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Dissecting Stephen Curry’s Game

Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Want to play like Steph? There is a lot more to it than just that sweet, sweet stroke.

For the past year and half, it has been impossible to get away from Steph Curry. It seems like every story, every highlight, and every primetime game, even the ones not featuring the Warriors, has included at least a mention of the MVP. This is not unwarranted attention, either. Curry has been in blistering form, leading the Warriors to a championship and an NBA record 24-0 start, shattering  records along the way.

By now, fans have learned that there is more to Curry’s game than just his all-time great jumper, but what else makes him so potent?

Before I get into the more subtle details of Curry’s game, I have to recognize his shot for a moment. He is quickly on his way to breaking almost every three-point record. He’s on pace to destroy the record for three pointers made in a season, which he already holds. He hit 95 threes last postseason, 37 more than Reggie Miller‘s previous record of 58, and he accomplishes all of this volume shooting with high efficiency: 45.3% on the season and 44.3% for his career.

The quickness and versatility of Curry’s release allow him to maintain his volume and efficiency regardless of the defense. The Dellavedovas of the league can chase him and get in his chest all they want, but in reality, it doesn’t matter what the defense does. Curry will get his shots up, and he’ll make them at an elite clip.

It all starts with Curry’s jumper, but he has many other physical talents that make his game as unstoppable as it is.

The Awareness

Perhaps the most noticeable part of Curry’s game other than his jumper is his uncanny ability to know everything that’s happening on the court at once and seemingly what will happen next. He never seems to be surprised by a double-team, or caught off-guard at all for that matter.

Curry’s awareness comes to the forefront when he’s handling the ball. Whether he’s playing in isolation, managing the pick and roll, or catching the ball while flying off pin-downs, he is a master at reading the defenders. Of course, most of the time, a double comes his way and he expertly whips a pass to the free man, eventually leading to an open look. 

But the few times that he doesn’t get double covered, he is always queued onto his defender’s movements. He will often slip out of a pull-up at the last second, but only after hesitating just enough that he knows the defender will jump out of his shoes expecting a jumper to contest. It isn’t enough that Curry has a deadly jumper. The fact that he tantalizes his defenders into committing to either jumping at the shot or shifting their weight back to guard the drive is what gives him the upper hand during almost every possession.

The Hands

The most common hands-related phrase is that a guy has “the ball on a string.” Regardless of the colloquialism used to describe him, some of the things Curry does have to be attributed to his remarkable hands.

By now, everyone has seen Curry’s pregame dribbling show. Part of his prowess here is due to hours of repetition, but much of it is a result of his natural touch and coordination. You can see it when he dribbles around defenders, when he catches and throws passes with one hand, and even when he just casually brings the ball up the court. 

This helps Curry on that deadly jumper, as well as on all of his nifty finger rolls, floaters, and layups with the english. He has this way of massaging the ball into the perfect position to make a basket. He never seems to lose it or get stripped, and always seems to come up with all of those loose dribbles, whether it’s a steal or just hanging on to a Warriors fumble. Whereas other guys often jar these loose ones away with strength, Curry seems to find the ball and control it before anyone else can get a handle on it.

Curry’s elite steal and rebounding numbers are also partially products of his hands, as well as his timing and awareness. Right now, he is swiping the ball from opponents 2.2 times per game and pulling down 5.3 boards. Whenever Steph gets one of his paws on the ball, it’s his, which is a concept usually reserved for dominant big men with massive hands and muscles.

The Float”

I’m going to make a really strange comparison here, but hear me out. Curry does it in his own unique way, but one player in the NBA who does something similar is Paul Millsap. Both guys do a nifty “float” when they get into the lane, making them elite finishers around the rim, despite their size. Here are examples of each players making these acrobatic finishes just to clue you in on what I’m trying to describe.

The key to the float is the ability to finish on the way down, which maximizes hangtime and allows players to avoid defenders and slip the ball into the basket. Another crucial aspect of the float is that instead of jumping straight up and toward the rim, the player just gets in the paint and then jumps away from the defender, only shooting once they’ve gotten airspace and are about to touch the ground. Steph has gotten pretty darn good at this style of finishing, and it is one of the major causes of his seemingly anomalous 64.7% shooting inside five feet. 

The float embodies a unique style of athleticism that often allows a player, like Curry or Millsap, to become an elite finisher. In fact, the best finishers of all time usually combine brute strength and traditional athleticism with the float. Some of Michael Jordan‘s most famous plays, including his legendary shot against the Cavs in 1989, incorporated the float. 

Jordan was such an elite athlete that he actually was able to extend the float to a jumper. In this classic, the defender, Craig Ehlo, contests perfectly, but Jordan simply waits in the air for him to fly by, and then hits the game winner on the way down.

The Fear

This doesn’t refer to any fear held by Curry, because that would just be weird. Instead, it is all about the fear that he instills in his defenders, specifically off-ball defenders. I mentioned earlier that Curry often gets doubled, mainly because people fear his jumper. Opposing teams have begun to take this way too far in many cases, and it’s allowing Curry to shred their defenses.

The fear is almost entirely a result of Curry’s jumper and usually happens in transition. Basically, multiple defenders will flock to Steph even though someone is already defending him. 

Why is no one guarding Barbosa? Spencer Dinwiddie (number eight) is already closing out to Curry, but Cartier Martin (number 35) still ignores a wide open Barbosa, who is clearly his responsibility, in order to also close out. Then Curry’s awareness and hands kick in, and he whips a sweet behind the back pass to Barbosa, who drains the three.

These poor judgement calls that are made solely because of a deathly fear of Curry’s jumper are starting to proliferate among NBA defenses, which is one of the major causes of the Warriors’ (not just Curry’s) offensive explosion this season. As Curry continues to hit threes of every type and the media continues to hype him up, defenders will start to do this even more. 

In a game against the Warriors this weekend, Steven Adams made the egregious errorof leaving someone wide open, thanks to Curry. Chef had already been picked up in transition, and yet Adams decided to completely ignore a rim-running Speights in order to jump out at Curry as a second defender. Curry easily found Speights for the wide-open, child-playing-in-the-driveway layup, despite the fact that the Thunder had multiple men back in transition. The fear is real.

Edited by Joe Sparacio, Jacob Greenberg.

Where did Steph Curry go to college?
Created 2/9/16
  1. Davidson
  2. UNC
  3. Duke
  4. Virginia Tech

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