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Why Steph Curry is Still Underrated (Defensively)

Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Advanced stats tell how Steph Curry is actually one of the best defensive point guards in the NBA.

Steph Curry is undisputedly the best player in the NBA. He leads the league in almost every metric measuring a player’s value and efficiency (PER, value added, estimated wins added, RPM, VORP). He led the Golden State Warriors to the best record in NBA history. And he does things like this consistently:


His offensive talents are otherworldly; Steph is averaging 30 points per game on 50.4% shooting from the field and 45.4% from behind the three-point line. The Warriors averaged 114.9 ppg, almost five points better than the second ranked Oklahoma City Thunder. He made 402 three-pt field goals, obliterating his own record from last season by 116! All of this is while averaging only 34.2 minutes per game, good for 26th in the league. NBA-great Reggie Willer perfectly summed up Curry’s tremendous season last week with, “I don’t care if Steph was playing in the rec league or on the Dream Team, his accomplishments this year are mind-boggling and he should be the first unanimous MVP.”




Yet, Curry is still criminally underrated as a two-way stud whose contributions on the less glamorous side of the game rank him as one of the premier defensive guards in the entire NBA

Measuring in at a lanky 6’ 3” and 190 pounds with a subpar 6’ 3.5” wingspan, Curry looks nothing the part of a top-tier on-ball defender. ESPN’s player profile lists the following description about Curry, 

“Good defensive IQ and quick hands but suspect individual defender.” 

Following the Warriors 2014/2015 NBA championship winning season, in an interview with Yahoo Sports, Ty Lawson called out Curry for his defensive efforts in the playoffs, 

“I thought Steph was just chillin’ on defense – and then going crazy on offense. He looked like he was just putting shots up and not working so much on the defensive end. He would just come down and hit three or four 3s. He can shoot when he’s got his legs under him.”

	Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Warrior’s previous coach, Mark Jackson, used to hide Steph on defensive by putting him on the opponent’s least threatening shooter. When Steve Kerr was hired, he immediately recognized the need and ability for Curry to defend opposing point guards. In an interview with Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News, Kerr highlighted that wish with a quote from assistant coach Ron Adams. 

“Steph’s a lot better defensively than people know. He’s probably better than he knows. And we need to empower him and put him on more point guards and make him a more integral part of the defense.”

The Truth

When comparing his defensive stats to other top point guards in the NBA, Curry’s defensive impact shines even more. 

Name    DRPMSteals per gameOpponent field goal % differenceDefensive Win Shares
Steph Curry1.292.14-3.2%4.1
Kyrie Irving-2.851.1-0.7%1.7
Chris Paul2.122.052.0%3.5
Russell Westbrook0.892.041.6%4.0

Curry ranks fifth amongst all point guards with a defensive real plus-minus (DRPM) of 1.29, ahead of renowned lockdown defenders Marcus Smart and Patrick Beverly. He leads all guards in defensive win shares (10th in the entire NBA). He also comes in at fifth in opponent field goal % difference (among guards who have played more than 70 games), meaning that opponents shoot 3.2 percentage points worse from the field when guarded by Curry. He leads the NBA in steals per game.

These are not the numbers of a defensive liability; in fact, these are numbers that should be earning Curry some All-Defense votes. Curry doesn’t have the look of a lockdown defender due to his lack of size and athleticism, but he does possess a surprising amount of strength that enables him to use his great basketball IQ to block off an opponents path to the rim or jump a passing lane. 

Curry has great lateral quickness and fast hands to disrupt ball handlers, but his true defensive strength is his ability to hold his ground and force driving opponents into taking tough, contested, shots like this by placing his body in their path:



Courtesy: ESPN


It’s especially revealing when even the Warriors’ most hated opponent respects Curry’s progress on the defensive end. After a February game against the Warriors, LA Clippers head coach Doc Rivers explained the following:

“Curry, if he’s underrated in one area, it’s defensively. I think the old Curry two years ago, when we played them in the playoffs, you felt like in that series they didn’t put him on Chris much. (I found) out from different guys he wanted to be on him. People don’t talk about his defense. He gets his hands on the ball, he pokes the ball loose a lot. He’s a far better defender than (he gets credit for). So if you go into a game and that’s your game plan, you’re probably going to lose.”

Curry puts in the energy and effort, and now the stats show just how good of a defender he really is. Watch out, NBA; everyone knows Steph Curry is the best player in the league, but if people start to notice how good of a defender he actually is, they might as well just give him the next few MVP awards right now and not bother with the fuss.


Edited by John Ray, Jazmyn Brown.

SQuiz
Just like a former Finals opponent and future NBA Hall-of-famer, where was Stephen Curry born?
Created 4/17/16
  1. Akron, Ohio
  2. Charlotte, North Carolina
  3. San Francisco, California
  4. Miami, Florida

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