense could set. Most of all, he trusted his jumper, the one he honed playing backyard games in Charlotte, first against Dell and then against his younger brother, Duke guard Seth. The same jumper that, ironically, used to be easy to block because Steph heaved it from down by his hip. (Dell forced him to reconstruct his form after his sophomore year at Charlotte Christian High, bringing the ball up over his head.)
The resulting shots, lifted from a fever-dream game of 21, are the type teams generally encourage opponents to take. (Every off-balance Brandon Jennings three, for example, is a little gift to defenses.) For Curry they are part of his standard repertoire. Consider: Most elite shooters need help to score. Curry's backcourt mate Klay Thompson, a traditional Spacer, was assisted on 83.3% of his baskets this year. For Knicks forward Steve Novak, it was more than 90%. Even Kevin Durant, another space-creating shooter, was assisted on over half. Curry? He scored 59.1% of his buckets on his own this season. "It's ridiculous the types of shots he makes in games," says Jarret Jack, the Warriors' sixth man. "And each time he hits one, it only helps the rest of us."
Indeed. Because Curry is the primary ballhandler—he averaged 9.3 assists against the Nuggets—Golden State can essentially use him to create for other Spacers. For to leave Curry open behind the line, unattended and feet set, is to invite death-by-three-ball. "Oh, I'd love to be one of those spacer guys," Curry says. A good approximation of how this might look is a drill the Warriors guards do, in which they take threes at various spots around the arc until they miss two in a row. Curry's high? Seventy-six.