Warriors’ Stephen Curry is breaking defenses before he even touches the ball

Stephen Curry is a walking flamethrower right now.

Following his 37-point performance in Golden State’s win over Brooklyn, Curry dropped 40 points in a come-from-behind victory over the Cavaliers. He shot 15-for-27 from the field and 9-for-16 from 3-point range, marking the fourth time this season he’s connected on at least nine 3-pointers in a single game.

For perspective, there are only five players in NBA history — in addition to Curry, of course — with four or more games in their entire careers in which they’ve made at least nine 3-pointers. Curry now has … 38 such games.

Unbelievable, right?

Curry is such a good shooter that defending him at this point has become a game of pick your poison, but there was one particular way he tormented the Cavaliers on Thursday.

You know what that means — to the film room!

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The play

The breakdown

Juan Toscano-Anderson rebounds a missed 3-pointer from Cavaliers guard Ricky Rubio. 

The four Warriors on the floor with Toscano-Anderson are Curry, Damion Lee, Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica. Toscano-Anderson brings the ball up, freeing Curry and everyone else to make their way up the court.

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Shortly after crossing the halfcourt line, Toscano-Anderson gives the ball up to Lee. He then clears out to the left corner to maximize spacing.

Curry, Porter and Bjelica, meanwhile, set up shop on the opposite side of the court to Toscano-Anderson and Lee — Curry on the block, Porter and Bjelica on the right wing.

Lee quickly swings the ball to Bjelica while Porter makes his way towards Curry as though he’s going to set a down screen. 

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It’s safe to assume Okoro is expecting Curry to fly off of Porter’s screen based on where he’s positioned. (Plus, it’s something Curry does a lot, which we’ll get into soon.)

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To keep Okoro honest, Curry stops on a dime and begins to walk towards the basket, almost warning him of what the alternative is.

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Okoro takes a couple of steps towards Curry and then bam! Curry runs him into Porter’s screen, doing the one thing Okoro was hoping to avoid.

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That’s just mean.

Why it matters

A couple of reasons.

First, this wasn’t the only possession Curry shredded Okoro and Cleveland’s defense with his off-ball movement. 

The Warriors actually ran the exact same play the following trip down the court, only this Curry darted off in the opposite direction.

He then did this a few minutes later:

Oh, and then he did this a few minutes after that:

That’s essentially the same set on four possessions, resulting in a pair of pretty open 3s and two layups for the dude who’s currently leading the league in scoring. It contributed towards him scoring 20 points in the frame, helping the Warriors complete a 28-point swing.

Again, just mean stuff.

We’ve already taken a close look at how Curry’s non-stop movement makes him so difficult to defend, but it’s far more than that. To put it simply, he’s a genius moving without the ball, knowing when to speed up, when to slow down, where to position himself, where the weak spots in the defense are and how to manipulate screens to his advantage. And if his defender tries to get ahead like Okoro did not one time, not two times, not three times, but four times (!) in the fourth quarter of Cleveland’s loss to Golden State, he knows just how to punish them.

“He’s one of the greatest players in the history of the game,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said of Curry after the game. “And he’s the greatest 3-point shooter of all time. And the way he moves off the ball, he’s so strong and fluid and he understands the game on and off the ball. And he’s fearless. So you throw all that together — and he’s always capable of catching fire like that.

“As amazing as it was, it didn’t shock me because this is what he does.”

That brings us to our second point.

According to NBA.com, Curry is averaging 6.3 points per game off of screens this season. Not only is that the most he’s averaged in the seven seasons of public data that we have, but it’s the most in the league … by a mile. Kings sharpshooter Buddy Hield currently ranks in second place with 3.6 points per game off of screens. The gap between Curry and Hield is the same as the gap between Hield and his teammate Harrison Barnes, who ranks 38th in the league with 0.9 points per game off of screens.

The even crazier part? Curry ranks in the 99th percentile with 1.40 points per possession. So not only is he leading the league in scoring off of screens, he’s been the most efficient scorer on those plays to this point of the season.

Curry is basically posting numbers that Klay Thompson was in his prime, only he’s also the league’s most prolific shooter off the dribble.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all from Curry, he continues to level up.

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