Russell Westbrook isn’t worried about guarding Stephen Curry

Do you think that Stephen Curry is a basketball player unlike anything the NBA has ever seen before?

If so, you and Russell Westbrook do not see eye to eye. Before his Oklahoma City Thunder take on Curry’s Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, Westbrook was asked how he’ll adjust to defending the back-to-back MVP. For Westbrook, it’s not really an interesting question — because Curry isn’t all that different from other point guards currently in the league:

“What have you seen in Steph’s MVP season overall?”

“Making shots. He does a good job of making shots, creating shots for himself. He’s a tough shot-maker.”

“How different is guarding him compared to other point guards when you go into your scouting?”

“He’s a shooter. He’s not nothing I haven’t seen. Him, Lillard, guys like that can shoot the basketball from four, five feet behind the 3. You gotta do a little different job, just be physical.”

Careful, Russ. You’re sounding an awful lot like former players such as Oscar Robertson with that kind of defensive logic.

Westbrook isn’t wrong, per se. While Curry was first in the league in both 3-pointers made and attempted in 2015-16, Lillard was a respectable fourth in either category.

Yet the distance between Curry and Lillard is mind-boggling. The Warriors point guard made 173 more 3s than Lillard, 402 to 229. He also attempted 276 more triples, 886 to 610. Curry shot over 45 percent from deep, despite reguarly taking shots from a few feet behind the arc; Lillard made 37.5 percent of his attempts.

Stylistically, yes, the two are similar. But in terms of productivity? Lillard can’t even hold a candle to Klay Thompson from deep, let alone Curry.

But Westbrook’s response to this particular question isn’t really about comparing Lillard and Curry. Instead, it’s about how Westbrook and Curry match up. The Thunder point guard took fewer 3s this season (341) than Curry made. Westbrook is going to put his head down and drive to the rim; in 2015-16, Westbrook attempted almost 38 percent of his field goals from within the restricted area, while Curry took just 22.5 percent of his shots from within that same three feet (via Basketball-Reference). 

Westbrook and Curry are arguably the two best point guards in the league, yet they’re effective in totally different ways. Curry stretches the floor to its farthest corners, as if he alone were responsible for the inflation of the universe. Westbrook condenses the game into his immediate vicinity, slicing through time and space on his way toward a thermonuclear detonation at the rim — or, barring that, a pull-up jumper right in your eyeballs.

Still, Westbrook and the Thunder shouldn’t count on simply trying to stop Curry at the 3-point line. Shockingly, Curry made a larger percentage of his shots at the rim than Westbrook — and by a wide margin (69.6 percent to 59.6 percent). In fact, Curry was a better shooter than Westbrook from every range on the floor: 0-3 feet, 3-10 feet, 10-16 feet, 16 feet to the 3-point line, and beyond the arc.

Defending the reigning MVP might start four or five feet behind the 3-point line, as Westbrook noted. But it’s a task that never, ever ends.