Picture this: Stephen Curry is dribbling the ball on the perimeter. As the most dangerous shooter in NBA history, he is already in scoring position, because that’s just the way it is with him. But he’s about to become even more of a threat, because the Warriors are about to bring somebody up to set a screen on Curry’s man. All Curry needs is the tiniest sliver of space to let the ball fly and, in all likelihood, you’re going to give up three points.
The screener himself can present varying degrees of danger depending on whether it’s Kevin Durant, or Kevon Looney, or DeMarcus Cousins, or Alfonso McKinnie, but none of it changes the fact that giving Curry even an inch of room is poison to a defense’s ability to make a stop.
So, what is a defense to do? Let’s run through the unappealing options.
They can attempt to play things straight up, with the man guarding Curry fighting over top of the screen in order to stay attached. If he’s even a split-second behind on this attempt, though, it’s all over. Curry’s either walking into a three or getting to the rim. Curry’s man can try going under the screen to meet Curry as he comes around, but that would be incredibly unwise and would essentially amount to an open invitation for the best shooter ever to pull up from downtown.
The defense can blitz with both players in order to just get the ball out of Curry’s hands. Doing so invites a four-on-three opportunity once Curry makes the right pass, which he almost always does. If the screener is Draymond Green or Jordan Bell or someone like that, they’ll attack the paint and either finish at the rim or draw help and then spray the ball back to the perimeter for an open shot. If the screener is Durant or Cousins or even Klay Thompson, you’ve essentially given up a free basket. Plenty of teams have tried this before, and plenty of teams have failed.
The defense can switch the screen, but doing that just invites a defender who is entirely unequipped to defend Curry one-on-one to do exactly that. Have you ever seen a center get shaken into the ground before the best shooter in the history of basketball steps himself back into an uncontested three? It’s not fun for the team playing defense.
There are other options, to be sure, but these are the standard screen-and-roll coverages and if we’re being honest, they rarely work against the Warriors. Let’s say, however, one of them works — a team goes over the screen and there’s not enough space for Steph to shoot; or they go under the screen and somehow meet him at the exact point where he plans to pull, and he’s got no space; or they blitz and get the ball out of his hands and recover quickly enough to prevent a four-on-three opportunity; or they switch and their big man sticks with Curry on the perimeter. Let’s say whatever they try works and they get Curry to give the ball up to a man who is neither an immediate threat to score himself or in position to create an easy opportunity for somebody else.