(Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images)
Season-In-Review Player Capsules: The Guards
by Brian Witt
A player-by-player look back at the 2016-17 season, starting with the guards.
NBA basketball is a team game, no doubt. The Warriors know that as well as any team in the league, having utilized 17 different players throughout the 2016-17 season on their way to their second championship in three years. Golden State broke the NBA record for team offensive rating, thanks in large part to their average of 30.4 assists per game in the regular season, the most by any team in more than 30 years. In essence, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. That said, it’s tough to achieve the pinnacle of NBA success without talented parts that work effectively together, and Golden State had perhaps unparalleled depth of talent this past season. Over the coming days, we’ll review the individual seasons of the players that comprised that depth of talent by position group, beginning now with the guards:
“Everything we do is based on Steph. From the very beginning of this run, you know, Steph was the guy who started it.”
That was Steve Kerr speaking about his All-Star point guard in a recent interview, where he would go on to add, “Literally our offensive system is built around the chaos that he creates for defenses.” Curry averaged a team-leading 25.3 points per game during the regular season, and ranked second on the team with an average of 6.6 assists per contest. He shot 46.8 percent from the field, 41.1 percent from three-point range, and 89.8 percent from the free throw line and managed to convert 324 treys, the second highest single-season total of all-time. Believe it or not, each of those statistics was actually a minor regression from his previous record-shattering season; however, Curry saved his best for last. He bumped up his averages to 28.1 points and 6.7 assists per game in the playoffs, and improved his shooting percentages at each scoring level in helping to lead the Dubs to the championship. He led all NBA players in individual plus-minus in both the regular season and playoffs, and the 1,260 points the Warriors outscored their opponents by while Curry was on the court over the entire 2016-17 campaign exists as the best individual plus-minus in league history.
If Curry is the best shooter of all-time, his fellow backcourt mate and Splash Brother can’t be far behind. Klay Thompson ranked third on the team with a career-best average of 22.3 points per game during the regular season, continuing a streak in which he’s increased his scoring average every season of his six-year NBA career. He made 268 regular season three-pointers, the seventh-highest single-season total of all-time and just eight short of his career-high. He played the most minutes of any Warriors player, and was named to the Western Conference All-Star team for the third consecutive year. While a prolific shooter in his own right, Thompson was a standout on the defensive end as well, particularly throughout the Finals. In the Warriors’ Game 1 victory over Cleveland, the Cavaliers shot just 1-of-12 from the field when Thompson was the primary defender. Adept at stifling the opposition on the perimeter as well as in the interior, Thompson would go on to limit Cleveland to 40.3 percent on shots at the rim in the series, the best defensive field goal percentage of any player in the series that defended at least six shots at the rim per game (Thompson defended 15.4 per game).
A steadying, veteran influence practically every time he stepped out on the court, Shaun Livingston once again provided the Warriors with consistent, quality minutes at the point guard position. The fact of the matter is, Livingston was the only true point guard on the roster besides Curry, and Livingston played the crucial role of facilitator on offense when Steve Kerr went to his bench units. He ranked second amongst all Golden State reserves in total assists, and shot 54.7 percent from the field, the best shooting percentage of his 12-year NBA career. He took only three three-point attempts throughout the entire season, but the one he made was certainly memorable.
“I’ve said this all year, but Ian is a coach’s dream because you don’t have to play him, but you know he stays ready. And then, he might go five games without playing, you throw him out there and he produces. That’s an incredible asset to have for our team.” – Steve Kerr on Ian Clark following a 112-87 victory in Dallas on March 21st
It’s one of the toughest jobs in NBA basketball, that of a reserve scorer. It can be incredibly hard to produce when you don’t know when or where your minutes are going to come, but that didn’t seem to faze Clark throughout the 2016-17 season. Clark posted career-highs across the board, including points, assists, rebounds steals and minutes per game. He shot 48.7 percent from the field and 37.4 from three-point range in the 77 regular season games in which he played (also a career-best) before providing Golden State with some timely buckets in the postseason. He frequently helped fill a scoring void when starters were out due to injury or rest, and seemed to take advantage of the opportunities presented to him more often than not. Case in point, his 34-point explosion on 15-of-21 shooting against the Spurs on March 11, far and away the most points he’d ever scored in an NBA game.
Next up: The wings.