Centuries from now, as our descendants laugh at the misguided politicians denying the presence of a global cooling epidemic, the preachers will tell tales of the legend that was Stephen Curry, he of the golden jump shot, flames spewing from his fingertips. No spot on the court was free of his fury, no shot too far, no lane too tight. However, for all the glorious parts to his game, one significant facet often goes unmentioned.
Watch the Thunder defend Curry on this possession:
The Warriors set a basic down screen for Curry. Typically, a player would run outside the screen closer to the sideline. Russell Westbrook knows this, and, wanting to deny the jump shot, tries to fight over Bogut’s screen rather than sliding under. Curry recognizes Westbrook’s strategy, and cuts back on the other side of the screen. Steven Adams, Oklahoma City’s rookie center, steps towards Curry to delay his catch and give Westbrook time to recover. This action gives Bogut an easy lane to the hope, and, more importantly, Adams almost definitely knows this.
A huge portion of the value of Curry’s shooting is not the shooting itself, but the threat. Players know that the expected value of a Curry three is very high. Per Vantage Sports, Curry shoots 55 percent on three point attempts after using an off ball screen. To put that in perspective, a Curry three point attempt off a screen is worth 165 points per 100 possessions. The Miami Heat, the league’s best offense, score 111.5 points per 100 possessions.
Against nearly every other player in the league, Adams would simply allow the player to receive the ball a bit more open than usual, trusting Westbrook to recover. Against Curry, Adams takes two steps to hedge, hoping that Serge Ibaka can rotate to Bogut with minimal time.
Stephen Curry is already considered one of the most productive offensive players in the league. His passing creates a variety of opportunities for teammates, while few parallel his scoring prowess. However, the attention Curry draw’s off the ball is itself incredibly valuable. While many factors have contributed to his success, Andre Iguodala is having the best season of his career in part because of the space he receives playing alongside Curry.
Offensive creation is often discussed, and, with the emergence of SportsVu and similar technologies, we will soon be able to quantify what was once an ephemeral description. Stephen Curry’s mere presence shapes the movements of everyone on the court, and, while the magnitude of this effect remains unknown to the common observer, NBA teams can make much more concrete judgements, measuring the deviance from expected location of defenders in Curry’s presence, or similar actions.