San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)
Analytics can’t measure Curry’s spectacular play
The cosmic zone Stephen Curry finds himself locked into these days can be described with numbers. Those analytics are stunning, but Curry’s game right now is a work of art best appreciated by simply watching and, when appropriate, screaming in amazement at your television screen.
The joy factor, for instance. Curry has always played with an exuberance and spirit, but to this pseudoexpert observer, it seems like he’s having more fun than ever, even when the Warriors are sputtering.
The analytics folks haven’t yet invented a Joy Meter, so I ran it by Bruce Fraser, the Warriors’ assistant coach and Curry’s basketball sidekick, who feeds him a million passes in practice and trades ideas and laughs with him during games.
While the basketball world anguishes over the Warriors squandering a precious season of Curry’s prime — the Curry Window — the man himself seems unaware of the problem. You expect to see his spirits dip on occasion, but what you see is another shimmy.
“He doesn’t look at this situation as, ‘This is an offyear, wait till we get healthy,’ or anything like that,” Fraser said Wednesday. “He looks at this as an opportunity for us to show that we’re better than what people think, better than what we’ve shown at times . ... He looks at situations as opportunities and not roadblocks. That’s just his nature, how he’s wired, that’s why he’s so good.”
Head coach Steve Kerr preaches mindfulness as one of the team’s core values. Be in the
“Steph has taken to that,” said Fraser, whom everyone calls Q. “I would say he has not always been mindful in certain ways. He could in the past lose focus at times, get backcut (on defense), not make the right play. He’s gotten better at that.”
Simply put, Fraser said, “Circumstances don’t affect him.”
The KerrCurry partnership continues to amaze. Monday in Philadelphia, the 76ers hit Curry with a surprise defense, Curry’s brother Seth guarded him and seemed to be inside Steph’s head, and he had one of the worst quarters of his career, fumbling and throwing away passes, clanking shots. Neither Kerr nor Curry blinked.
“That’s where Steph has matured,” Fraser said, “and Steve’s always been willing to live with some of Steph’s mistakes, knowing that he sort of has the mustang spirit — you don’t want to take that away from him, you have to live through some of the mistakes and decisions.
“That spirit is what makes Steph good, but in the past it was a bit of his kryptonite, because he is a little too wild. Steve’s done a really good job in recognizing that and not taking that away from him, but letting him grow through it. You’re seeing some of those fruits now, where he makes better decisions but is always on the attack, still has that spirit in him.”
In Philly, the patience and mindfulness paid off. Curry wound up with 49 points and the Warriors wound up with a win. On Wednesday he had one of his uglier performances of the season in a close loss at Washington, finishing with 18 points and snapping his streak of 11 games with at least 30 points. He responded Friday with 32 points on 11for18 shooting in a win over Denver at Chase Center.
Something else that defies analytics is the purity of Curry’s jump shot. I mentioned to Fraser that the jumper seems to be more fluid than ever. Am I hallucinating? Fraser has watched and studied more than a million Curry jumpers, and to his eye they are snowflakes, no two alike.
“It’s been really pure most of this year,” Fraser said, “but his fluidity and rhythm right now with his shot is as good as I’ve ever seen it. I noticed in warmups the other night, and even before that, he’s really going (well) right now, his ball is very pure, it’s coming out very pure.
“There’s times he has to make corrections, he’ll feel something or I’ll see something and mention it, but there’s not a lot of corrections to be made.”
One survival skill that Curry continues to refine is his ability to read defenses instantly, like a savvy quarterback. But it’s one thing to see what a defense is trying to do, and it’s another thing to have the ability to counter. More and more, Curry is beating three or four defenders on a given shot, inventing on the fly.
“The other night against the 76ers, it was like, ‘OK, you’re going to do to try and stop me from shooting, I’ll just shoot from farther out, Fraser said. “That’s the amazing part of it, he keeps figuring out ways to counter the defenses, and keep our team involved. I’m biased, but it’s pretty amazing to watch.”
Curry is 33, 12 seasons into his NBA career, and yet there are times when Kerr and Fraser are openly surprised, even amazed, at something Curry does, a shot or a full game. They marvel, for instance, at the increasing degree of difficulty of Curry’s shots, another part of his game that defies analytical breakdown. The stats show whether shots are contested, but shots are not rated on degree of difficulty, like Olympic figure skating jumps.
“I would say that his level of difficulty has gone up immensely, yes,” Fraser said. “You keep shaking your head. I hate to be so proSteph, he human, but barely. Barely.”