Here is an early link to my Thursday column. I was assigned to write a column on how a defense might handle Stephen Curry. Forget about actually stopping him. Phil Barber is writing a companion piece about handing LeBron James. The full text of my column runs below:
Beat the hell out of Stephen Curry.
That’s the considered opinion around the NBA. If you want to handle Curry, if you want to slow him down, knock his brains out. Call it The Beat the Hell out of Steph School of Hard Hoops.
No one expects to stop Curry. Out of the question. The idea is to limit his impact on the game. The idea is NOT to let him take over, shooting 3s and driving the hoop and making those impossible behind-the-head passes to Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, et al.
Charles Barkley is dean of The Beat the Hell out of Steph School of Hard Hoops. Barkley spoke to the media the other day on the phone. He was promoting a Tahoe charity golf tournament, The American Century Championship, July 17-19. Barkley picked the Cavaliers to beat the Warriors in six games. “I think it’s LeBron’s time right now,” he said, speaking of LeBron James.
I asked Barkley how a defense can handle Curry.
“I think you have to go at him offensively,” Barkley said. “You can’t let him just play one end of the court.”
He meant make Curry play defense. Tire him out.
Been tried before.
“Steph moves so much he might get in foul trouble or he might wear down as the series goes,” Barkley continued. “They (the Warriors) pretty much had a cakewalk so far, to be honest with you, through the Western Conference where they surprised a bunch of people.”
Let’s put Barkley on pause for a moment, and quibble with his assumptions. Curry might wear down. Really? Did you ever see him wear down? I never did. And how about that cakewalk thing? I’m not even sure what a cake walk is, but it means easy peasy. The Warriors’ road to the finals was harder than the Cavaliers’. As far as surprising anyone, who exactly did the Warriors, with the league’s best record, surprise? OK, back to Barkley.
“I’d be really aggressive with Steph,” he said. “He’s going to get some numbers, but I’d keep running (Iman) Shumpert at him. I’d start the game, obviously, with Kyrie (Irving) guarding. Then I’m going to put Shumpert on him to try to physically beat him up a little bit. Even J.R. (Smith) is going to beat him up a little bit.”
The Rockets tried to “beat him up a little bit.” Everyone tries. That’s the amazing thing about Curry. He looks so meek and gentle. It’s an illusion. So is the beat-the-hell-out-of-him approach.
So, how do you handle Curry? You don’t. Let’s take the philosophical view.
He is a great player. You’re never going to completely stop a great player. Which means you’re never going to completely stop Curry. He will find a way to get to his comfort zone. That’s just the way great players are. Great players always have the advantage at the offensive end against any kind of defense. They find ways to score and ways to beat anybody else’s tweaks on defense.
Curry has shown his greatness with his playoff numbers. The Warriors played 15 games. He’s averaging 29.2. That’s almost 30 points a game in the playoffs where people usually score fewer points and there’s intense preparation specifically to stop him.
Still, the Cavs have to defend him. Or try to. How?
They must play him extremely physically.
What does that mean?
It means they should grab him away from the ball. Turn basketball into tag-team wrestling with the Cavs playing the villain. Cleveland, by necessity, must do everything possible to irritate him.
The Cavs should double-team him. Just over half court, put pressure on him. Box him in that little corner just across half court. His size works against him there, trying to get free of longer defenders and a double team. He can’t see over the top. He gets turnovers there, tries to throw the ball through all these arms. The Cavs can deflect the ball.
Curry is vulnerable in that position. The Warriors, in fact, live with a certain amount of carelessness in his ball handling because they don’t want to limit his creativity.
The Cavs should whack him as he drives the lane to the hoop. Lots of hips and shoulders, although eye gouging and nose pulling are strictly against the rules of sportsmanship.
The Cavs certainly will whack him on the way to the hoop. Aside from the fact it’s been done before — to little avail — Curry is clever and can beat the system. Picture him driving to the hoop. If you picture him, really picture him, you’ll see one thing. He does not jump.
If a driving player jumps as high as he can, he gives the defense time to gather and jump, also. No matter how high Curry jumps, Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov will jump higher. Curry knows that. He has learned to shoot on the way up, way below the basket with his foot almost planted on the floor.
If Curry were to shoot a layup after jumping, the defense would hit him, and he might not score the basket. He would get and make two free throws. But that’s not how he does it. By the time the defense comes to hit him, he’s already released the ball. Score the basket plus one free throw for the foul. A three-point play. Good deal for Curry. Bad deal for the Cavs.
Curry is a nightmare to defend. Irving will find that out if Cleveland even allows Irving to try. Irving is hurt, runs slowly. Curry will murder him. Cleveland could put James on Curry at the end with the game on the line. Not before then. Concentrating on Curry would take away from James’ offensive game — which the Cavs desperately need.
James might be effective against Curry on a limited basis. James is so much bigger and stronger, and probably a better athlete. He is an elite defender. But James on Curry is a desperate, emergency move — not something Cleveland can do the whole game.
All of which means Curry is proving his greatness again and again. I give him superlatives. This is no hyperbole. To do what he’s doing is truly monumental. And it’s difficult. Rick Barry and Jerry West and Walt Frazier and Magic Johnson, those guys could do it. So can Curry. That’s the class he’s in.
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