After getting knocked out of the Western Conference playoffs last season by the Golden State Warriors, the Houston Rockets may have taken a step toward challenging them for Western Conference supremacy.
Over the summer, the Rockets quietly made a big trade, picking up Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson to bolster their back-court.
Trading for Lawson was considered a risky move after he picked up a second DUI in the summer, but it was also has high-reward potential. When healthy, Lawson is a quick, dynamic point guard, capable of leading the charge on offence.
And while he’s never been known for his defence, Lawson believes he can help the Rockets get over the hump versus the Warriors by slowing down Stephen Curry. Lawson told Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski that in the Conference Finals, he saw Curry getting away with relaxing on defence:
“Steph Curry needed someone to go back at him,” Lawson said. “I thought Steph was just chillin’ on defence — and then going crazy on offence. He looked like he was just putting shots up and not working so much on the defensive end. He would just come down and hit three or four 3s. He can shoot when he’s got his legs under him.”
He added, “I’m not saying, ‘Oh, I’m going to stop Steph,’ but just make him work harder at the other end. I saw that in the Cavs series too. He wasn’t really working at the other end.”
While the Warriors are known for their offensive explosions, finishing second in the league in offensive efficiency, they’re an even better defensive team, finishing No. 1 in defensive efficiency last year. And that’s with teams throughout the league targeting Curry, perceived as the weakest defender in the Warriors’ starting five.
The truth is, Curry is an improved defender from years past. In an interview with Business Insider while promoting private coaching platform CoachUp, Curry admitted defence wasn’t always his best skill.
“Early in my career, I obviously shot the ball well, that was my strong-suit… but I didn’t focus much on defensive mechanics and that skillset.”
He added, “I had to learn it later in life, later in my career. Thankfully, I think I’m a little better than I was before.”
According to NBA.com/Stats, Curry allowed 40.5% shooting to opponents, fourth best on the Warriors. Some of that came from the Warriors often hiding Curry on the weakest offensive player on the court, but nonetheless, it’s a very solid number, and improved from the 42.9% he allowed the year before.
Still, Lawson has a point. The Warriors’ playoff schedule broke just right when it came to facing point guards — they swept the Pelicans with an injured Jrue Holiday, beat the Grizzlies with an injured Mike Conley, beat the Rockets with an injured Patrick Beverley (who didn’t play at all), and beat the Cavs after Kyrie Irving got hurt in Game 1 of the Finals.
When the Rockets and Warriors match up this season, they will be able to test the validity of Lawson’s theory.
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