Why to expect Warriors' Steph Curry to have James Harden-like season

Why to expect Warriors' Steph Curry to have James Harden-like season

What are reasonable expectations for Steph Curry this NBA season?

That's a question The Ringer's Zach Kram set out to answer Tuesday and based on his findings, MVP voters better take notice.

Why? Because the most fitting comparison for what to expect from the Warriors guard this season, according to Kram, is the player who finished runner-up in MVP voting last season and won it the year before that.

That's right. Based on what Curry has averaged per 75 possessions without either Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson on the floor over the last three seasons, we can expect his 2019-20 season to mirror that of James Harden's in 2018-19.

That's a high bar, considering the Houston Rockets star produced the second-highest scoring average (36.1 ppg) in NBA history by any player not named Wilt Chamberlain last season. But Kram has data to back up his assertion.

Over the last three seasons (regular season and playoffs combined), Curry has played 1,214 minutes with both Durant and Thompson off the floor. Given that Durant now plays for the Nets and Thompson is expected to miss most -- if not all -- of the 2019-20 season, that's an accurate representation of the situation Curry will find himself in this year.

And, if we break those minutes down into possessions, the comparison between Curry's upcoming season and the one Harden just had becomes much tougher to deny.

"These two stat lines -- Curry’s per-75-possession numbers without Durant and Thompson ... Harden’s overall numbers in the 2018-19 regular season," Kram wrote, "are eerily similar, down to the exact same true shooting percentage."

See for yourself.


Image: The Ringer, Zach Kram

Eerily similar, indeed.

As you can see, Curry is quite capable of producing a one-man show; he simply hasn't been in a situation where that was required over the last three seasons. But with Thompson rehabbing, Durant and Andre Iguodala elsewhere and Shaun Livingston retired, it's a brand-new world for Curry and the Warriors, and Golden State might need him to claim it as his own to make another postseason run.

Consider this: Harden had a usage rate of 40.5 percent last season (the second-highest in NBA history), but throughout his career, Curry has never used more than 32.6 percent of the Warriors possessions in any single season. By the way, that career-high came in 2015-16, when Curry became the first unanimous MVP in league history.

With Golden State's revamped roster, it's not just reasonable to expect Curry to produce his highest usage rate ever in the season ahead; it likely will be required. His 2019 preseason numbers only support that assumption.

Over four preseason games, Curry averaged career-highs in shot attempts, 3-point attempts, free-throw attempts and points per possession. Per 75 possessions, he averaged 35 points and converted 43 percent of his 12-plus 3-point attempts per game -- numbers very much in line with Curry's per-75 possession averages without Durant and Thompson over the last three seasons.

Now, obviously, there are other factors to consider. Curry's new backcourt partner D'Angelo Russell will have the ball in his hands quite often as well, and the degree to which Russell is effective will have an impact on how much is required of Curry. Of course, it's worth mentioning that Harden played alongside a ball-dominant guard in Chris Paul each of the last two seasons.

[RELATED: Watch Brian Shaw highlight how Steph, D-Lo fit on Warriors]

We don't know what to expect from the Warriors this season. But if Curry provides what we can reasonably expect from him, it will provide both him and Golden State with the chance to add some more hardware.

Andrew Wiggins-Steph Curry duo's potential shown in Warriors NBA 2K sim

Andrew Wiggins-Steph Curry duo's potential shown in Warriors NBA 2K sim

Editor’s note: With the NBA season halted over coronavirus concerns, Warriors fans have unanswered questions about the team and how it’s building toward the future. To provide answers, NBC Sports Bay Area will simulate some previously scheduled Warriors games through NBA 2K, mixing video-game results with real-life insights for our coverage team.

Even amid the NBA season suspension due to the global coronavirus pandemic, Andrew Wiggins enters the spring as the Warriors' biggest question mark.

A former No. 1 overall draft pick, Wiggins' potential drops jaws, while his inconsistency is head-scratching. Upon arrival, the Warriors believed his ability would bode well alongside Steph Curry and the team's culture.

In a simulation of the March 28 game against the Oklahoma City Thunder using NBA 2K20, Wiggins showed promise towards that goal in a 117-110 loss.

In the digital confines, Wiggins finished with 35 points, getting most of his buckets within the flow of the Warriors' motion offense.

"I think he really fits well," Draymond Green said of Wiggins last month. "As seamless as it could possibly be, I think he can fit right in. He can score the basketball, he can run the wings, he's a pretty good defender. So I think he'll definitely fit in with this core for a long time."

Similar performances weren't as consistent during Wiggins' first four seasons in Minnesota. Wiggins didn't live up to the expectations that come with being a franchise player. His offensive inconsistency quickly drew the ire of NBA observers. Worse, Wiggins became one of the worst defenders in the league, even after he signed a five-year, $145 million contract.

Nonetheless, the Warriors saw potential in the 25-year old, trading former All-Star point guard D'Angelo Russell, along with Jacob Evans and Omari Spellman, in part to pair Wiggins with Curry. In the 2K simulation, the pairing worked, as the tandem combined for 62 points on the night.

The performance was consistent with Wiggins' lone real-world game alongside the former MVP. Against the Raptors back on March 5, the duo combined for 44 points in Curry's return from a broken left hand.

Curry's first highlight against the Raptors came with the help of his Canadian teammate, when he took a dribble in the lane, drew a double-team and fired a behind the back pass to Wiggins in the lane, leading to an easy layup, surprising Wiggins in the process.

"I didn't even know it was coming, really," Wiggins admitted after the loss to the Raptors. "I was kind of watching like it may come, but then when he went behind the back I was just trying to catch it. It was a hell of a pass."

"I'm very excited," Wiggins added. "He's an MVP player, one of the greats. He helped transition the game with his 3s and how fast he plays. So, I'm excited."

[RELATED: How Steph perform in Warriors-Hawks sim]

Wiggins' virtual performance Saturday coincided with his strong play during his short stint in the Bay Area. In his last five games, he averaged 20 points on 46 percent shooting from the field. If Wiggins continues to build on his current play, the Warriors will see the potential they've wanted all along, making for an intriguing process Wiggins says he's ready for.

"I feel like I've adjusted well," Wiggins told NBC Sports Bay Area earlier in March. "I've never played with anyone as good as him. By far, he's the best player that I've played with. Just getting a chance to learn from him and feeding off him and just learning."

Watch every Steph Curry 3-pointer with Warriors from 30 feet and beyond

Watch every Steph Curry 3-pointer with Warriors from 30 feet and beyond

Today is the 30th day in March.

Warriors superstar Steph Curry wears No. 30.

Obviously, that means you should watch every single 3-pointer the two-time NBA MVP has made in his career from 30 feet and beyond.

Thank you to our friends at the Warriors for making this possible:

You watched all 87, right? What's your favorite?

Is it the famous 37-footer against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Feb. 27, 2016? What about the 62-footer he swished at the end of the third quarter in Game 6 of the 2015 Western Conference semifinals against the Memphis Grizzlies?

[RELATED: What separates Steph Curry as favorite among all Bay Area MVP athletes]

There just are so many incredible ones to choose from.

Now go spend 10 more minutes watching all 87 again ...

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