Stephen Curry has been talking about the moon lately. Maybe it’s because he is considering to start to shoot from out there.
Too often, we allow living legends to retire or start to age before we properly place their greatness into perspective. It is time to start placing Stephen Curry into all-time starting 5s and on the shortlist for the greatest players that have ever hit the hardwood.
The three-point revolution has swept through the NBA thanks in part to Mike D’Antoni’s Nash-lead Suns teams and the Houston Rockets’ analytics department. But make no mistake. The way we see the game played today on both ends has been a product of the dominance of the Warriors lead by their 6’3 sniper.
Steph had 15 points and 13 turnovers against Eastern Michigan in his first game for Davidson College. The next game against Michigan? 32 points 4 assists 9 rebounds. Curry became a national basketball phenom seemingly overnight and ended his college career in his Junior season after rewriting Davidson’s school record book.
Despite his jarring displays of scoring and finishing his junior season with the Wildcats as the nation’s top scorer, Curry was selected 7th in the 2009 NBA draft. While that is nothing to be ashamed of, it is worth noting that he was also the third point guard selected that year. Syracuse’s Johnny Flynn and Spain’s Ricky Rubio were selected 6th and 5th ahead of him by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Then Wolves GM David Kahn wrote in Sports Illustrated that the reason that Minnesota passed on the greatest shooter of all time was that Dell Curry did not want his son playing there. The Timberwolves valued Curry but with a little outside nudge decided that the flashy-passing Rubio and NBA-ready Flynn would suffice and avoid a potential headache.
The effects on the Minnesota Timberwolves and Golden State Warriors organizations since that decision tell the rest of the story with a pretty clear picture. Flynn started 81 games as a rookie and played 82 games for the rest of his career. Rubio has carved out a respectable NBA career as a capable floor general.
The 7th pick? Number 30? He’s fared just a little bit better. Three NBA titles and two MVPs. One of only six others who can say the same.
The other six names on that list are so infamous you can just refer to them by first names. A different level of NBA royalty. Kareem. Michael. Magic. Bill. Tim. LeBron. At this point, the mention of “Steph” should produce the same feeling of reverence in the hearts and minds of NBA fans.
“I hate to break it to you, but he’s already an all-time great,” two-time MVP Steve Nash said. “He’s the ultimate one-off. He’s the evolution of basketball. It evolved before our eyes.”
Nash was talking about Stephen Curry with Brian Windhorst at ESPN, attempting to place into perspective the level of dominance that Curry has demonstrated to this point.
“There’s layers to his place in the Zeitgeist,” Nash said. “People don’t associate him to greatness because he doesn’t dominate the game physically. He dances. He pays a tax for that. He pays a tax for his great teammates.”
Quotes like that should be such lukewarm takes that they never print in a story. But Nash is right. Stephen Curry does not receive the level of respect that we grant to other NBA icons past and present because his game looks and feels different. Watching Shaquille O’Neal play basketball was watching five guys attempt to stop an earthquake with their bare hands every night. Michael Jordan had literally eye-popping flair and athleticism that accompanied a competitive obsession that you could feel on the couch at home. LeBron is a 6’8 humanoid that defies the expectations of both time and gravity on a nightly basis.
Stephen Curry looks like you and me. There are no highlights of him pulverizing opponents with angry finishes and big blocks. Curry’s top plays all look like a personal game of horse. Fans simply have not been willing to place a guy that shoots from 30 feet on a regular basis on the same level as the guys that we hold on a pedestal. We are programmed to valuing our sports heroes after they triumph through great adversity with bruises and gritted teeth, emerging victorious in a pool of blood, sweat, and tears.
We’ve never seen it look this easy.
One shot-put attempt at a time, Curry buries teams with logic-defying accuracy regardless of distance, the placement of his feet, or even hands in his face.
Yes, Steph has benefited from playing alongside great teammates. All champions have. This Golden State Warriors dynasty is pound for pound the greatest team in NBA History. If DeMarcus Cousins returns with any shades of the level he was playing with before his injury, the Warriors will likely add to their trophy collection without much trouble. The amazing story here is that Curry remains the clear-cut most important part of the greatest collection of players ever assembled.
Though the 11 missed games due to injury may cost him an MVP-bid in a very competitive year, Curry’s numbers should have him near the top of the conversation. He is shooting 50% from the floor along with a 49% mark from three. His 94% mark from the line has boosted his average to make him the greatest free throw shooter in NBA history.
— NBA (@NBA) December 12, 2018
Steph is now up to 93 made 3 pointers on the season and will obviously finish the season as the league’s leader in both makes and takes again barring injury. This rate of fire combined with his accuracy has him in a position where he would have to miss his next 450+ attempts to match Ray Allen’s career average from behind the arc.
Golden State is 14-4 when Curry plays and 5-6 without him. He is a gravitational force that allows space for Kevin Durant’s isolation greatness to really shine and gives Klay Thompson more room to find space on the perimeter as well. Without him, the floor actually shrinks and gives the Warriors less room to operate on the offensive end of the floor. When you have to guard someone as soon as they cross half court it has the tendency to change your defensive philosophy a little bit.
Steph will go down as one of the most unselfish superstars ever. He has sacrificed a chance at more MVPs by actively recruiting Kevin Durant and welcoming DeMarcus Cousins in a heartbeat.
This unselfishness has and will cost him individual accolades. It is the reason why the fact that Allen Iverson putting him in his all-time starting 5 ahead of Magic Johnson was a debate show topic for 3 days afterward. Despite all of his accomplishments, Curry remains widely underappreciated.
Just this past May, Gary Payton told the San Francisco Chronicle that Steph would not inherit a position among the point guard elite.
“Everybody is saying he’s one of the greatest point guards, but we can’t say that right now. That’s not going to happen. To me, a true point guard is getting assists, getting steals, doing everything.”
The obvious flaw is that this sentence simply is not based on reality. Gary Payton averaged 6.7 assists during his Hall of Fame career in addition to being a legendary defensive menace. Steph is also averaging 6.7 assists per game while simultaneously being far and wide the greatest shooter the world has ever seen. He’s even lead the NBA in steals a few times for good measure.
Steph’s game is tailor-made for aging gracefully. His numbers with a full career of health would rival the choke-hold that Wayne Gretzky holds over the NHL’s scoring records. He will likely be the only player to reach 3,000 career 3 pointers made and he got to 2,000 in 227 fewer games than Ray Allen to set the new mark at just 597 games. At this pace, Curry will be the all-time three-point leader during the 2020-2021 season at only age 32. Allen retired with the all-time mark at age 39. He, though, will end his career living in a neighborhood by himself when it comes to shooting the most valuable shot in the game.
It is important to understand history as it walks in front of us. We are clearly seeing the greatest shooter of all time but Stephen Curry’s dominance demands a greater moniker. He is one of the greatest players of all time and will end up as the one little guy in the Mt. Rushmore discussion in NBA Lore. Don’t wait until he’s gone to give credit where it’s due.