If you ask Stephen Curry, it’s a no-brainer who he wants to defend when the Warriors host the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight: Russell Westbrook.
The same goes for Chris Paul. For Derrick Rose. For Tony Parker. Curry wants, as he said after Thursday’s shoot around, to defend all the best point guards.
“Of course I do,” Curry said.
But that assignment usually goes to guard Klay Thompson, Curry’s backcourt mate. Thompson is 6-foot-7 with good athleticism and size who is sneaky good at moving laterally and contesting shots. It causes problems for point guards, especially the smaller ones, and it makes Thompson much better at keeping them out of the paint than Curry.
That is essential to the Warriors’ defensive game plan, protecting the paint. Not to mention, Curry’s propensity for foul trouble and heavy load on offense are also factors. That’s why Jackson sticks with the game plan. No matter how hard Curry lobbies.
This is the side of Curry people often don’t see. The uber-competitive, super-confident, ever-so-resilient Curry. He does have an ego. It’s usually suppressed by his humility, but it’s there. And it hears the talk about his defense and who he can’t guard. He’d love nothing more than to hush his critics, even at the risk of giving them more fuel.
That leads him to get in Jackson’s ear, just as he does when he’s trying to talk Jackson to let him play through an injury.
“I’m allowed to lobby,” Curry said, “but I’m sure he has his mind made up before I even approach him. They’re healthy conversations. I’ve been working on the defensive part of my game. But I’m trying to stick to the game plan. I don’t have to do anything special, just do what they’re asking me to do. I think I can do that every night.”
Curry will probably defend Thabo Sefalosha tonight. Usually he’s on the wing player who spends the most time on the perimeter. This frees Curry up to take advantage of his quick hands (probably his best defensive attribute).
He doesn’t have the length or explosion to close out on shooters as well as Thompson or Andre Iguodala. So if Curry gets caught in between, his man will get a good look. But reading the angles and providing the help, digging down on post ups and getting deflections – he can do all that if he is not trying to cling to the star point guard. When he’s on point, he’s doing all that and not losing sight of his man.
Curry’s biggest struggles on defense is staying in front of his man, especially against the elite athletes. Staying in front of the likes of Westbrook is nearly impossible a task to begin with, but Curry doesn’t have the attributes (lateral quickness, strength, athleticism) to attack with. Against the top-tier point guards, you have to take something away, which takes certain skills (even intangibles) that Curry doesn’t have in spades. If sheer will were enough, Curry’d probably be your guy. But if you’re Jackson, getting the win trumps Curry’s desire to vindicate himself on that end of the court.
SIDE NOTE: I have always believed Curry tries too hard on defense. Seriously. Not that he should be lazy on defense. But he has a Napoleon complex, a little guy trying to prove himself. So he winds up trying to be extra physical, trying not to get pushed around, playing too close up on drivers, reaching for steals to make a play. He’s much better playing that end cerebrally, living on angles and percentages (see: Iguodala).
Jackson loves that Curry has the pride to want to defend the best, but the selflessness to buy into the game plan. Curry said, in the end, that’s what it’s all about: the game plan. That’s how the Warriors are No. 3 in the league in defensive rating thus far, how they’ve been especially dominant at home. So Curry ends up swallowing his pride, ignoring the talk about how he can’t play defense.
But he said he encourages himself with one reality.
“I’ll get my turn throughout the course of the game,” Curry said, “And I’ll have to step up and make defensive plays.”