clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Containing Stephen Curry is not as easy as Oscar Robertson thinks

The Big O criticized NBA coaches for not defending Curry high enough on the court. A look at the tape reveals that Robertson's case is misguided.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Curry's dominance is hard to comprehend. He's not a rare physical specimen and no one has used the three-point shot as devastatingly well as he has in NBA history. That leads to some misunderstanding about what makes him great, even by the game's legends.

Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson chimed in recently on the subject. He said that Curry benefits from lax defense and coaches who "don't understand the game of basketball."

"They double-teamed me an awful lot during my career," Robertson said in an interview with ESPN's Mike and Mike radio show, via NJ.com. "I look at games today, and they'll start a defense at the foul line. When I played, they were picking you up when you got the ball inbounds."

The thing is, teams do that all the time when they play against the Golden State Warriors and it doesn't matter. All the evidence anyone needs to come to that conclusion can be found in Thursday's night game against the Orlando Magic, when Curry went off for 51 points.

Opponents DO pick up Curry early

Magic guard Victor Oladipo had the primary job of defending Curry throughout the first half. In carrying out his duties, Oladipo picked Curry up full court and was pressuring him as soon as he crossed half court. Oladipo guarded Curry closely and grabbed him as much as he could without getting called for fouls when he was off the ball.

Obviously, it didn't matter.

Oladipo guarding Curry

Part of what makes Curry so hard to guard is that he doesn't need to have the ball in his hands at all times to be dangerous. He is a tremendous cutter and a deadly shooter coming off screens. He can give up the ball once he crosses half court and create his own scoring opportunities anyway by constantly moving.

If someone guards Curry 35 feet away from the basket to prevent him from getting the ball and pulling up, he's more than happy to make them pay in other ways.

Curry can hit contested three-pointers anyway

The Warriors are clever about exploiting big men who don't like to step outside the lane. If there's a center that won't leave the paint, they run hand-offs with Andrew Bogut that ideally result in Curry getting the ball with no one close to him. They destroyed both the Miami Heat and the Magic with that move in consecutive days.

Vuc in the paint

This is probably what Robertson meant when he said defenses should account for Curry's shooting

"If I've got a guy who's great shooting the ball outside, don't you want to extend your defense out a little bit?" he said.

It's hard to argue with that in this one respect. If the big man doesn't step outside when Curry is coming off a screen, he will have open looks and he will turn them into points more often than not. Plenty of guards can hit those open pull ups as well, so in that sense, Curry really isn't that special.

But having the big man come out to meet Curry doesn't guarantee a stop. He can pull up from further out than anyone else or shoot over the help defender like he isn't there.

Extending the defense beyond the three-point line as Robertson suggests doesn't actually work against Curry. He can hit contested three-point shots, but he can also use his ball-handling and quickness to get to the rim.

That only leaves one tactic The Big O suggested: double teams. Yeah, about that ...

Double teams don't work against the Warriors

Curry is a unique talent, a cheat code. He barely needs space to launch 28-footers that hit nothing but net, but he also possesses the intelligence to recognize when a defense is being over-aggressive and the ability to take advantage of it with clever cuts or drives to the basket. He would thrive on any team, no matter his teammates.

With the Warriors, though, he's even more unstoppable. Even if an opponent throws double teams Curry's way, the rest of the Warriors are skilled enough to pick apart the defense in those 4-on-3 situations.

We've seen that sequence time and time again this season. Petrified of Curry, the other team swarms the pick-and-roll 30 feet from the hoop. In response, Curry passes to Draymond Green, and Green creates an open look by attacking the basket and collapsing the remaining defenders. Curry might not be directly scoring or assisting the resulting hoop, but his presence created it anyway.

Bogut is not as versatile a screener in those situations, so the Warriors have Curry playing off the ball and Bogut facilitating often when the two are on the court together. The can also go small with Green at center and have a scoring threat at every position.

Double-teaming Curry may prevent him from going for 50, but it'll just open up the floor for his talented teammates to pick up the slack.

*   *   *   *   *

The Big O suggested different ways to defend Curry, but failed to realize that teams are already using those strategies to no avail. Curry and the Warriors are simply too adaptable to be fully contained. Even if opponents do everything right, they always seem to find a way to score.