Warriors
USATSI

In midst of torrid start, Splash Brothers better than ever

OAKLAND -- Game after game this season it is becoming evident that, contrary to countless projections, the Splash Brothers have not gone dry.

That Stephen Curry’s long-distance shooting still puts fear in the minds of opponents, same as ever, and now he’s also embracing the call for playing smarter, better defense.

“He’s a very good defender in this league,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr says. “We always talk about two-way guys. Steph Curry is a two-way guy. We’re not trying to hide him on defense. We don’t change schemes to protect him. He’s very much a part of what we do defensively.”

And Curry’s sidekick in the Warriors backcourt, Klay Thompson, is off to the best start of his six-year career.

“That’s all based on experience and him actually caring about his performance to start the year,” Curry says of Thompson. “He worked hard this summer, came in in shape, came in sharp with his skill set. It’s no surprise, really, once you do that that it turns into results on the court in games.”

You may recall over the summer, as teams in the Western Conference rebuilt largely on the backs of such Eastern Conference players as Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Jimmy Butler, that some questioned whether the Warriors could repeat their feat of last season, when they sent four players to the All-Star Game.

With Kevin Durant and Curry as former MVPs and Draymond Green as the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, it was Thompson’s spot that seemed most imperiled.

Thompson’s response, intentional or not, has been a searing campaign showcasing his skills at both ends.

“Just taking great shots, not settling for good shots. It’s my fourth year with Steve and the coaching staff,” he explains. “I’m used to the offense, I know I’m going to get my looks and I know where my teammates want me to go. I’ll just say familiarity with the offense and being in great shape.”

Thompson is averaging 20.3 points on 50.8 shooting, including 45.2 beyond the arc -- fourth among those who take at least six treys per game. Though he continues to defend the opponent’s most feared backcourt player, he has had three games with at least six rebounds and two with at least five assists.

“I think his playmaking has been the best it has been in his career,” Kerr said.

“You’re seeing another step up when it comes to efficiency,” Curry says. “We obviously know he can score; he can shoot the ball with anybody in this league. His presence on both ends of the floor has been huge and he’s taken a step in playmaking as well, with the ball in his hands, setting up guys in the occasional pick-and-roll situation or when he’s able to draw a couple defenders off pin-downs to find the open guy. That’s been huge for us.

“Teams are going to adjust how they defend you; they want to take away his catch-and-shoot opportunities and he’s found a way to be effective all over the floor.”

Meanwhile, Curry is averaging a team-high 25.7 points (47.3 percent from the field, 39.6 from deep, 93.2 from the line), along with 6.4 assists and 4.5 rebounds. His on pace once again to do only he has done in each of the past three seasons: average three triples per game and at least 1.5 steals per game.

He’s quietly making a bid for another season in the ultra-exclusive 50-40-90 Club (shooting at least 50 percent from the field, at least 40 from deep and at least90 from the line) he joined in 2015-16, when he became the league’s first unanimous MVP.

The latest Basketball-Reference MVP probability tracker lists Curry as behind only Rockets guard James Harden among the candidates. Curry’s player-efficiency rating is the highest on the Warriors and ranks just ahead of Harden’s.

The popular preseason MVP predictions listed such names as Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Harden and Durant. And while most of this bunch remains in the discussion, Curry also has slid his way in.

Even as Kerr continues to experiment with rotations, there is at least one thing he has settled on. At any time other than the fourth quarter of a blowout, either Curry or Thompson -- or both -- will be on the floor.

“Klay is always going to be out there at the beginning of the second quarter because we like to play Steph the whole first,” Kerr said. “Steph is most comfortable doing that. We’ve got to have the shooting that Klay provides when Steph is out. Klay is almost always going to be out there barring foul trouble.”

There is plenty of basketball to be played. There is much than can change. But Curry and Thompson are in the primes of their careers and it shows. They hear the slights and rather than voice dissent they’re opting to reply on the court.