Stephen Curry: Space Guard
Stephen Curry did not have the best game against a Miami Heat team wholly consumed with stopping him. When Miami fixes on a guard of questionable athleticism, it triggers what little sympathy I have. LeBron is so frighteningly large, fast, and crouched.
Yes, crouched. James is a human being, but by crouching during speedy movements, he achieves the appearance of monsterdom. Humans do not get low and skitter towards their prey like giant decapods. Running is graceful, walking is normal, the defensive stance is something an exorcist might encounter.
And when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers are all possessed by the same demon, with the same “get Curry” goal, I shudder while recalling what they did to Jeremy Lin. Suddenly, Jim Barnett’s voice morphs into David Attenborough’s, narrating the demise of some helpless, feeble woodland creature. Stephen Curry does not stand a chance.
Except, Miami’s aggression is really less opportunism than fear itself. They’re trying to mitigate Stephen Curry before he gets them. Steph’s three point shot frightens the Heat so much that they’re willing to compromise and make concessions in an effort to stop it.
This is why I’ve argued against the many Warriors fans (and writers) who carp on how Stephen Curry isn’t a “true” point guard and how that’s some giant problem we all need worry about. I reject this idea that if some short guy isn’t controlling the ball and passing to everybody at an elite level, your team has a significant deficiency. Stephen Curry is an above average passer and an excellent shooter. The latter quality also gets his teammates open, thus compensating for whatever deficiencies he may have as a distributor.
Though Curry had a bad game against the Heat, their fixation on him allowed space for everyone else. I call this trap into evidence:
The Heat took to swarming Stephen Curry when he caught it off the screen. The tactic briefly worked in this instance. Steph fumbled the ball, got a bit lost. When he recovered, the possession swung in GSW’s favor. David Lee was so open due to the double team that once Curry found him with a feeble pass, Lee had plenty of room to hit Klay Thompson for an in-rhythm three pointer. Thompson missed, but the look was great.
Here, I have a slide of another play, wherein Klay Thompson takes Mario Chalmers off the dribble for a layup. As Klay drives, LeBron James elects not to collapse towards the paint, even turning his head towards Curry in the corner as Thompson’s whooshing past. I don’t think this is bad defense by LeBron; I think this is what the scheme calls for:
It was like this for much of the night. Stephen Curry was getting people open, even when he wasn’t passing to open men. This certainly isn’t unique to Curry. Other feared shooters create room for teammates. I’m merely citing this to demonstrate that in today’s space conscious, legal defense NBA, the threat of a shot does the work of a pass.
Stephen Curry isn’t racking up assists like Mark Jackson once did? So what? The offense is better for his presence on the floor, which is all that really matters. Stephen Curry may not be a point guard and he may not be an off-guard. He’s a space guard–someone who can dribble, pass, and shoot, with the latter skill exceeding the others.
“Combo guard” has long been a pejorative term to describe PG-sized gunners who can’t see the floor. This broad-based definition does little to credit guys like Jason Terry and Steph Curry who terrorize defenses with quick-release shooting. The space guard might not be Isiah Thomas incarnate, but he doesn’t need to be. His teammates are getting easy shots, just the same.