A “slump” is relative to NBA player’s standard of performance, but just one month ago, it was fair to say Stephen Curry was slumping.
After a Christmas day loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, in which he sat out the end of the game for defensive purposes — yes, the two-time reigning unanimous MVP sat out a final possession against the reining champions — Curry’s numbers were at career lows.
Curry indeed slumped through December, averaging just 20 points per game on 42.7% shooting, 37.5% from three, with fewer than six assists per game. He seemed to hit a low with his 15-point, 4-of-11, three-turnover performance against the Cavs.
The performance prompted a talk between Curry, head coach Steve Kerr, and GM Bob Myers, as Myers told ESPN’s Marc Stein on the “NBA Lockdown” podcast. Myers believed Curry was trying to defer to Kevin Durant too much and get him comfortable in the offence. The Warriors had to tell Curry that he was being too deferential.
“It might have been the Cleveland game where we lost where Steph just didn’t have the same level of aggressiveness, and I think we talked after, Steve talked to him and said, ‘Hey, just be yourself.’ And I think after that moment… I think he just more thought, ‘Let’s be me and see how that goes.'”
Myers said Curry was being conservative at the start of the season because he has the unique ability to just “turn it on.”
And “turn it on” Curry has. Over January, Curry averaged just shy of 28 points per game on 48% shooting, 42% from three, with over six assists per game. Furthermore, Curry is getting back to his brazen brand of offence, pulling up from outrageous distances and toying with defenders before reigning pull-up three-pointers. In his last 15 games, Curry has found his touch pull-up shots, per NBA.com/Stats, hitting 47% from the field, 46% from three. In December, he was shooting just 21% from three on pull-up shots.
Over the last two games, Curry has returned to being the explosive, defence-warping sharpshooter that enthralled the NBA world last season. In his last two games (he sat out a January 29 game against the Blazers with a sickness), Curry has totaled 82 points on 29-of-43 shooting, 20 of 30 from three, with 14 rebounds and 14 assists.
In a blowout win over the Clippers on Saturday, Curry reminded people of how he can change a game by uncorking two long-distance three-pointers in a matter of 30 seconds. He scored 43 points on the night, 25 in the third quarter.
On Wednesday, Curry scored 39 against the Charlotte Hornets, hitting 11 threes in the process, and he didn’t even play the fourth quarter. These are the shots we’ve gotten used to Curry making.
A part of Curry’s recent outbursts has been a bigger command of the offence. Over the last 15 games, Curry’s usage percentage, a stat that tracks how many possessions a player uses with either a shot, free throw, or turnover, has risen to 31%, ahead of Durant at 27.8%. In December, Durant led the Warriors with a 27.9% usage, while Curry was only fourth on the team with a 25.2% usage.
Curry’s shot attempts have also risen dramatically since December. Over the last 15 games, he’s averaging 20 shot attempts per game, up from 15 in December. While Durant’s attempts have remained steady over the last two months, the change may be as simple as putting the ball in Curry’s hands more and telling him to do his thing.
“Overall, just looking [to be] more aggressive,” Curry said after beating the Hornets on Wednesday of his recent play. “Trying to score and put pressure on defences in that respect, and it opens up a lot more for us as a team.”
Kerr added, “You just know that Steph is capable of incredible games like tonight in streaks, stretches, whatever you want to call it, but he’s in a good groove.”
The Warriors have been humming along all year — they’re now 42-7 on the season and 13-2 in their last 15 games. But this version of the Warriors, in which Curry is the star of the show and Durant is the deadly alternative weapon waiting on the wings, feels a little more natural.
After concerns about the Warriors’ offence were raised following an awkward late-game exchange in January, this team seems to have already healed those temporary wounds. Currently, there’s simply no deadlier team in the NBA, and they may only get better if Curry has found his mojo again.
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