Lowe: Steph or KD? A fun question is about to get answers

Lowe: Steph or KD? A fun question is about to get answers

Stephen Curry‘s ankle injury brings a challenge the Warriors haven’t faced for any extended period, save five games in the 2016 playoffs, since they became the Warriors: figuring out what exactly their team looks like without the two-time MVP.

“Of course I’m curious,” Bob Myers, the team’s GM, told ESPN.com. “I’m always curious. I was curious when Kevin [Durant] went down [last season]. But I’ve seen what our team looks like without Kevin. This will be new.”

With nothing new to say about the Warriors in Year 2 of Durant-Curry, league insiders and NBA Twitter die-hards have engaged in a barroom debate: Who’s better, or more important, to the Warriors — Durant or Curry?

On one level, it’s a stupid question. They are both transcendent. Why does one have to be more important?

But it’s a fun thought exercise with useful implications for team building. None other than Steve Kerr fueled it to some degree when he called Durant “the second-best player in the world” behind LeBron James during the Finals and then seemed to double down on that stance in a post-Finals edition of the Lowe Post podcast.

Durant is a better defender than Curry, and it is obviously not close. If both are all-world offensive players, logic suggests Durant’s defense makes him better.

But better and more important aren’t the same thing. And sometimes being more important can in effect make you better — at least in a particular team context.

Curry is a revolutionary NBA player. He makes shots that didn’t exist before, from angles and locations once considered impossible — in violation of basketball’s moral codes. Those shots are worth an extra point. He makes them almost half the time. Give most expert NBA 3-point shooters Curry’s exact shot distribution — off the dribble, 30 feet away, or body twisting to make a catch in the corner — and how many would they hit? Thirty percent? Worse? No one knows, because no one has dared try.

The Warriors saw that unprecedented skill set, and loosed it upon the league in increments — first under Mark Jackson (their 2013 playoff run, when they pushed the Spurs, is considered a watershed moment within the team), and then in a torrent when Curry and Kerr stretched it beyond imagination in 2015-16.

Curry’s singular shooting is the organizing principle for everything the Warriors have built. It is the electrical current powering the body — doing indispensable, foundational work even when you don’t see it.

“People took it the wrong way when we had our conversation after the Finals,” Kerr said of his podcast appearance. “I was talking specifically about two-way players, and Kevin is right there with LeBron and Kawhi [Leonard]. But does that mean he’s better than Steph? All that stuff is subjective. Who’s better: James Harden or Kawhi? I don’t know. But if you’re talking about who has the biggest impact on the way people guard us — on the identity of our team — then it’s Steph. He’s the engine. Everything starts with Steph.”

“What we built was initiated by Steph,” Myers added. “The offense starts with him.”

In the most literal sense, the Warriors look the way they do because of Curry. Teams trap Golden State’s pick-and-rolls 30 feet from the rim, unlocking shots for everyone else, because those pick-and-rolls involve the only human in history capable of hitting 40 percent of his off-the-dribble 3s from that distance. Draymond Green emerged as the team’s assist leader in part because he was Curry’s go-to pick-and-roll partner — and those traps sprang him for 4-on-3s that flummoxed the league for a full season.

Kerr instituted a more egalitarian offense, with everyone screening and cutting off the ball, because Curry understands the power he exercises screening and cutting off the ball. You can give most shooters, even the best ones, a brief, tiny window to put out another fire. You cannot give Curry any space, even if he is 25 feet away, has his back to the basket, or is in mid-collision while setting a pick. He’s too accurate, his wrist-snap release too fast.

If you’re guarding Curry and he nails your teammate with a pick that frees Klay Thompson, you can’t lunge away from Curry to blanket Thompson for a split second. Switch a bigger guy onto Curry, and he’ll keep moving until the behemoth can no longer keep up: