After winning his fourth championship ring and first NBA Finals MVP, the most recent iteration of Curry detractors are merely regurgitating a criticism he has faced throughout his entire career — that he is a “liability” on defense.
Curry spoke with Zion Olojede of Complex on Monday, July 18, and took the opportunity to set the record straight with analysts and fans who stubbornly cling to the perceived defensive weakness in his game, one that empirically no longer exists.
“That end of the floor I made tremendous strides and the ability to do that has helped us win,” Curry said. “So yeah, you dead that conversation in terms of there’s no flaws in the game.”
“The way I play defense is just doing my job and trying not to be considered the weakest link out there,” Curry continued. “That’s all effort and IQ and understanding the game.”
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Advanced and Traditional Stats Back Up Curry’s Defensive Argument
Curry didn’t cite hard numbers in his argument Monday, but they are there for him if he wants them.
According to StatMuse, Curry finished 13th in the entire league across the 2021-22 regular season with a defensive rating of 107.6. He also finished the NBA Finals with 12 steals over six games against the Boston Celtics and was one of the Warriors’ top three defenders in the series based on defensive rating, per Basketball Reference.
Curry told Complex that regardless of the numbers, he has no delusions about his defensive prowess. He knows that due to a variety of factors, including his physical size, he will never be as dominant on that end of the floor as players like his teammate Draymond Green or Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat, who are perennial NBA All-Defensive Team selections assuming relative health.
Instead, Curry has made his defensive game about playing smart basketball and picking his spots, a strategy that has undeniably improved his play overall and helped Golden State capture its fourth title in eight years last June.
Curry’s Offensive Greatness Overshadows Defensive Improvements
Another part of the problem for Curry is perception. He is so good offensively that his accomplishments with the ball in his hands cast a vast shadow encompassing all the strides his game has made when it isn’t.
Curry has averaged 24.3 points per game for his career, a number that jumps to 26.6 points per game during the playoffs. He has led the league in scoring twice, averaging between 30 and 32 points per contest during those seasons (2015-16, 2020-21). His career three-point shooting percentage is a blistering 42.8% on 8.8 attempts per night and he is one of the best free-throw shooters in history.
More than just the hard numbers, though, Curry has changed the fabric of the game. He pulls defenders toward him as soon as he crosses half court, forces teams to adapt their entire defensive strategies to contend with him alone and makes his teammates better with all of the space he creates on the floor.
Curry’s devastating presence on the offensive end of the court, along with all of the personal and team accolades he has achieved, will land him a place among the best to ever play the game when it is all said and done. And while the improvements to his defense over the years will only be a footnote, the reality of them and the dividends they have paid will be impossible to ignore.