OAKLAND – Steph Curry’s 11th NBA season begins in about 10 weeks and it will in some ways be the most challenging of his career.
Which has Curry, 31, in the gym/lab with Brandon Payne, the trainer who over the past eight years has helped advance the two-time MVP. They’re tinkering with this, experimenting with that and tossing some concepts into the recycling bin.
“Movement and recovery are the main focus this offseason,” Payne told NBC Sports Bay Area on Tuesday. “We want to make him stronger, but we want to at first make sure that he’s moving at optimal levels.
“We don’t approach this in terms of thinking his shot numbers are going to up or anything like that. It’s more a matter of trying to make him the best version of himself. If we do that, we’ll be satisfied and he’ll be prepared to play 82 games, which is our goal going into every year.”
Curry has never played all 82 games, tying his career-high of 80 in 2014-15. After missing a total of eight games in the first three seasons under coach Steve Kerr, Curry fell off to 51 in 2017-18 before bouncing back to play 69 games last season.
But never in this glorified era of Warriors basketball has his presence been more essential. Gone are Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, three stellar members of the championship roster. Five-time All-Star Klay Thompson, Curry’s backcourt sidekick for eight seasons, is expected to miss at least at least three months while recovering from ACL surgery.
All of which means Steph can anticipate an appreciable reduction in load management. Kerr already has conceded that the minutes of core players such as Draymond Green, Kevon Looney and Curry, could go up. And rest nights will be rarer still.
“The load management thing is not that big a deal as long as you recover properly between workouts and games,” Payne said. “But, yeah, we know it’s going to be a heavier load. That’s why a heavy emphasis this offseason has been on creating a solid recovery process, something that we can work on and refine between workouts and carry over into the season, and that can be easily repeatable on a daily basis.
“We don’t have (Curry) walking around in bubble wrap, but we are being a little more intelligent about how we’re loading his body.”
Though the Warriors last month acquired All-Star guard D’Angelo Russell, who is slated to open the season starting alongside Curry in the backcourt, the veteran who has mastered the offense and owns a truckload of accolades will continue to be the team’s offensive catalyst.
Recognizing the Curry-Russell duo will bear the majority of the scoring burden, Curry and Payne are not waiting for training camp next month to start the team-building process. They’re already a couple weeks into the process.
“We’ve had D-Lo in for workouts, so we’ve had the opportunity to have them work together and kind of get to know each other,” said Payne, the founder/owner of Accelerate Basketball Training. “That’s been productive. It gave D-Lo a glimpse into what we do on a daily basis, and I think that was good for him to see. I think that backcourt pairing is going to be really nice.”
So much about the direction of 2019-20 Warriors will be determined by Curry. If he’s healthy and MVP-level brilliant, they could exceed 50 wins and fight for a top-four playoff seed. If he misses significant portions of the season or struggles under defenses keying on him, simply making the playoffs would be a meaningful achievement.
Payne is confident that Curry, even at this stage of his career, can continue to improve.
“We’re continuing on his skill expansion; we’re still trying to expand his skill set,” he said. “We’re adding things to be more efficient. We make adjustments based on what we saw over 82 games, plus playoffs. We take a look at what teams did that may have had some success against him and we try to neutralize those things going into the next season.”
In an NBA rich with delicious storylines entering next season, curiosity over Curry 11.0 barely registers -- at least outside the Bay Area. Curry and Payne are OK with that. They’ll settle for lifting the Warriors higher than many believe they can go.