The Week That Was:
Things went largely to form despite the strangeness of the circumstances. The week started with a solid little win in Detroit without David Lee due to his nasty bout with the flu. The bench did a nice job with enhanced duties, playing a larger role particularly in terms of scoring.
After that, the team got stomped by the Bulls and did the stomping on the Knicks. Those games showed the importance of coaching as Chicago continues to play undermanned but battled with the resolve and effort necessary to overcome those setbacks while the Knickerbockers cannot play cohesive defense despite their talent and relative health. In combination, these games should serve as a stark reminder to fans and the organization alike of the importance of effort during the doldrums of an NBA season. Bringing it every night like the Bulls do will be necessary to fight off the other teams gunning for seeds and spots in the West.
Sunday afternoon’s game against the Raptors ended up being settled in the last three minutes and Steph was unable to carry the rest of the team to a big road win. Taken in conjunction with the loss in Chicago and the upcoming game against the Pacers, the Warriors are unlikely to do any better than .500 on the road trip. While not disastrous by any means, a 3-3 trip will not allow the team to breathe any easier in the Western Conference playoff chase.
The Soapbox: Stephen Curry’s Place in the MVP Discussion
Watching Stephen Curry almost give the Warriors a win against a quality opponent by himself got me thinking about his place in the MVP conversation. To be absolutely and unambiguously clear, I am not talking about the #1 or #2 spots on that list- those are spoken for. Rather, he has earned a place in the next tier down of players potentially on the ballot but not deserving of winning the award.
Most of you have likely heard the stat about Curry’s importance to the offense but one more time should not hurt. Via nbawowy.com, Golden State has scored 1.116 points per possession with Curry on the floor, a better rate than any team (over full games) in the entire league. In fact, the margin between that number and Miami’s first place mark is almost the same as the gap between Golden State’s full game offense and Detroit’s. When Curry sits, the Warriors have scored 0.924 points per possession, meaningfully worse than any franchise’s full game figure. The margin between the non-Curry Dubs and the Sixers’ last place team is similar to the one separating the Dubs’ full game offense and Houston’s at #5, pretty sizeable. The difference has been simply remarkable.
You also see the offensive impact in how other players perform. Of the guys who have played meaningful time with and without Curry, only David Lee has been even slightly better offensively playing without the Baby-Faced Assassin. Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green’s numbers plummet without Steph, though this disparity may get lessen with the addition of Steve Blake.
Astonishingly, this season even the defense has been stingier with Curry playing. Granted, this could be explained by the fact that Bogut plays a vast majority of his minutes with Curry (almost 90 percent) and Iguodala to a lesser degree but it is still interesting because while his back-ups often killed the offense, most of them were pretty solid defenders. While not a big enough factor at present to be a serious part of the argument, the difference is still interesting and worth following.
If you like PER, Steph sits in tenth among players with 40+ games and seventh in the related Estimated Wins Added that factors in time on the floor. If you prefer Win Shares, Curry sits at fifth in WS/48 and fourth in overall Win Shares. Excluding the two guys at the top of the MVP pyramid, only Kevin Love trumps Curry in all four of these measures and his team looks likely to miss the playoffs. In fact, three of the six players in front of Curry in EWA and four of the nine in PER will not play in the post-season even if Dallas makes it.
One last amazing stat: Curry is fifth in the entire league in points created by assist per game (20.0) AND seventh in scoring. He directly accounts for 44.1 points per game so far in 2013-14.
For those less into the numbers of it all, one thing that makes Curry special is that he has the twin duties of being the lead scorer and the primary distributor on a likely playoff team. That kind of responsibility clearly shows his value since few teams rely so heavily on any one player on either end of the floor. While the Warriors have other talented offensive players, most of them are dependent talents who are better at maximizing scoring chances generated by others than creating them for themselves or teammates. Klay Thompson absolutely matches this description and I would assert that Bogut, Draymond, Barnes, and Jermaine O’Neal fit nicely into this box as well.
While I would likely slide Curry below Paul George at the moment because of his excellent two-way play, Steph absolutely deserves top-five consideration and should be a part of the non-LeBron and Durant conversation.
The Week to Come:
We are looking at another tiring and important week for the Warriors. A back-to-back on the road against the Pacers and Celtics ends the trip, though the challenges do not stop there. While the Hawks have flailed and are at risk of losing their spot in the playoffs in the East, Sunday’s matchup against Phoenix holds great significance. Beyond jockeying for seeds and potentially even a spot in the postseason, the Warriors need to win in order to keep the Suns from having the head to head tiebreaker by virtue of a 3-1 season series.
While we still do not know if Eric Bledsoe will be ready for Sunday’s game, I am expecting a 2-2 week though 3-1 certainly feels possible.
Last week I ended the column with the stat that after this trip, the Warriors will only leave the Pacific Time Zone two more times in the regular season and not until early April. The downside of that comes this week- only two of their seven remaining road contests after this week will be against teams likely out of the playoff hunt. The Warriors have played well on the road this season and will need to close out a few more in order to get a solid seed in mid-April.