On Tuesday, the Golden State Warriors’ Twitter account teased an eye-popping new Stephen Curry dribble move. It involved him driving left, quickly whipping the ball behind his back to create separation from a defender, and swishing a jump shot while moving to his right.
Turns out, Curry’s been practicing that one for a while now. Brandon Payne, the owner of Accelerate Basketball Training and Curry’s long-time personal trainer, told SB Nation that Curry began practicing that move in the summer of 2015, between his two MVP seasons. Payne also said that Curry nearly pulled the move off in an early-season game against Memphis, but elected to pass instead.
“It was a transition where he was going to pull up to shoot it. I cannot remember who the big was that was running the floor, but when he went behind his back, he threw a one-handed bounce pass for a dunk instead of shooting a three,” Payne said. “It was in that big blowout game against Memphis last year when he used that. I kind of wish he’d have pulled the trigger, but he didn’t do that.”
I spent 20 minutes picking Payne’s brain about that move and other areas Curry emphasized this summer. Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
When did you first think he could try this move?
We’re always looking for new ways to transfer the basketball from the floor into the shooting motion, and we’re always looking for ways to protect the basketball. That was something that was born out of moves he makes going to the basket, and we just expanded and build onto it on the perimeter as well.
It’s something that can be used when a man is guarding him really, really tightly, where he can switch from the left side of his body to the right side of his body in tight situation and still get a very good, clean shot off.
So the genesis is more as he’s driving and changing direction, and not necessarily him stepping back for a three?
Sure. It certainly can be used in that way. But honestly, we’ve worked on this for a really long time. It’s taken him a little while to get really comfortable with it, and right now during training camp and during practices, it’s time for him to really test these things out and see how comfortable he is with it. Then, we have to make the decision whether or not he’s feeling comfortable enough to use it in a game.
But it’s just a part of the things we do in terms of ball-handling. It’s part of our shooting series. It’s part of our driving series. Again, it’s just a way to transfer the ball from one side of the body to the other side, get him off the floor, get him into his shot position as quickly as possible in terms of ball security. He makes it look easier than it really is.
When you say he’s been working on it for a “really long time,” what’s a “really long time?”
We started working on that stuff not this summer, but last summer, in between MVP seasons.
I know he wasn’t 100 percent healthy then, but how much did the defensive coverages you saw in last year’s playoffs accelerate the need to perfect this move?
Not really much, in terms of that specific move. We learned as much as we can from the season and the playoffs, and it helps to save and acknowledge where want to go in the offseason. But that move was honestly not something we spent an extraordinarily long time on. It’s something that is sprinkled in.
We kind of have four different shooting stages that we offer in the offseason, and we have a different emphasis each day leaning into the shot. That was one of the days where we work on that particular ball transfer. But we really didn’t see much in particular in the playoffs that led us to believe that’s something he needs to be using.
It’s more just kind of observing the trends, observing how teams are starting to defend him and understanding that, hey, space is going to be a little bit tighter. So we’ve got to have ways to get the ball from one side of your body to the other. We have to develop his form and shooting motion. So we have to look at developing those in the offseason.
What strategies have you seen that this move is designed to counteract?
Really, anytime somebody is taking his space. Teams really like to get up tight into him, so any time somebody has their hands around his chest or is physical with him, this is a way for him still to be able to get the ball from the left side of his body to the right side and get off a clean shot.
I read an interview where you were talking about the hand placement of defenders. I remember in the Thunder series especially that big men would just stick their hands up to block Steph’s vision. Is this a move to take advantage after they drop their hands or is this more designed to cause them to drop their hands?
The way I see it with ball transfers, that’s the finishing move into the shot. There’s a lot of other things where we’re looking to do to get the defender to drop their hands, get the defender’s nose out of the middle of his body, get him moving side-to-side, forcing his feet to move backwards. There’s a lot of things that go into that.
We’re trying to combat length by essentially making the defender small by making him put his hands down. There’s a lot of the things we can do either driving at the defender or forcing him side-to-side, to where it’s very difficult for players to move in other directions with their hands up.
There’s a lot of strategies. There’s a lot of things we worked on this offseason to try to accomplish that. He’s shown that, when he is fully healthy, the length doesn’t really bother him all that much. It bothered him a lot during the playoffs just because it was a little more difficult for him to space laterally. When he’s healthy, he can space laterally, so it’s a little easier for him to get away from that length.
But again, every offseason, we’re looking to expand in every aspect of the game. Because he is such a good shooter, I’m always looking for new ways to create space. We’re always looking for things that defenders did in particular during the season where they had success against him. We’re looking at that and we’re looking at different ways to neutralize that.
And he’s been really, really good with that. He’s very intelligent. He adapts extremely well. Even within the season, when teams start to have success with one particular strategy or another, you’ll see him adapt within a couple games pretty quickly. He’s such a good student. He values the information that he gets. He has such a wide array of tools that he can go to, so he typically has an answer for pretty much anything.
Anything else that we should be looking for as far as a new move or strategy to counteract the stuff he’s seen?
We’ve really worked to make him a threat from literally every spot on the floor now. Not just from the three-point line out, but we worked to force teams to have to guard him as a scorer every step of the way once he gets across half-court. I think that makes him really tough to cover.
I was on the radio talking about it earlier, but his improvement this year is going to show up in a lot of small things. We’ll see some better decision making. I think his improvement this year is going to be some defensive, and that’s not to say that he was a poor defender in the past because I just don’t think that’s true. That’s a narrative that’s just been carried over without watching really, really closely what’s going on.
But I also think so much of his improvement is not going to come out in the form of statistics. That’s because you have another guy like Kevin Durant there who is a statistical monster. He’s going to score and you’ve got to get him the ball. So Steph’s stats could stay the same or even stay a little smaller than they were last year. He’s still going to be a much-improved player.
I really believe that. Quite honestly, I didn’t really know if we could do any better than we did last offseason. I thought that might be the pinnacle because he worked so hard and he was so driven. But I was wrong. He came back this offseason even more driven, working harder and making more improvement. When we wrapped up our offseason camp last week, I felt really, really good about where he was, both from a skills standpoint and from a mental and physical standpoint. I really feel good about where he is.
Back to the behind-the-back move. How do you drill the footwork to make it work?
It’s something that we’ve done over the years, honestly. We do a lot of overloading his body. We overload the moves with a little bit of light resistance at different points on his body, and that helps his body learn new footwork and new spacing techniques a little bit quicker. Anytime you add resistance to anything, it really aids in muscle memory. So over the years, we’ve added resistance in different ways for different moves.
His body — once it’s in there, it’s locked in. He never forgets. He has impeccable footwork. He’s incredibly, incredibly efficient with the ball and with his feet. In the past, it was more “Hey, we’re going to teach this.” Now, it’s more about drilling him because it’s all recall for him. When your footwork is as good as his, you can get a little more creative and a little more aggressive with how you’re moving the basketball from side to side and getting from the floor to the shoot.
So a lot of that is just the result of a lot of hard work over all the offseason. Now, he’s able to get a little more aggressive and a little more creative.
How is it not a travel? Isn’t he picking up both pivot feet?
[Laughs]. So I only watched him once or twice last night, though it’s something I’ve seen a thousand times before.
If it was a right-to-left crossover, he’d sidestep off his left foot into the shot. If you watch closely when he’s crossing the ball over, as the ball hits the ground, his left foot is hitting the ground into his side step. That’s a dribble into the side step, so he leaves off one foot and lands on two. That’s like any other sidestep or any other Eurostep.
This is just off one leg and landing on two into his shot. He’s not going to travel because when he sidesteps, he’s sidestepping off a dribble.
But doesn’t he have to sidestep with both feet or keep his right foot down?
Essentially, this is just a jump stop. It’s just a jump stop to the side. It’s all about the timing of when the ball hits the ground and when his foot hits the ground. As long as the ball and the foot are hitting the ground at the same time, it’s just a jump stop. He’s jump-stopping laterally into a jump shot.
It kind of gets lost because there’s so much movement going on with the ball, but when you leave off one foot, land on two and go straight into your shot, it’s no different than a jump stop.
Was it hard for Steph to be able to bring the ball around his back that quickly and in that motion?
For him, that’s not that difficult. For a lot of players, that is kind of difficult. To put this into perspective for you, things that we show him that are new, maybe the first three or four reps, he looks out of sorts or he doesn’t look all that great. But by the fifth rep, it looks like something he’s been doing his whole life.
Steph’s a special guy. Very intelligent. Very, very aware of how his body operates and how it works. He’s able to make adjustments and learn new things very quickly. While it is an incredibly difficult move — don’t let me downplay it, because I know it’s incredibly difficult -- for him to pick up on it and learn, it’s not all that hard.
Have you noticed any other players trying this? Did you model the move off someone else to some degree?
Not one player in particular. I know there have been some guys who have done something similar, but for us, it really was looking to the next step in the evolution of Steph’s game. It was just looking for another way to be really quick with the ball and protect the ball. Some people may think that’s playing loose with the ball, but for us, it’s not. It’s keeping the ball away from the player’s hands, making the defender have to go through his body to be able to get the ball.
That’s important to us, because one of the things we want to make sure he does this year as well is see him get to the free-throw line a little bit more. If we can hide the basketball and bring defenders in even closer and create more contact, that’s going to get us to the free-throw line a little more often as well
We kind of look at everything from the big picture and back our way into it. We’d like him to get to the free-throw line. We’d like him to create more space. We’d like to cut down on turnovers. We’d like to protect the ball more. So we’ve come up with different little strategies to help accomplish those goals.
Thinking about the move more, it’s not that different from going behind the back with the dribble, right? He’s done that before.
Yeah, it’s not. The only difference is that when you go behind the back like [this new move] and you land on two feet, you have to shoot because your dribble is dead. [When you do a behind-the-back dribble], the ball is still alive and you can make more moves. So you have to know that when you make that move, the ball is going up.
It also must help that Steph can shoot from any angle. He doesn’t need to dip the same way as some shooters.
It does. The reason he’s able to do that is because he has incredible mobility to his shoulders, he has a good flexibility with his chest and a very strong core. So he’s able to offset some awkward foot positions sometimes just because his upper body and mechanics are so sound. Whereas, a younger shooter or somebody who doesn’t possess that strength and upward mobility in his body, it gets real tough and this could really mess with their mechanics.
Do you think this move’s ready for game action yet?
I think it is, but again, it’s a comfort thing for him. He has a lot that he doesn’t show in the game. He has a lot of stuff that we’ve worked on that’s just never popped up in a game.
But there’s a greater purpose for us when we do things like that move. No drill for us has a singular focus. The drills that we work on have multiple layers of benefits. So for us, even if we work on things that don’t get used in a game, we’re still getting a ball-handling element out of it, we’re still getting a dynamic and stability element out of it. We’re still getting a shooting and movement element out of it.
He’s got a lot that he hasn’t pulled out yet, and he may never. But at some point, that one will be used in a game.
Are there other new moves that are closer? Is this near the top of the list?
Oh man. What you saw [Tuesday] was pretty elementary. He’s got some other stuff that’s really creative. He can get really creative with that. But it’s just about how comfortable he is using it. I think if he does get an opportunity to use it in a game a couple times and has success with it, his comfort level with it will be higher and he’ll start to use it more.
But right now, I think he’s just in the baby steps of the development for that move and just getting his timing right. The timing is really difficult because you have to get the ball around your back so fast, so quickly in that situation. We drill it all day long, but until you’re live, moving in game speed, with the act of a defender in front of you, it’s hard to get a read on how you use it.
I imagine it’s not one of those things where there’s a list and one more is 75 percent ready and another is 50 percent ready, etc. It’s really more art than science, right?
Yeah. Our job in the offseason is to give him as many different options to try to expand that toolbox as best we can. Give him many different options that he can go to during the season. It’s up to him to tear it down to what he feels comfortable with.
And again, some of that has to do with, hey, once the defense sees it one time, how do they react to it? Then, we have to make adjustments off that. Because hey, everybody in the league, and I mean everybody in the league, is a great player. They’re there for a reason. It’s just a matter of saying that, hey, we’ve got a great defender in front of you, and they’re going to read it and make reactions. How do we combat that?