The 2020-21 NBA season is just a couple of weeks old but we have already learned a lot about this version of Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
The road certainly started out rocky. The Warriors opened the season against the Bucks and Nets and were unceremoniously run out of their respective buildings. Through the first 96 minutes of their season, the Warriors were 0-2 and had been outscored by 65 points.
Draymond Green's absence exacerbated the issues but it was notable that the Warriors were trying - and failing - to run the same offensive system that they had used during their title run. It's a fantastic system, but it's one predicated on shooting, passing and off-ball motion, skills this roster is notably deficient in when compared to those in recent memory.
The championship-era offence was built on the ability of the other players on the floor to capitalize on the space created by Curry's gravity. Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala knew what to do with those chances.
This year's team may have eventually learned how to as well but, in a truncated season, the Warriors couldn't afford to wait and see.
Following their 123-98 loss to the Trail Blazers on New Year's Day, the incline of that learning curve was abundantly clear. Kelly Oubre, Andrew Wiggins and Eric Paschall weren't going to succeed in roles designed for Durant, Thompson and Iguodala. The Warriors had the worst offence in the league and were left with no choice but to adapt.
Green's return has helped grease the wheels but the tweaks Curry has made have completely unlocked this offence. This team is no overnight juggernaut but they are miles ahead of where they were at season's open.
All stats from the four-game sample size since that New Year's Day loss are unsustainably buoyed by Curry's 62-point explosion, but the tweaks made since that game are crucial in illustrating how the Warriors plan to succeed over the rest of the season.
Curry's changes can be boiled down to one theme: he has become far more aggressive. Aggression can be difficult to quantify and isn't as simple as a higher usage rate or more field goal attempts. Instead, it comes down to the type of attempts Curry has taken.
Since that New Year's Day loss, Curry has averaged 10.5 drives per game. If you compare that to 7.7 drives per game in his last healthy season of 2018-19 and 8.0 per game in his unanimous MVP season of 2015-16, he's clearly taking it upon himself to attack the rim more than ever before.
Curry has shot an incredible 57.9 percent on drives in those past four games, a number even higher than his average in 2015-16 (56.7 percent). Even if he can't sustain that efficiency, attacking the defence over has helped Curry to get to the line 8.3 times per game since New Year's Day. Compare that to his career-high of 5.9 free throw attempts per game in 2017-18, and that's found money for a career 90.7 percent free-throw shooter.
It's important to note that these numbers haven't come as a result of Curry hijacking the Warrior offence. He isn't dribbling the air out of the ball in order to look for his shot; he has just been far more aggressive when he does have possession.
|Touches/gm||Time of Possession||Points/Touch|
|Last 4 Games (20-21)||83.8||6.0||.427|
|First 5 Games (20-21)||88.0||6.3||.300|
These mentality changes have worked but, as a consequence, they've minimized some of the aspects we most closely associate with Curry's game.
Even while averaging 35.8 points over the last four games, Curry has averaged just 4.5 points per game off catch-and-shoot attempts. Similarly, the uptick in driving means his three-point attempt rate is down to "only" 54.7 percent, a rate which would be his lowest since 2014-15.
These trends feel almost counter-intuitive. Curry is one of the most efficient guards in league history but his success has come as he's shied away from more analytic-friendly shots. With fewer players on the roster capable of finding him when he gets open, Curry has instead fallen back on the looks he knows he can create for himself.
As much as Curry's success has made any changes inherently worthwhile, Wiggins and Oubre's comfort within the system is crucial. While Wiggins' scoring may be a tick below his career numbers, he has been a consistent defender, a surprisingly clutch scorer and has started to develop promising chemistry with Paschall on the second unit. By comparison, Oubre's start has been nothing short of cataclysmic.
Oubre is down to just 10.0 points per game but that only begins to show how rough it has been for him. He started the year shooting 0-17 from three and 0-31 on all non-dunk field goal attempts. It has been a slow climb back to a 36.1 eFG% and his assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.28 is still rock bottom, but the Warriors have to hope these changes will help Oubre acclimate and settle into an off-ball, slashing role he is more accustomed to.
These past few games have been monumental steps in the right direction, but much of the system that helped make the Warriors, "The Warriors", has been reworked. We will still be watching the same Steph Curry but, at least until Thompson's return next season, he will be surrounded by a new version of Warrior basketball.
Whether these new Warriors will grow into a playoff force remains to be seen. There are a million early-season stats to dissect to try to predict future successes and failures but only time will truly tell which are important. That said, one stat stands out. The Warriors are undefeated when Curry scores 30+ points and winless when he doesn't. Sometimes, the simplest stats are the most telling.
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