Normally, one runs away from a scary sight. In basketball, defenses must run toward the threat. This is why Stephen Curry claims the odd fear that follows, a magnetic panic. Basketball's Pied Piper continually has larger men following him around the court in a terrified trance.
"I often joke that we should just run him out of the building and see what happens," Golden State Warriors assistant coach Bruce Fraser says of an MVP whose gravity is reaching planetary levels.
If Golden State's sternly brilliant defensive guru Ron Adams is "the professor," salt-and-pepper bearded Fraser is the cool professor -- the one who drinks a beer with students and grants them an extension if the excuse is half-believable. Fraser is quick to smile, eager to laugh, similar in demeanor to Steve Kerr, his confidant since college.
Perhaps Fraser is naturally like this, and perhaps his affect has something to do with an enviable job description: He's the player development coach for Curry's shooting practice. He sees thousands of the jumpers people pay hundreds to watch by the dozen.
Before games, you can see Fraser passing the ball to Curry, who slings practice shots from the logo at half court. It's a wondrous sight, but almost eerie in a way. Curry's shot looks like Curry's shot -- though he's beyond 40 feet and the ball's usually finding net. It doesn't look entirely dissimilar from a real-life version of the famous Powerade commercial where LeBron James sank full-court jumpers -- courtesy of special effects.
"I've seen him hit five of six recently," Fraser says of the logo practice jumpers. "His shot doesn't change at all. It's a legitimate weapon."
Of the logo shots, Fraser adds: "I think he does it, one, just because it's fun for him. Two, it gets him really into his shot. The physics of his shot have to all be in sync."
Right now, this weapon is purely for practice and emergency purposes. Fraser estimates the shot falls 60 percent of the time at shootaround. The bomb from beyond 40 is currently a novelty, possibly the future, and also illustrative of why teams lose their heads against this guy. And the Warriors are using that fear to their advantage.
Stephen Curry is, again, leading the NBA in plus-minus. In his 99 regular-season games of the Steve Kerr era, the Warriors outscored opponents by a staggering 1,215 points with Curry on the floor. But his impact is bigger than just his scoring. It's also felt in how the defenses react, how they're manipulated by the deepest threat in hoops. When Curry is trapped, his shadow impact helps Draymond Green make plays on 4-on-3s. That's an aspect of the offense that dates to the Mark Jackson days, and it's a highly visible phenomenon. The layups Curry is influencing are a little harder to catch.
Here's an example of how Golden State's offense is evolving to leverage the Curry threat. The setup looks like a floppy action, a play in which Curry and Klay Thompson set screens for each other along the baseline in an attempt to spring free for a 3-pointer. Defenses are understandably wary of that outcome, so the Warriors put a twist on it. Curry ignores Thompson, and sprints his way into a back screen on Blake Griffin. This would be a good time for Austin Rivers to help his screened teammate cover Green, but no defender wants to leave Curry for a moment. It results in an easy 2-pointer.
Here's another timely layup, via another play famous for freeing shooters. In the classic "elevator doors" setup, two screeners converge to set a huge double pick for an outside sniper. Golden State had five seconds to get a shot here, and Green anticipated that the Clippers would be jumpy to contain Curry. Green told the inbounding Iguodala to "watch for the slip." Then, as four Clippers moved toward Curry, Green slipped the other way for a free crunch-time layup. The play inspired an amusing celebration from Iguodala, of which Fraser remarked: "Andre likes when he outsmarts anybody. Not just in basketball, but in the world. If he can outsmart you, he takes joy in that."
In transition, Curry's influence is less planned, more straightforward. Teams fan out to stop a fast break from the outside in, ceding an easy path to the hoop in the process. Watch as Iguodala gets an uncontested dunk and watch why Eric Bledsoe refuses to get in the way.
Curry influenced one particular transition opportunity from 90 feet away, when the Toronto Raptors decided to double-team him off the inbounds. Teams might resort to this when there are less than six seconds left in a quarter. It's rarely a staple of defense against Golden State -- and for good reason. The Warriors have gotten good at responding when Curry is denied. In this situation, Iguodala and Green are skilled enough to easily break the trap and cash in with an Andrew Bogut alley-oop.
Some opportunities aren't quite plays and aren't quite fast breaks. They're somewhere in between, an improvised attack that has continued to develop. Here, Iguodala looks like he's going to set a screen for a Curry pindown. Nope. Again, simply not screening Curry's man can result in easy points.
None of these plays are ones in which Curry gets any kind of standard box score credit, but they are indeed baskets he's "assisting." Some of that impact is reflected in the aforementioned plus-minus, in how Golden State is scoring 121.2 points per 48 minutes with Curry on the floor (and 98.3 points per 48 when he sits).
In between torching defenders, the Pied Piper of Panic is leading them astray. When Golden State's offense hums, Curry's forays into nothing can make world-class athletes look like lemmings, walking off a cliff. Maybe that's the scariest thing of all about Stephen Curry these days: He doesn't even need to touch the ball to completely wreck your defense.