In the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs, the Western Conference Semifinals are represented by a city nestled by a bay, and another renowned for its River Walk. Appropriate that both teams be associated with something as elemental as water, given the fluidity of some key components.
Stephen Curry, the fourth-year point guard for the Warriors, is perhaps the best shooter in NBA history. Absurd as that statement might seem for a player so early in his career, given the list of Hall of Fame players who built a legacy on the accuracy of their jumper, Curry certainly at least earns a spot in the conversation.
Never before have we seen such a high volume of three-point attempts retain such alarming accuracy while being launched in such a variety of ways. There are spot-up shooters, catch and shoot guys who ply their wares while running through a thicket of screens, and even a few that are comfortable of accessing their shot off the dribble. But to find a shooter that combines all of these elements with such little variance in percentages is unheard of.
Curry is often associated with fire for his knack for scorching defenders and his bravado spreading quickly amongst his teammates, but fire would be inaccurate. His jump shot neither ignites nor burns out, it relies on no sparks or catalyst, it simply always is.
Instead, Curry possesses the most fluid shooting motion in basketball, suggesting water might the more apt comparison. Like water, Curry’s jumper is malleable, yet it always retains the same basic properties—shoulders squared, elbow in, textbook follow through.
Like water, the flow of his jumper can be disrupted. Defenders stand like obstacles, trying to alter his path and contain the destruction. But defenses can never be airtight for 48 minutes, and Curry often finds leaks, moving past all obstructions, reforming his pristine shooting motion as he passes.
There is a term that perfectly describes the effect Curry has on defenses. Rip current, or rip tide, as some know it by, is a danger that threatens all that dare to swim in the ocean. In a rip tide, strong currents drag swimmers out towards sea, isolated and away from help.
The most undisciplined swimmers attempting to fight the current soon find themselves exhausted. The Denver Nuggets tried to fight against the current, trapping at every turn. But like a rip tide, Curry and the Warriors spacing carried defenders too far away from help, leaving rotations too spent to do anything but drown.
The San Antonio Spurs may not possess a jumper as “wet” as Curry’s, but in Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili they have a backcourt that possesses other attributes of water.
As water flows downhill along the path of least resistance, so too do Parker and Ginobili. They flow, unabated, through defenses, finding every crack and crevice along the way.
But slipping through the paths of least resistance is hardly enough to describe the process by which they erode defenses. Erosion itself is actually the best way to describe how Parker and Ginobili alter defenses.
As they find their way through the seams of a defense, they also wear it down. Over time what may have started as a trickle or creek eventually bursts into the Mississippi River, providing clear routes for teammates to travel in the form of driving and passing lanes.
Like rivers, they knife their way through large landmasses, reshaping the countryside to their whims as they go.