Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry might be the two best shot creators currently in the NBA. Even though they play completely different positions, they’re similar in their ability to score efficiently in isolation, transition and the pick-and-roll by knocking down 3-pointers in volume and making plays for themselves off the dribble. If Curry was 7-feet tall, he’d probably play just like Durant. Likewise, if Durant was 6-foot-3, he’d probably play just like Curry.
Taking them both to the next level is that Curry and Durant also happen to be amongst the league’s best at effecting he defense without the ball in their hands. Curry spotting up for a 3-pointer is basically a layup for him at this stage of his career and Durant’s length to go along with his soft touch make him a nightmare for opponents to keep up with around screens. It means teams can’t ever take a break when they are on the court because they can basically alternate between being the league’s scariest point guard and shooting guard depending on what’s needed.
One of the ways the Golden State Warriors make the most of that dual threat is by involving Durant and Curry in off-ball screens when the likes of Zaza Pachulia, Draymond Green or Andre Iguodala have the ball in their hands. We’ve seen the Warriors use the threat of Curry to create shots for others in the past, but adding Durant to the fold only amplifies their unique skill sets to the point where it’s nearly unstoppable.
For example, Curry gives the ball to Pachulia at the elbow once he crosses half court in the possession below and immediately moves towards Durant in the corner. With Klay Thompson and Green on the other side of the court — both of whom can easily stretch teams out to the perimeter — notice how there isn’t a defender anywhere close the basket.
Curry basically gives Durant two options when he approaches him:
- Curl off of his screen for a hand-off or pick-and-roll with Pachulia.
- Cut backdoor for a layup, dunk or alley-oop.
Durant fakes as though he’s going with No. 1, then cuts backdoor to make use of all the space under the basket. Paul George bites ever-so-slightly on the fake, which forces Jeff Teague out of position as he tries his best to help out.
The problem: Teague’s decision leaves Curry unmarked. That sets the table for Curry to pop to the 3-point line, receive a simple pass from Pachulia and knock down a wide open jump shot.
It seems relatively easy to stop when broken down into three images, but watch how quickly the play unfolds to get an idea of how slim the margin of error is.
And this is what happens if Curry’s man doesn’t help on the backdoor cut.
More so than anything, it’s a smart way of using Pachulia seeing as he’s the only non-scoring threat on the floor. If the Warriors can force his defender to play him somewhat honestly, it gives Thompson, Green, Curry and Durant all the room they need to make a play. The same goes for how they use him in the post. Pachulia has been one of the worst scorers with his back to the basket this season — 2nd percentile with 0.5 points per possession — but putting the ball in his hands and allowing him to make a decision when Durant and Curry exchange screens in front of him can still lead to easy baskets.
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In this situation, Curry sets a good screen on Durant and forces Giannis Antetokounmpo to fight under. Matthew Dellavedova sticks to Curry’s hip to prevent him from shaking loose for a jump shot, though, which makes it harder for Antetokoumpo to recover by acting as a double screen. John Henson should’ve left Pachulia sooner to prevent Durant from getting an uncontested dunk, but Pachulia is a good scorer off of cuts. Had Henson slid over, Durant would’ve likely set him up for a dunk.
Here’s one more example to show how much of a nuisance those screens can be. Once again, look at how easily the Warriors clear out the paint by having Green bring up the ball and parking Thompson in the corner. With Curry setting the back pick on Durant, it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on Durant’s defender to fight through a screen and recover in time to prevent him from getting a layup.
On this play, T.J. Warren even fouls Durant on the alley-oop.
There isn’t really any way to defend the action. Simply switching defenders on the initial screen would pave the way for the Warriors to bring the set to a screeching halt and expose the weaker defender by giving the ball to Durant in the post, where he’s averaging 1.07 points per possession this season, or giving Curry the room at the top of the perimeter for an isolation, where he averaged 1.07 points per possession last season. They can totally ignore the passer — Pachulia in most situations — but it doesn’t prevent one of the them getting a step on their primary defender.
Once they do, Curry and Durant will create a high percentage look for themselves or someone else. That’s the beauty of having two players who can bend defenses to the extreme with and without the ball in their hands.