Curry and Lee Among NBA’s Best
If asked to pick which point guard and power forward tandem is the best in the league, without blinking my answer would immediately be Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. The response isn’t necessarily based on an incredible amount of statistical data, but rather the eye test.
It’s worth noting that the eye test can occasionally be misleading and quite frankly, completely wrong but it’s still in this instance a rather strong opinion that I firmly believe to be true.
Paul and Griffin beat out the likes of Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, Mike Conley and Zach Randolph, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka to name a few.
The efficiency as well as synergy that CP3 and BG display as a lead guard and big forward tandem is simply second to none. Whether it’s the pick-and-roll, the pick-and-pop, the post up ability of Griffin or Paul’s uncanny ability to breakdown defenders off the dribble, the pair is not just dominant, but it’s also exciting.
But if we are to say that the Clippers top two players are the best guard and power forward combo in the league, which pair in the NBA today could potentially match or even one day surpass them?
There are two tandems that come to mind, and they will both share the same court tonight at Oracle Arena.
Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge have been very good this year and the pair has the possibility of improving and becoming much better in coming seasons.
Lillard is a scoring point guard with a lethal long-range jumper that makes defenders cringe whenever they choose to go underneath a ball screen when he is involved. Aldridge on the other hand is a physical post presence that thrives on bullying smaller power forwards on the block but also loves to beat opposing teams with his silky midrange jumper.
Put Lillard and Aldridge on the court, and they are a dangerous one-two punch offensively given their scoring prowess. Considering that Lillard is still a rookie, it stands to reason that both he and the Texas product have a lot to learn about how to play off each other’s strengths.
The dynamic between both players is good, but not as of yet great. Aldridge is good at catching and finishing while Lillard is much more comfortable creating scoring plays for himself, but is slowly developing into a top shelf point guard capable of understanding defenses and anticipating coverage and rotations. Once he and LMA figure that out together, sky’s the limit.
The second group with the potential to match the Lob City crew is the pairing of Stephen Curry and David Lee.
They are much more advanced than the Trail Blazers’ tandem but aren’t that far off from the Clippers.
Offensively, Curry and Lee play extremely well off each other, understanding when and how to be the release option for a stranded teammate.
For instance, when teams blitz Curry in the pick-and-roll, Lee immediately stations himself around the top of the circle where the Davidson product can see him and find him with an easy pass. From then on, Lee has the option to take the jumper, drive to the hoop or dish off to a cutter.
In the same breath, if Lee catches the ball in the post and a defender cheats by trying to help and recover, Curry usually does a great job of running to the one open spot in the line of sight of his power forward to receive a pass for an open look from 3-point range.
In addition, they are a great pair in the pick-and-roll, as Curry routinely finds him when they run it or gets himself an open shot. Also, Lee doesn’t just pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop, he dives hard to the hoop which typically sucks in defenders and allows Curry to find other notable options such as Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson floating on the perimeter for open shots.
Their chemistry on the court coupled with their production is the number one reason why they are the Golden State Warriors’ most used two-man unit, playing 1,170 minutes together this season per NBA.com.
When Curry and Lee share the court together, the Warriors produce 101.9 points and 23.9 assists per 48 minutes on 46.6 percent field goal shooting according to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool.
The group is quite deadly and gives defenses fits. But again, they still aren’t quite up to the levels of the Clips, whose unit produces 104.1 points and 25.2 assists per 48 minutes on 48.4 percent field goal shooting.
Also, not only does the Warriors’ group fall short of the Clippers’ offensively but it’s the case as well on the defensive side of the ball.
The eye test reveals that Paul is an incredibly pesky defender that reroutes ball handlers and forces them into uncomfortable situations when matched up one-on-one. He jumps on them and forces opposing guards to make quick decisions with the ball, typically accelerating their thought process, which leads them into some precarious situations. He and Griffin have also slowly developed great defensive chemistry, sensing when to blitz ball handlers or even trap them every now and then in the backcourt all the while playing big to cut off the passing lanes and force turnovers.
David Lee has been a notoriously poor defender early in his career and Stephen Curry has had his issues on this front as well; however both have improved this season to the point that Golden State owns the ninth best defensive efficiency in the NBA.
Curry has been better at forcing defenders to one side defensively, while Lee’s defensive rotations have been a bit crisper this season in comparison to others.
NBA.com’s advanced stats tool reveals that when both are on the floor, the Dubs yield 98 points and force 13.4 turnovers per 48 minutes on 44.1 percent field goal shooting. The Clippers’ pair on the other hand allows 94.7 points and force 16.4 miscues per 48 minutes on 45.2 percent field goal shooting.
Putting Stephen Curry and David Lee in the same sentence as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin would have been laughable last season, but the group has narrowed the gap to some extent and could potentially be the best point guard and power forward combination in the league in the near future.
Before they do that though, they’ll need to fight off the Portland Trail Blazers’ combo tonight.
Statistical support provided by NBA.com.
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