When I went on Steve Berman’s podcast, Steve mentioned our reflexive reluctance to discuss positive Steph Curry developments. Smart guy, that Steve. This is a true observation, when it comes to discussing the oft-injured, oft-great Stephen Curry. There is a pervasive, superstitious sense that a Curry compliment might be so strong as to bend his ankle into an “L” that presages many an “L” in the standings.
As we were reminded on Saturday night, Steph Curry’s capricious ankle is always primed to ruin good times. His ankle hangs over Warriors fandom like the Sword of Damocles, and if that ankle actually did swing from Oracle’s rafters by a string, it’d only be a little less connected to his foot than in its current state.
But that perpetual concern has blotted out a lot of analysis. So much of the Curry conversation is “if healthy” that it distracts from what he tangibly does when healthy. Because, while the Curry ankle situation remains, the earth has shifted beneath it. Consider what’s happened since Golden State’s point guard shut it down last season.
- Steph signs the deal: Curry ends speculation that he might flee (to Charlotte of all places), signs a 4-year, $44 million contract. Not only is the contract quite Warriors-friendly, but it transforms Curry’s situation from “he’s on the team for now” to “building block.”
- Steph plays big minutes: Unlike Keith Smart, Mark Jackson proves quite content to play Stephen Curry 38 MPG, even after Curry makes mistakes. Curry garners greater national acclaim on account of having larger raw numbers, and he makes fewer mistakes.
- Steph gets All-Star consideration: This might have something to do with the aforementioned boost in minutes. While Curry misses the All-Star cut, he’s also widely viewed as a snub. Curry didn’t deserve to make the game over any of the selected guards, but he probably should have made it over a few of the forwards (including teammate David Lee).
- Steph scores 54 points at MSG: Arrival, announced. Not only does Curry hit the Knicks up for 54 points and 11/13 on three-pointers, he does so on national TV. He scores 50 points in the final three, thrilling quarters.
So yes, the dynamics have shifted, even if the ankle remains shifty. Even if the biggest improvement Curry made was simply turning the ball over less.
Stephen Curry currently leads the NBA in three point attempts. Stephen Curry currently leads the league in three-point percentage. Those two sentences shouldn’t go together. In fact, no player has pulled this off ever before. The best three-point shooters are often specialists, standing in the corner till a wide open shot finds their hands. Curry is flinging these tries off the dribble, from 30-feet away, and in transition.
The paradoxical nature of Curry’s game is that he’s a subpar athlete who can easily create his own shot. Normally, we associate one’s ability to self create with elite athleticism. Quickness and power leads to separation or penetration. Steph circumvents this by being a fast draw with a good handle. He hits shots with uncommon accuracy, with a release that eludes closeouts. You wouldn’t think to compare Stephen Curry to Dirk Nowiztki, but I would. Both unleash the ball in a way that defenders can’t thwart. Dirk relies on shot height to do it, and Curry relies on shot speed. Even Anthony Davis can’t block it with a well-timed closeout.
Most three-point attempts. Most accurate from three-point range. This is why all those who obsessed over whether Steph was a “true” point guard were missing the point. The Warriors have a unique weapon on their hands, one that defenses send help to stop. Instead of obsessing over how Steph Curry must pass some holy test of point guard purity, we should be asking after how the Warriors plan to build around this.
Because, if healthy, Golden State finally has somebody worth building around. He looks a bit frail. He missed a lot of layups early in the season. His ankle is a skin-shrouded slinky. The last time he tried to dunk, the result was comedic. But he’s a top-20 player today with the talent to be top-10. This is the year Stephen Curry became a star.