• The Star Staff

Stephen Curry sees your tweets, and your team’s weaknesses

By Marc Stein

Stephen Curry missed 38 of the first 56 3-pointers he attempted this season. His Golden State Warriors were punchless without the injured Klay Thompson alongside him in their famed Splash Brothers backcourt, losing by 26, 39 and 25 points within the first five games.

There was little at the time to suggest that Curry would soon be crashing the race for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award and inspiring his coach, Steve Kerr, to say that “this is the best” version yet of his star guard.

Curry has stopped short of saying he agrees. The likely explanation: He is as audacious as ever with his shot selection, confidence, celebratory shimmies and ambition. So he keeps expecting more and resisting limits, even as his 33rd birthday nears next month.

“I am playing well,” Curry said in a phone interview — but insisted that he can still get better.

“I know that’s kind of crazy to say,” he added.

Such talk is not crazy to the Warriors, who have grown accustomed to seeing Curry hush skeptic after skeptic since his arrival from Davidson College as the No. 7 overall pick in the 2009 draft. Shaun Livingston, a former teammate who has moved into the team’s front office, said Curry was noticeably stronger absorbing contact after working on his body in the offseason. Curry cited an improved ability to read defenses as an even bigger development in his game.

After a broken hand and the NBA’s pandemic-imposed hiatus limited him to five games last season, Curry has rebounded emphatically. He busted out of his early 3-point-shooting struggles with a career-high 62 points against Portland on Jan. 3, passed the Hall of Famer Reggie Miller for second place in career 3-pointers made on Jan. 23 and hung 57 points on the Dallas Mavericks two weeks after that.

Curry is averaging 29.9 points, 6.2 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game while shooting 48.6% from the floor and 42.3% from 3-point range. They are the most robust figures he has produced since 2015-16, when he was named the league MVP for the second successive season. The offensive surge gives him a reach chance to join Michael Jordan on a very short list of players to average 30 points per game at age 32 or older.

The Warriors are hopeful Curry can return to the lineup Tuesday at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks after illness forced him to skip Saturday’s game at Charlotte. They have become so reliant on him in their current state, after Thompson tore his right Achilles tendon in November, that Curry may have to stay at a supernova level just to get his 16-15 team back to the playoffs.

Team officials have also learned by now, having watched Curry develop into the sort of revolutionary franchise cornerstone no one projected, that there is little point in trying to curb his aspirations or quirks — even when that means having to watch him scroll through potentially toxic social media criticism on his phone at halftime.

Andrew Bogut, the recently retired former Warriors big man, revealed last month on his new “Rogue Bogues” podcast that Curry was prone to check his Twitter mentions “if he had a bad half.” Asked to verify the story, Curry laughed and said it had indeed become “a really bad habit.”

Bogut last played alongside Curry for the final month of the 2018-19 regular season and the playoffs, which were marred by the serious injuries to Kevin Durant (Achilles tendon) and Thompson (knee) and halted the Warriors’ remarkable run of three championships in five consecutive trips to the NBA finals. Asked how regularly he still takes a peek at halftime, Curry said: “Probably more often than you think.”

As such, before that 62-point eruption against the Trail Blazers, Curry was keenly aware of mounting social media criticism doubting his ability to carry an injury-hit team and claims that a poor season for the Warriors could damage his legacy.

“I saw all of it,” he said of the critical tweets. “It was hilarious.”

After two games with at least 10 3-pointers earlier this month, Curry missed 15 of his first 18 3-pointers against the Miami Heat on Wednesday — only to drain two clutch 3-pointers in overtime in the come-from-behind victory. It was the kind of performance that sets social media ablaze, with critics calling for his two MVP trophies to be repossessed and, by night’s end, supporters responding by “just asking” why he lives in so many people’s heads rent-free. (Translation: Why talk about him so much if he’s not as exceptional as advertised?)

“I don’t think he plays the game with spite or trying to prove people wrong,” said Bruce Fraser, a Warriors assistant coach, who works as closely with Curry as anyone in the organization. “I think he just wants to be great. I saw him chasing greatness last summer when no one was watching. The main piece to his success is the time that he’s put into it and his push last summer.”

Eight-plus months off, as part of one of the eight teams that did not qualify to finish last season in the NBA bubble at Walt Disney World, led to the most productive offseason of Curry’s career. It was the ideal tonic after the Warriors played well into June for five straight springs. Curry was in the gym constantly, with his longtime personal trainer Brandon Payne as well as Fraser, adding muscle to play through contract and evade clutching and grabbing off the ball, and to gird himself to head inside when defenses played him too tight outside.

Defenses hound Curry so closely on the perimeter that he is driving the ball more than he has since 2015-16; nearly 30% of the shots Curry has taken this season come within 10 feet of the basket.

“I’ve always been a late bloomer,” Curry said of the strength boost, “so it’s not a surprise.”

When Curry was misfiring early this season, Fraser refused to worry. He was sure Curry was ready for the challenge of leading a mostly new team apart from the title-tested Draymond Green. Fraser was the one, after all, flinging the passes at a post-practice shooting session on Dec. 26 when Curry made 105 consecutive 3-pointers — 103 of them on camera.

The purity of Curry’s stroke told Fraser that the real issue was how Curry was adjusting to an array of new defensive coverages. With Durant now on the Brooklyn Nets, Thompson unavailable and scant dependable shooting elsewhere in the lineup, Curry needed to get used to opposing teams locking in on him like never before.

“At the beginning of the season, it was really hard for him,” Fraser said. “Box-and-ones, double teams, traps, triple teams. In transition, I’ve seen times when Steph’s been coming down the floor and there are four guys around him.”

Fraser’s recap hit upon one of Curry’s favorite subjects. At this stage of his career, Curry seems to enjoy talking about the nuances of reading the game as much as his actual shotmaking.

“My patience is a lot better now, if I had to pick one thing,” Curry said. “How I see the game when I’m on and off the ball, seeing what the defense is giving you and knowing that I’ll find a way to get some space. I’m enjoying this run for sure.”

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