OAKLAND — Stephen Curry didn’t have a great game Wednesday.
Not by his standards, at least. It was solid, but hardly spectacular.
And Curry hasn’t had a “Steph Game” all year, either — one of those dizzying affairs where Curry seemingly can’t miss for large swaths of time and opponents turn to dust in the presence of his hot hand. You know, a Steph Game.
No, Curry isn’t at his best right now — his shots aren’t falling the way he wants them to, he’s turning the ball over a bit more often than usual, and he’s fouling a bit much for everybody’s liking.
There’s room for improvement, and he’s the first to admit it.
But Wednesday’s Warriors win, without Kevin Durant in the lineup, was indicative of just how influential Curry has been to Golden State this season.
Draymond Green disagrees with this point, but Wednesday’s game showed that Curry’s influence on the Warriors is peaking.
In many people’s viewpoint, Curry has never affected games quite like he has this year, even if his play is a bit off.
Defenses, simply put, still have no idea what to do with him. His on-court gravity — another unquantifiable factor — is otherworldly, and that’s creating opportunities for his teammates to score. Even though he has personally played better, the threat of Curry has never been greater.
And his defense has been good this year, too.
He’s a presence on both sides of the court and it’s reaping huge benefits for the Warriors, who have won five consecutive games, all by blowout margins.
Has the start to this season been the best 12-game stretch of Curry’s career? No. But if his play at the start of the season is the baseline for his performance through the 2017-18 season, Curry is well on his way to his third MVP award.
Green took umbrage with the “peaking” statement Wednesday, but Steve Kerr tacitly agrees with this assessment of Curry’s current state of play and his impact on the Warriors: “We marvel at what he does every single night. Part of the package with Steph is that he’s so fluid and loose, which makes him great, but it also means some games he’ll just throw the ball to the other team,” Kerr said after Wednesday’s game. “You’re like ‘what is that?’ and he comes to the sidelines and is like ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’, but what he does, in every area — defensively and offensively — is just so forceful that you live with a few turnovers.
Loose, but forceful.
To someone who has never seen Curry play, that description would be paradoxical, but it perfectly describes Curry’s influence on a game.
“It’s just stunning, really, the impact that he makes — I’ve never seen anything like it,” Kerr said.
Now would be a good time to remind you that Kerr played alongside Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan and played against Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. He’s been in the same organization as Steve Nash and he’s had to devise schemes to stop LeBron James, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook.
He’s pretty familiar with greatness.
“There’s obviously been so many great players in this league, who have dominated,” Kerr said. “I’ve never seen anybody put that much pressure on the defense 35 feet from the hoop, generate the spacing, the pace, and the chaos that ensues defensively once he goes to the rim.”
“Everything we do starts with Steph, and he’s brilliant.”
But that’s merely anecdotal evidence. What do the stats say?
The box-score numbers Curry is putting up through 12 games this year are, on their own, MVP-worthy — 25 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 6.5 assists per game on 47 percent shooting — but it’s the point guard’s jaw-dropping advanced numbers that highlight how much of a positive impact he’s made for the Warriors so far this season.
Curry was a plus-16 Wednesday night — that means the Warriors outscored the Timberwolves by 16 points when Curry was on the floor — which is an excellent number, but rather pedestrian compared to some of the other plus-minus efforts Curry has posted this year.
For instance, Curry was plus-44 last weekend against the Nuggets and plus-25 against the Heat on Monday.
In those games, Curry scored 22 and 16 points, respectively. The Warriors are blowing out teams when Curry is on the court this season, but he isn’t necessarily the one putting the ball through the hoop. He’s dominant, but not domineering — how many other great players can you say that about?
It, of course, helps to have great teammates, as Curry does, but no matter who is on the court with him, Curry is helping the Warriors thrive.
As such, Curry on pace to have the most impactful season of his career and perhaps the most influential season in the NBA’s modern era.
Curry is averaging a plus-14.5 performance per game through 12 contests this year — that number holds (only 70 games to go!), it’d be the best mark in the past 20 years (as far as NBA.com stats go back on this number).
Also, when Curry is on the court, the Warriors average 1.22 points per offensive possession — an insane number — and his net rating (that’s the difference between his offensive rating (122.3) and defensive rating) is 22.7.
If that latter number holds, it’d also be a modern-day record.
Again, there’s a long way to go, but there’s no indication this kind of impact shouldn’t be expected nightly this season. In fact, those numbers could improve alongside Curry’s box-score numbers.
Wednesday night’s game served a perfect case study for Curry’s influence on the Warriors this season. It confirmed that Golden State goes as he goes.
With Durant resting, Curry was once again the primary scoring option for the Warriors (or at least the sole alpha), and as he struggled in the first half, the Warriors struggled, too.
Curry’s box-score numbers were fine in the first — he had 14 first-half points — but he was playing sloppy basketball, turning the ball over four times, and the Warriors looked out of it in turn.
But when Curry stopped turning the ball over — it really wasn’t any more complicated than that — in the second half, the Warriors looked more like themselves and pulled away from a solid, but overmatched (even with Durant out) Minnesota team. Curry had eight points as part of the Warriors’ rout, and he failed to make a 3-pointer in the second half, but he did have six assists and five rebounds and was a plus-18 in the third quarter. The Warriors scored 44 points in that third frame and Curry sat out the fourth quarter, as the game was well in hand.
Perhaps the best is yet to come for Curry — maybe the box score numbers will improve, he’ll get back to shooting 50 percent from the floor and 40 percent from behind the arc, and his fouls and turnovers will decrease — but whether he is “peaking” or not, few can argue that Curry has re-established himself as the best player on the league’s best team and that his impact and influence on this Golden State squad is immense and downright historic.