It’s sometimes easy to forget that even though he’s not necessarily the best player on his own team, Stephen Curry is an MVP calibre talent who is more than capable of carrying his side to wins.
Curry’s past two games have served as a reminder of that, coming on the heels of arguably one of his worst performances in recent memory.
After being held to just nine points in the high-profile loss to Boston, Curry has returned to peak form by scoring a combined 74 points on 54.3 per cent shooting from the field and 42.1 per cent on 3-pointers in victories over Philadelphia and Brooklyn.
As he’s done during much of Golden State’s run of dominance and at times last season, Curry powered the Warriors to a 118-111 win over the Nets on Sunday without Kevin Durant on the Durant, who is averaging 24.9 points per game, missed his second contest of the season, this time to a sprained left ankle, which put more onus on Curry to shoulder the scoring load.
“It’s 25, 26 points that are missing and you’ve got to try to put pressure on the defence to kind of honour your scoring threat and open up the floor for everyone else,” Curry said.
Curry didn’t see out the win, fouling out with three minutes left after drawing a charging foul on a drive.
But his effort through the game’s first 45 minutes were enough to stave off a second-half surge by Brooklyn as he finished with a season-high 39 points on 14-of-24 shooting to go with 11 rebounds and seven assists.
Steph came up 💪 without KD - 39 Pts, 11 Reb, 7 Ast, 3 Stl— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) November 20, 2017
Highlights ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/3sV9FV7DZP
Now at 29 and with his two MVP seasons in the rear-view mirror, Curry may not be fully at the height of his powers anymore.
His current field goal percentage of 46.7 is his lowest since 2012-13, while he’s shooting under 40 per cent from long range (38.3) for the first time in his career.
Curry’s pull-up shooting efficiency has also dipped since his supernova season in 2015-16, dropping from 44.3 per cent overall and 43.0 on 3s that season, to 38.9 and 36.7 per cent last year, to 46.2 and 36.2 per cent so far this season – all while his attempts have also dropped.
Despite what has so far been an ‘off’ shooting season for Curry, he still ranks 22nd among qualified players in true shooting percentage – calculating a player’s field goal percentage, 3-point percentage and free throw percentage together – with a mark of 64.6.
Even at less than his best, arguably the greatest shooter in the history of the game remains deadly and if his past two performances are any indication, the Warriors will have no shortage of firepower even when Durant sits.
It only took 16 games into the season for the Boston Celtics to earn a victory lap.
Not that they’ll take it because the only cause for celebration the franchise is concerned with involves duck boats parading through the streets of Boston, but they’ve earned a small one nonetheless for batting practically 1.000 on decisions of significance over the past few years.
Even before Danny Ainge’s process began to bear fruits this season, the Celtics general manager had done about as well as imaginable in rebuilding the team in the post Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo era.
Built on Isaiah Thomas and a cast of dependable role players, Boston secured 53 wins and the top seed in the East last year before being ousted by LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference finals. It was good, but not good enough for Ainge.
So he took a blowtorch to the team and reconstructed the roster, bucking conventional wisdom along the way.
The number one overall pick was traded, essentially swapping Markelle Fultz for Jayson Tatum while netting a potential future lottery pick in the process.
Fultz has been injured to start his career, but even basing the deal solely on how good Tatum looks, it’s shaping up as a home run.
Then there was the trade that sent fan favourite Thomas, along with Jae Crowder and the highly-coveted Brooklyn pick, for Kyrie Irving.
It was a gamble on Irving having not reached his full potential and so far, that gamble has been validated. While his counting stats are down, Irving’s defence has been at an all-time high and he’s almost seamlessly meshed himself within Brad Stevens’ offence.
Speaking of Stevens, perhaps Ainge’s biggest bet has been on one of the game’s brightest minds. Even with Gordon Hayward expected to be on the floor, this roster was always going to heavily rely on players still on their rookie contracts, meaning Stevens had his work cut out in assimilating the young guys.
A sampling of games vs. Boston's defense this season:— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) November 17, 2017
Carmelo 3/17 (18 FG%)
Steph Curry 3/14 (21 FG%)
K Porzingis 3/14 (21 FG%)
Joel Embiid 4/16 (25 FG%)
Kemba 5-19 (26 FG%)
Klay 5-18 (28 FG%)
RWestbrook 7/20 (35 FG%)
And yet, Boston have come together in record time to boast the league’s best record and defence, allowing a ridiculous 95.4 points per 100 possessions.
The crazy part isn’t that Ainge and the Celtics’ approach has been proven right – it’s how quickly it’s all worked out.
Boston may very well be the team of the future in the East, as Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, but they also may be arriving sooner than everyone thought.
Lonzo Ball will always be under the brightest of spotlights, and that spotlight is burning hot right now.
For obvious reasons, the Los Angeles Lakers rookie is facing the type of criticism just 12 games into his career that peers in his draft class may not experience for years.
That can come with the territory when you’re the number two overall pick and the face of the most glamourous franchise in the league.
But really, Lonzo has no-one to blame for the pressure on his shoulders other than his own father, the Big Baller Brand head honcho himself, LaVar Ball.
The greatest marketer in sports at the moment, LaVar has und-oubtedly turned his son into a household name, but the flip side has seen him – as Snoop Dogg brilliantly described it – put his son, “in the lion’s den with some meat chop drawers on”.
Have LaVar’s brash words motivated Lonzo’s opponents in head-to-head battles? Outside of Patrick Beverley in the season opener, it’s hard to quantify, but how much that’s affected Lonzo’s performances is probably marginal.
What isn’t negligible, however, is how LaVar’s bravado has unfairly raised expectations for his son. And yes, they are unfair because the only one dealing with the fallout is Lonzo, who has yet to express himself in any way other than humbly and respectfully.
So, lets strip away the outside noise and unreasonable hype and examine Lonzo through the lens of a rookie who is just 12 games into his career.
He can’t shoot… right now. Lonzo’s funky jump shot, which sees him, as a right-hander, launch the ball from the left side of his face, is delivering exactly the kind of results you would expect if any NBA player switched to that motion tomorrow – which is to stay, not good.
The numbers back up the eye test and they are not pretty.
His shooting percentage of 35.2 per cent in the paint and 23.3 per cent from everywhere else are both the worst rates in the league for players who’ve attempted a minimum of 50 shots. His overall mark of 29.2 per cent, meanwhile, is the second-worst for any player through their first 12 games in the shot clock era (since 1954-55).
Ball and the Lakers have been chalking up the struggles to his footwork and balance, which may well be the source of the problem and not his form, which didn’t hinder him from shooting 41.2 per cent on 3-pointers at UCLA.
Granted, the college arc and the NBA 3-point line are different beasts, but if you watched Ball at all as a freshman last year, you saw him hoisting and knocking down deep step-back 3s with regularity.
With the NBA featuring far better athletes and the margin for error diminished, Ball will have to adjust and that, naturally, will take some time.
While his level of aggression has confusingly fluctuated on brief occasions, Ball, for the most part, hasn’t let his shooting woes affect his confidence, which has so far been one of his most promising qualities.
And, of course, there’s everything else he can do on the court – from his trademark passing to rebounding to showing flashes on the defensive end.
To expect him to be a finished product already at the age of 20 is asking a lot. Too much, in fact.
The aforementioned spotlight may not go anywhere, but keep watching because the Lonzo Ball show is barely into its first act.