How Steph improved defense, became two-way force for Warriors


LOS ANGELES -- It's easy to fall in love with Steph Curry's offense.

I mean, how could you not? The way he handles the ball and weaves through opposing teams' defenses is breathtaking. The way he shoots is unlike anything else. Even the way he moves without the ball is a sight to be seen. The way Curry plays offense has changed how basketball is played.

But Curry's game isn't limited to one end of the court. He has a strong two-way presence, and recently his work on the defensive end has been the best it's ever been.

"He’s been great defensively all year, and I hope people are recognizing it." Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after Sunday's win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Draymond Green went as far as to call Curry one of the best defenders on the Warriors' roster.

Against the Clippers, Curry swiped six steals -- one off tying his career-high. And statistically, Curry is having the best defensive season of his career.

Curry is boasting a career-best 96.0 defensive rating, is in the top 15 in the league in steals, and top 22 in deflections.

"Everyone obviously locks in on his offensive brilliance, which they should, but he had six steals [Sunday]. Eight deflections. He’s all over the place," Kerr said. "For whatever reason, he has a reputation of being a poor defender. I don’t see that at all. I think he’s a really good defender and he’s been great defensively."

Curry's reputation as a poor defender stems from his tendency to reach a lot, resulting in a lot of foul calls. In his second season, Cury had a 3.9 percent foul rate which ranked sixth-worst among qualified guards.

As the Warriors entered their dynastic period, Curry improved to become an OK defender. His defensive ratings in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons were both under 100, and he also led the league with 332 steals over those two years. But, he was still a target on switches, especially in the playoffs.

This forced Curry to learn and adjust quickly.

"I knew, especially with a bigger guy in front of you, you can’t hold your space," Curry said. "Your only chance is to try to get a deflection or steal. It’s not a high percentage play at that point. So you fail. And then you get into sort of playoff situation, certain guys who are looking for that foul, you learn to be more disciplined on that front."

"We used to harp on him like stop reaching, stop reaching, stop reaching," Green said. "It got to the point where he would reach and 'Ahhhh' as soon as he’d do it."

The other thing that has allowed Curry to flourish as a defender is his physical strength. When he entered the league over a decade ago, he was listed at 181 pounds. This only encouraged opposing teams more to hunt him on switches and post-ups.

But now, Curry, Kerr and Green all believe Curry is in the best shape of his life.

"I don’t think he’s ever been stronger, physically," Kerr said.

"He’s one of the strongest guys on the team now," Green added. "You should see him in the weight room. Pretty strong. But you also see him put the work in every day, twice a day. In a way, it’s sometimes excessive. But it’s beautiful."

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Curry's increased strength benefits him on both ends. When he's moving without the ball on offense, he now has an easier time battling through screens. On defense, he's sturdier and is better equipped to handle the physicality of trying to slow someone down.

"If guys want to roll you into the most or defend on the drive, you take that first hit, you don’t get knocked off balance," Curry said. "That helps, and then you don’t foul necessarily because you’re not reacting. You always stay in control. I’ve always tried to see the flow and be one step ahead, play passing lanes, and do all that. But when you can add the on-ball presence, that helps."

But his leap on defense goes beyond one-on-one defense. He has improved as a defender in pick-and-roll situations. He's better at fighting through screens. He can even be a rim protector at times.

All of this makes the Warriors' league-best 99.4 defensive rating even more threatening. And on an individual level, it makes Curry more of a threat.

His offense always will garner attention and admiration. But now when Curry gets on the other end of the court, he demands the same type of respect. 

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