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How a small change to Stephen Curry’s minute distribution has put the Warriors in a better place

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The Golden State Warriors are out to an NBA-best 12-2 start, and Stephen Curry, who overtook Kevin Durant as the league’s leading scorer on Wednesday night, is looking like the early MVP favorite. With Draymond Green once again playing at a Defensive Player of the Year level, the Warriors, even with a lot of new faces, look and feel a lot like the old Warriors. 

One thing that has changed, however, is Curry’s minute distribution. For years, Curry would play the full first and third quarters and the final six minutes (roughly) of the second and fourth quarters. Curry preferred playing, and sitting, longer stretches, but this season Steve Kerr has altered that approach to splice up Curry’s playing time with more frequent, and shorter, rest periods. 

“We have a pattern now that we settled on,” Kerr told reporters. “Basically, we are going to take Steph out in the middle of every quarter for a few minutes. He always liked to play the first and the third and then sit the first six minutes of the second and fourth, that’s what we’ve done for years. We asked him to think about changing that this year, and of course Steph is always open to anything; [he’s] so accommodating as a player, even though it probably took him out of his rhythm the first few games.

“He’s gotten used to it, and what I like about it is that it allows him to start and finish every quarter,” Kerr added. “He’s so good at the end of quarters, 2-for-1’s, half-court shots. We saw him make one in Charlotte the other night. Starting every quarter is important too. Starting the second and fourth, I think is really good for this particular group that we have. I think it’s working well so far.”

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To me, this has been a smart adjustment. If you’ve watched the Warriors over the years, you know it wasn’t that unusual for Curry to have a big first quarter playing the full 12 minutes, but then a relatively dead second quarter after the long rest and not much time to get ramped back up before the half came to an end. Sometimes he wouldn’t get the dead ball he needed to re-enter until closer to the five-minute mark. 

With this new distribution plan, Curry is never out of the game for an extended stretch, which makes it easier for Golden State to hold advantages they have almost always built in the Curry minutes. It also allows Curry to play more minutes against opponents’ second units as his on-court time overlaps with more lineups shifts. Curry against non-starters is basically cherry picking. 

Starting the fourth quarter is also important. There have been times in the past where leads have gotten away from the Warriors, or big holes have been dug, in those first six fourth-quarter minutes, giving Curry a taller order to affect the outcome in a shorter final stretch of time. 

You can understand how this was an adjustment for Curry; it sounds like he’s been resistant in the past. A player as well conditioned as Curry, who doesn’t really have to worry about fatiguing even as much as he moves, wants to play for longer stretches to get into a full rhythm. Chopping up your playing time gives you less time to get going before you come out again. But Curry is still getting pretty extended run during his shifts. It’s not like he’s playing three-minute shifts. And we know he doesn’t need long to heat up. 

Ultimately, no matter how Kerr deploys his minutes, Curry is going to play at an elite level. But Kevin Durant isn’t around anymore. At the moment, neither is Klay Thompson. The Warriors are deep with rotational talent, but Curry is the only star and, for the most part, the only dribble creator the Warriors have. With this team, it’s harder, and particularly risky in the fourth quarter, to go longer stretches without him on the court. This new approach quells that concern. 

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