If Ty Lawson is to play a lot, Denver will have to hide him defensively. Though quick and sturdy, his slight height and sluggish closeouts make for quite a Nuggets vulnerability against Stephen Curry. This matchup is more than a problem for Denver, similar to how Bogut’s pained, slow, feet mean more than a problem for the Warriors at altitude.
After studying the four regular season games between these two teams, I surmise that Curry shoots over Lawson like he isn’t there. Steph is used to skying his jumpers over taller opponents, so it’s no surprise that a Lawson closeout barely registers as a concern.
I get the sense that, even if Ty Lawson were duct-taped to Curry, Steph would still shoot it cleanly. Example:
Hand down, man down, whatever that means.
Lawson forces Curry into a pump fake, but then Curry remembers that he doesn’t care about Ty’s outstretched arms.
Steph only averaged 6.0 three-point attempts in his games against the Nuggets, but he hit 66.7% of his tries. All four games came before the All-Star break, before Curry dramatically expanded his three-point shot volume. I’m not sure how Denver goes about quelling him with Lawson on the floor. Even if Iguodala takes the challenge and guards Curry, Golden State can get Lawson involved in a 1-2 pick-and-roll with Klay Thompson. Also, if Lawson’s guarding Thompson, that opens up a whole new host of problems for the Nuggets. Not only can Klay shoot over Ty, he can post him into paste. Whenever Lawson can’t hide on Jarrett Jack, Denver’s defense is dicey.
The Nuggets do have many options for defending perimeter players, which has something to do with their frequent switching on defense. Wilson Chandler, Evan Fournier, Corey Brewer, Andre Miller and Iggy can all guard guys like Thompson and Curry if need be. Options, it should be noted, do not necessarily equal good options. Brewer made Steph work in the season series, but Miller got lost a lot off the ball and in transition. So long as Denver has a point guard on the floor, they have a liability against this heavy-screening, three-point shooting offense.
Note: While I believe that point guard defense tends to be less important than say, big man defense, Curry’s offensive style challenges this notion in the specific. Big guys are less crucial to defending a player who does much of his damage on off-the-dribble threes, so guard D becomes paramount. Related to that, good defensive guards are not guaranteed to have success against Curry’s odd, inverted style. I’ve seen terrible defensive players do well on Steph and seen great defensive players struggle. If you’ve spent years sharpening your ability to stay in front of athletic slashers, you’ve done very little to prepare for what Curry does.
This is the opening for the Warriors. They’re the most accurate three-point shooting team and they’re facing one of the worst three-point defenses (It should be noted that the Warriors also have a shaky three-point D themselves, but the Nuggets aren’t especially adept at shooting). Before the All-Star break, Curry averaged 6.9 three-point attempts. After it, that number jumped to 8.9. If Steph applies his beautifully selfish latter season approach to Ty Lawson and company, the Dubs are half way to an upset. George Karl has some fraught decisions ahead.