Last season, the Golden State Warriors thrust themselves into relevancy with their surprising playoff success. Usually, when a team creates unexpected playoff success, a new player is catapulted into stardom as the leader of his upstart group. That player for the 2012-2013 Warriors was Stephen Curry.
Fans of Golden State have watched Curry light up the scoreboard with his incredible three-point percentage and playmaking ability for years, but the playoffs let him showcase all his abilities on a national stage.
He did not disappoint. Curry averaged 23 points and eight assists per game while shooting 40 percent from behind the arc during his 12 game playoff run. This performance put Curry not only into discussions of one of the best scorers in the league, but also conversations of the most fun player to watch in the entire NBA.
Once he started to catch fire from distance, every minute of Curry’s play was much watch basketball. Fans sat at the edge of their seats waiting for Curry to establish the slightest bit of space, allowing his quick release jumper to sail towards what was almost automatically accepted as a clean swish of the net. As a fan, it was amazing to see him perform so well on such a big stage. I speak for most Warrior fans when I say I’m happy he is finally receiving the national recognition for his play that we all thought was possible since his draft day.
Curry will most likely represent the West in the All-Star Game this season, which is impressive due to such a crowded guard position. That is an achievement to be proud and excited about. But after this goal is achieved, what is the next step for Curry? How can he tweak his game towards turning himself from A top guard to THE top guard in the NBA?
If Stephen Curry can limit his turnovers and become a stronger defensive player, he can become the best guard in the NBA.
It has been impressive to watch Curry maintain his high scoring average while also increasing his facilitation. Currently, he is second in the league in assists per game at 9.5, which is 37.6 percent higher than his last season’s assists per game. However, this additional effort looking for teammates has caused Curry to also be the league leader in turnovers per game (those who have played over 20 games this season) at 4.1. If we divide his assists per game by his turnovers per game, this yields his assist to turnover ratio, which is 2.32.
Below is a graph plotting a player’s assists per game versus his assist-to-turnover ratio for the top 15 players in assists per game in the NBA.
From the graph above, we see that while one can achieve a high number of assists per game, a his passing efficiency is a true gauge of an effective facilitator. Among the top-15 players in assists per game, Curry falls into the middle of the pack in terms of assists to turnover ratio. This is concerning because he has the second highest assists per game total in the league and does not set himself apart on the graph, implying that Curry is turning the ball over too often. He needs to take care of the ball to ensure his team is having quality looks and shots on every possession. Simply having a lot of assists a game does not tell the whole story.
On a side note, this graph helps demonstrate why Chris Paul is such an effective player. Not only does he lead the league in assists per game, but he is also the most efficient with his passing, having the highest assist to turnover ratio out of anyone on the graph. The combination of these two stats catapults Paul to the top right of the graph where no one else comes close. It’s plots like these that help cement Paul as a top guard in the NBA.
Limiting his turnovers is one way that Curry can begin to ascend into top player conversations. I’m not implying he will be as efficient passing the ball as Paul, but Curry cutting down on one or two mistakes a game could turn him into a better all-around player. And because he has a scoring advantage over Paul, Curry could overtake Paul’s spot in guard rankings given his overall versatility.
The idea of Curry being a weak defender has been jammed down Golden State fans throats. Curry contributes so much on the offensive end of the court that people tend to ignore his lacking quality on the defensive end. Currently, he is scoring about 110 points and giving up around 100 per an approximate 100 possessions using the OffRtg and DefRtg metrics.
This means per 100 possessions, he contributes about 10 points for his team. This is a really high value and demonstrates his offensive game may be impressive enough to negate giving up almost 100 points a game. However, I’m not going to cut him slack because I think Curry can be a better defender. He has the opportunity to be a competent defender because he is not undersized for his position.
Players like James Harden and Monta Ellis get killed defensively because they are both constantly guarding taller players at the shooting guard position. Having that deficiency is very hard to overcome. It is the main reason I was happy to see Ellis traded and afraid when Harden and Klay Thompson were floated in trade rumors. Curry does not have this issue guarding point guards. Even though the West has talented guards, Curry has the quickness and athleticism to at least stay in front of players and force them into difficult shots.
The Warriors’ starting lineup is currently posting a DefRtg of 96.7 and Curry shows the highest individual DefRtg of anyone in the lineup at 99.5. Bringing down his DefRtg towards this lineup’s average would not only greatly improve an already scary lineup, but also cause people around the league to recognize Curry as a more complete player. No longer would he be looked at as strictly an offensive talent.
If Stephen Curry improves his defensive ability and cuts down on his turnovers, he can become the best guard in the league sooner than we think. The funny thing is that these improvements wouldn’t be that drastic. It is simply a little more effort on a handful of defensive possessions a gam, paired with the focus to take care of the ball every offensive chance. Being such a smart and gifted talent, there is no reason Stephen Curry should not be in the conversation for the best guard in the league in the near future.
All data is through 01/01/2013 and provided by NBA.com