As his eyes roamed the action around the basket, Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry steadily backed Lakers guard Jeremy Lin down low in the post.
Curry’s teammate Draymond Green was stationed outside the corner three-point line, Harrison Barnes stood at the wing three-point arc and center Andrew Bogut ran to set a screen on the baseline for Klay Thompson.
Thompson curled off the screen and Curry whipped a pass to his backcourt mate for a three-pointer that easily settled into the nets.
All five Warriors worked in unison on that play. But if the Warriors are to become true championship contenders, they will do it by relying on the dynamic play of Curry and Thompson.
Hall of Famer Jerry West, a consultant with Golden State, said of Curry and Thompson: “They are two of the best shooters side by side that you’ll ever see in basketball. They are so young, in terms of experience of playing together. They have an incredible future ahead of them.”
This is the fourth season of the “Splash Brothers” and their offensive production has improved each year. In 2011-12 Curry and Thompson averaged a combined 27.2 points a game, that rose to 39.5 points the next season, to 42.4 points last season, and through the first 11 games of this season to 45.9 points a game.
“The focal part of our game is Steph and Klay,” Warriors first-year Coach Steve Kerr said. “And it’s their shooting and penetration that makes us good.”
Kerr, a sharpshooting guard on five championship teams (Chicago and San Antonio), inherited a talented Golden State team from fired coach Mark Jackson. The Warriors finished second in the Pacific Division last season with a 51-31 record and lost Game 7 in the first-round to the Clippers. With a 9-2 start, they are leading the division.
In Curry, 26, Kerr has one of the best point guards in the league, a lights-out shooter who can create shots for himself and his teammates his deft ballhandling and passing. But Kerr wants Curry, who averages 3.9 turnovers a game, to cut down on his miscues on a Warriors team that averages a league-high 19.3 turnovers.
Meanwhile, Thompson, 24, first made his mark as an outside shooter, but he has improved at driving to the basket and his free throw attempts have crept up each season. The 6-foot-7 Thompson is also versatile and has defended point guards (Chris Paul), shooting guards (Dwyane Wade) and small forwards (LeBron James).
But it wasn’t only Curry and Thompson that made the job enticing to Kerr.
Bogut is a good defender, rebounder and passer, power forward Green is a tough defender with the ability to knock down three-pointers, and small forward Harrison Barnes is developing into an offensive talent. Reserves Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston provide all-around play, and forward David Lee, who has been out with a hamstring injury, can score and rebound.
“This was a no-brainer because of what was already here,” Kerr said. “Now it’s a matter of trying to get to the next step.”
But it’s the output of the Warriors’ starting backcourt that drives their offense.
Last season the only backcourt pair close to Curry-Thompson were Washington guards John Wall ( 19.3 points a game) and Bradley Beal (17.1). This season, Beal missed the first nine games recovering from a left wrist injury.
The Cavaliers were supposed to be in that conversation of top guard duos, with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters, but Waiters has been relegated to the bench.
When asked if Curry and Thompson are the best backcourt in the NBA, Thompson deferred.
“I don’t really care about that,” Thompson said. “If there were two people on the court and it was us versus them, it would be a different story. But it’s five of us on the court. Our goal is to play into June [in the NBA Finals]. It’s not to have the labels as the best backcourt.”
During the off-season, many reports said Thompson was going to be traded to Minnesota for All-Star power forward Kevin Love, who wound up in Cleveland.
Then last month Thompson signed a four-year contract extension for $70 million.
“It was important to get the extension,” Thompson said. “But at the same time, if it didn’t happen, I was going to do what I do — just play hard, score the ball and defend.”
“Our owner just gave him $70 million so I’m sure he’s happy,” Kerr said, laughing. “That sold him. That told him how much we wanted him.”
The Warriors also made a financial commitment to Curry, who has three years left on his deal for $34 million.
Now it’s all about Curry and Thompson delivering for the Warriors.
“Obviously, we continue to get better individually and that makes us better as a duo,” Curry said. “We’re not complacent with what we’ve done to this point. We’re going to continue to get better and do more.”