Why Steph Curry returning to Warriors this season still is so valuable

Why Steph Curry returning to Warriors this season still is so valuable

SAN FRANCISCO -- Sometime early next month, after clearing the few remaining obstacles, Steph Curry is expected to return to his customary place in the Warriors’ starting lineup.

This is the plan. It’s what Curry wants and what the Warriors have stated -- despite groans of dissent from the more apprehensive cells of Dub Nation.

Moreover, this is as it should be.

There will be 15-to-20 games remaining after Curry is cleared to return. There is no point in spending March and April trying to sprint back into the playoff race, which is half the rationale uttered by those who don’t want Curry on the court until next October.

While there are no immediate stakes, there are significant long-term ramifications.

The final few weeks of the season become intriguing if Curry is active, and they are particularly meaningful if he is starting alongside two relative strangers. He has never played with Andrew Wiggins, the Warriors' new starting small forward, and only has played 31 minutes, scattered over three games, with Marquese Chriss, the starting center.

“It’s important for Steph and Andrew to get to know each other and to play together,” coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday night after practice at Chase Center. “It’s important for Steph to play without all of the guys we’ve lost who are not going to be back next year: Kevin (Durant) and Andre (Iguodala) and Shaun (Livingston). Steph in many ways has depended on those guys as sort of a giant security blanket.

“For a guy who is so skilled and talented, this has still been a team effort over the years. And he’s been blessed with some of the smartest players and most talented players in the league.”

Curry, though, was and still is the hub of this offense. As KD often said, “Steph is the system.” Which is why his late-season availability is more crucial than that of Klay Thompson, who plays off Curry in a 3-and-D role that he has mastered. Klay’s game need not change. Steph’s game, as the point guard, requires a grasp of the strengths and weakness of all of his teammates.

To sit a healthy Curry over the final weeks would only make him antsy. Worse, it would be detrimental to the first few weeks next season, when losses once again will matter. Why risk a 7-7 start while “figuring it out,” when roster chemistry and court geometry can be addressed in the low-risk conditions of March and April?

Put another way, doesn’t a head start make sense?

“I do know that this last part of the season is an important stretch for us to springboard into next year,” Kerr said. “With the trade for Andrew and all the young guys we’re trying to develop and Steph’s return, these are important games. They allow us to get to know each other and play together and maybe fiddle with some lineups, fiddle with some schemes and get a look at them over the summer before we get back to camp.”

If every current Warrior were healthy and the team was chasing a playoff seed, the starting lineup would feature Curry and Thompson at guard, Draymond Green and Wiggins at forward and Chriss at center.

The remainder of the rotation would be culled from guards Ky Bowman, Damion Lee and Jordan Poole; forward Eric Paschall; and, assuming he’s able to play 15ish minutes per game, center Kevon Looney.

This foundation is not dramatically different from what the Warriors will have when they open training camp in about seven months. They’ll have added a lottery pick and a free agent, maybe a tweak here or there, but Curry, Thompson, Wiggins and Green comprise the new core four.

The next Curry update is nine days away. Assuming there no setbacks, he’ll be scrimmaging around that time and able to play in early March.

Let him.

The current Warriors are best served by playing together as soon as possible. It’s good for the players and the coaching staff. But only if Curry is part of the action will the evaluation be as thorough as it should be.

[RELATED: Light years 2.0: Lacob says Dubs 're-imagining the dynasty']

Cue the cringing amongst those worried about the Warriors jeopardizing their lottery positioning and visualizing the nightmare scenario where Steph is injured in a game with the Warriors entered with a 15-53 record.

Even then, such games won’t be “meaningless.” To the contrary, it’s absolutely significant insofar as it provides information that can be useful ahead of the draft and free agency.

Steve Kerr cites Rockets' Game 7 loss to Warriors in praising midrange

Steve Kerr cites Rockets' Game 7 loss to Warriors in praising midrange

Warriors coach Steve Kerr is not a fan of the way the Houston Rockets play basketball. 

He doesn't like the extremely high number of 3-pointers they shoot (Houston averaged 46.5 attempts from deep over its last 19 games before the league was suspended).

So when Warriors television play-by-play man Bob Fitzgerald recently asked Kerr about the direction the NBA is trending in regards to style of play, his response should not surprise you:

"It's trending more and more every year to more shooting from every position. But the one thing I will always remember is our Game 7 in Houston a couple years ago when they missed 28 straight 3-point shots. Meanwhile, Kevin and Steph were hitting one midrange pull-up after another.

"In the playoffs, the midrange shot is the one you're gonna get because defenses are so in tune with everything you're trying to do. They're gonna take away the layups, they 're gonna take away the 3-point shots as best they can.

"The one that's always there is the midrange shot. I don't think you want to make it a steady diet -- you still want to shoot a lot of 3s, you want to get to the line, you want to get layups -- but it has to be a part of who you are."

Listen and subscribe to the Runnin' Plays podcast

First and foremost, we need to clarify that it was 27 straight misses, not 28. 

Now that we got that out of the way, let's remind people of the particulars.

In Game 7 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals, Eric Gordon hit a 3-pointer with 6:43 remaining in the second quarter to give the Rockets a 42-28 lead.

[RELATED: Rockets beat Dubs seven out of 10 times in 2018, Morey says]

The next time Houston made a shot from beyond the arc came at the 6:28 mark of the fourth quarter, which made the score 89-79 in favor of the Warriors.

My goodness that is nuts.

Follow @DrewShiller on Twitter and Instagram

Steph Curry, Sabrina Ionescu embrace social distancing while practicing

Steph Curry, Sabrina Ionescu embrace social distancing while practicing

While social distancing is the name of the game in today's world, that doesn't mean two GOATs can just not get shots up.

So, of course, it's only natural that Warriors star Steph Curry and Oregon Ducks legend and future WNBA No. 1overall draft pick Sabrina Ionescu were getting refining their skills while staying the mandated six feet apart Wednesday.

Ionescu and Curry have formed a bond over the past year. Curry brought his daughters to watch Ionescu and the Ducks destroy Cal and then showed up to witness her make history by becoming the first player in NCAA history to record 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists in her career during a win over Stanford.

"It's pretty amazing to see her set new levels of expectation for what greatness is, not just for women's basketball but for basketball in general," Curry told ESPN while watching Ionescu make history. 

"She's blazing a trail nobody has set foot on." 

The Triple-Double Queen made history just hours after she gave an emotional eulogy at Kobe and Gianna Bryant's memorial.

"'You have too much to give to stay silent.’ That’s what he said," Ionescu said at the memorial of her mentor and friend. "That’s what he believed. That’s what he lived. Through Gigi, through me, through his investment in women’s basketball. That was his next great act, a girl dad.

“Basketball in many ways was just a metaphor. I still text him even though he’s not here. ‘Thank you for everything. The rest is for you. Rest easy my guy.’ The last one I sent him said, ‘I miss you, may you rest in peace, my dear friend.’"

Ionescu returned to Oregon for her senior season in hopes of winning the program's first national title. That dream was abruptly halted when the NCAA canceled the men's and women's tournaments due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Walnut Creek native now turns her attention to the WNBA, where she's expected to be the No. 1 overall pick of the New York Liberty.

As she continues to expand her game and be an icon for the game of basketball, Ionescu knows she can always reach out to Curry for advice of any sort.

"I love having a relationship with [Curry], just being able to remember when I was little, watching him and kind of emulating my game after him, to now being able to call him or text him any time that I need help with something," Ionescu told ESPN's Maria Taylor. 

[RELATED: Ionescu-Curry relationship one that's great for basketball]

When sports resume, the two Bay Area legends will go back to being basketball icons.

Until then, practicing while social distancing will have to do.

Listen and subscribe to the Runnin' Plays Podcast