If a 141-122 season-opening loss to the Los Angeles Clippers was any indication, the Golden State Warriors have a long way to go before they can even consider making the playoffs. Three years after scoring the services of Kevin Durant, the Warriors’ star Stephen Curry now faces a similar dilemma than the very man KD left behind — Russell Westbrook.
Oh how the tables have turned…
Call it the KD curse or what have you, but every time a dominant scorer leaves a team, that team struggles. The Warriors are no different.
Compounding that problem is the absence of Klay Thompson, not only a consistent 20-point scorer, but also the team’s best perimeter defender — one this shell of a juggernaut team is sorely missing.
Curry is now mired in the same position that Westbrook found himself in three years ago, fresh off a (less-pronounced) divorce with Durant, and forced to depend only on himself to bring his team afloat. While many expected this fallout to be the way that Curry can capture his third Most Valuable Player award, the road to doing so will be all that much more difficult for him, now that he is witnessing what it will take to bring this team to the promised land.
Thursday night’s game stacked the Warriors against a team believed to be a championship contender, which would be no issue otherwise, except that Golden State will see the Clippers three more times in the regular season, along with the Lakers, who dominated them in the preseason.
While Curry has all the liberties to take 25 shots a night and lead the league in scoring, much like Westbrook did in that 2016-17 season, doing so will be a lot tougher than his counterpart.
For starters, Curry doesn’t possess the raw athleticism, speed, and physical abilities that Westbrook utilized to make himself into the first player to average a triple-double in a season since Oscar Robertson. Curry relies on his ability to create space and knock down shots.
This issue is compounded by the fact that the 31-year-old marksman hasn’t gotten to the foul line more than six times per game in a season, despite being — quite literally — the best free-throw shooter in the history of the NBA.
Westbrook went to the line 10.4 times per game in 2016-17, knocking down 84.5% of his attempts, a career-high. Yet Curry, despite sitting at a career 90.5% clip, is nowhere close to attempting as many foul shots or generating the same chances for contact, mostly relying on 3-point pump-fakes and the occasional drive to earn his visits to the charity stripe.
Stephen Curry is now having to shoulder the load for a team that simply doesn’t have the same potent pieces it once had. Instead of an assassin in Durant and a deadeye shooter in Thompson, Curry is left with D’Angelo Russell, Glenn Robinson III and Jacob Evans — neither of the three anywhere the caliber of shooters that the two aforementioned are hailed to be.
While often underrated, Curry’s playmaking could be a big factor this season. After all, he did average 8.5 assists per game in 2013-14, the season before the dynasty took over. But lacking those deadly options in the perimeter has only made Draymond Green’s poor perimeter shooting all the more of a liability.
A lot of would-be assists will result in bricks from his teammates, and plenty more playmaking opportunities coming from his wild passes will result in turnovers, as it became evident in an eight-turnover night for Curry in the season opener.
The two-time MVP was often double and triple-teamed during his first regular season game, something Westbrook had to endure during that first season without Durant. The Long Beach native didn’t have the best of players around him either, dealing mostly with two capable play finishers in Victor Oladipo and Steven Adams.
Curry’s best option is a two-man game with Russell, and after that the paint runs dry when it comes to a reliable source of scoring, making something very evident — the Warriors won’t just struggle defending, they will have a tough time putting points on the board as well.
That alone further complicates Curry’s situation, not to mention the amount of double- and triple-teams he will see this season from teams hoping to take the ball out of his hands. It’s hard enough to score 30 in a consistent basis in this league, but it gets even tougher when the supporting cast doesn’t make a defense pay for committing two or more men to one player.
One could argue that Stephen Curry is in a worse situation than Westbrook was three years ago, despite a similarly caustic blueprint, but Curry must play with the same pedal-to-the-metal type of reckless abandon to spearhead the Warriors into the playoff race, or else it’s all but a lost season for a team recovering from the fallout of losing one of the best players in the league.