Steph Curry

Sports Illustrated ranked the top-100 NBA players over at the Point Forward heading into the 2013-14 campaign and Stephen Curry earned himself a spot amongst the 20 best in the league.

In previous entries, we looked at the Golden State Warriors that were snubbed from the list and then analyzed the rankings of Klay Thompson (89), David Lee (46) and Andre Iguodala (33).

In the case of those players, their assessment was executed with the intent of validating whether their rank was accurate vis-à-vis the players listed ahead of them. Hopefully, that was a successful operation.

In the case of Curry though, the task is a bit different. His marvelous play in 2012-13 turned him into a national sensation and even had pundits wondering whether he is the greatest shooter the league has ever seen.

The Warriors’ sharpshooter generated that kind of hyperbolic reactions at the conclusion of his fourth professional season. Consequently, his rank is not only a reflection of what he accomplished, it is also a projection of what is to come from the young emerging superstar.

S.I. ranked Curry as the 15th best player in the league and also made a fairly big statement about his hierarchy amongst point guards.

Kyrie Irving is possibly a prototype of Curry because of his shooting ability as well as his ball-handling wizardry. Irving is far more fearless and potent attacking the basket and thus is a bigger threat down the stretch of games.

His shaky health and subpar defense are typically the knocks he faces and they are quite legitimate. Make no mistake though, he is on the heels of his counterpart. More importantly though, only four point guards were rated higher than the Dubs’ long-range bomber:

  • Derrick Rose (11)
  • Russell Westbrook (5)
  • Tony Parker (4)
  • Chris Paul (3)

Those four players have 17 combined All-Star Game appearances, one All-Star Game MVP, one league MVP and a Finals MVP. In other words, the quartet is the gold standard by which floor generals are judged by heading into 2013-14.

Parker and Paul are in the primes of their careers whereas Rose, Westbrook and Curry are young players with a few years of service in the league. This means the less experienced group will probably surpass the veterans at some point and joust for the title of best point guard alive.

It’s a fascinating discussion because the younger trio does not fit the prototypical role for NBA point guards. The classic top-flight lead guard is a player that looks to set up the offense and calls his number last or when the situation absolutely demands it.

Think of the likes of Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson, Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd and Steve Nash for instance, and that is the image that comes to mind. In the case of Westbrook, Rose and Curry, they are hybrid-type players that juggle both scoring and playmaking duties. Mind you, they place far more emphasis on creating their own shots.

Westbrook and Rose have immense athleticism and break down defenders off the bounce for scores at the rim. They are relentless in their attacks into the paint and force opponents into a series of bad options when trying to figure out the best ways to defend them.

They use the threat of the score as a weapon that opens up the floor for their teammates. From there they find players for open looks.

Curry’s athleticism is in no way comparable to both Rose and Westbrook. Those two are freaks of nature and thus Golden State’s point man cannot replicate what the duo routinely executes. On the flip side, those two highflyers are not afforded with the same defensive looks as Curry because they cannot duplicate his lethal long-range proficiency.

Opponents dare Curry to put the ball on the floor and finish at the basket because they fear his shooting. Also, his ability to rub defenders off screens allows him to free himself up or simply open things for his teammates to get easy scores. The methods for all three are quite different but they are all effective in their own ways.

Moving forward, it stands to reason they will master some of the subtleties that will make them better orchestrators in the future. For instance, small things like looking off defenders, anticipating rotations and faking the pass to the perceived open player and then finding the one with the uncontested look at the hoop.

These additions will be part of what makes these guys the absolute best the league has to offer. For the time being though, it’s a three-man race for the right to finish third behind Parker and Paul. Curry and Rose will have a small advantage over the Oklahoma City Thunder guard that will miss the first four to six weeks of the 2013-14 season with a knee injury.

Irving may very well throw his name into the conversation and succeed Paul as the greatest point guard alive. Oddly enough, no other player in the league possesses a combination of skills quite as similar to the Los Angeles Clippers’ maestro.

Consequently, the best player on the Cleveland Cavaliers has to be in the discussion as well. His defense is certainly an obstacle but to be fair the trio of Curry, Rose and Westbrook are not exactly elite defenders either.

Thus, the heir apparent to Paul’s throne resides in S.I.’s top 20. Curry faces long odds on this front but he has a chance nonetheless. His ranking in the hierarchy of players at his position is perfect.

He is situated somewhere in between the best and the great, which is exactly where he should be. Heading into 2013-14, Curry can rise in future lists by consistently performing at a high level.

Indeed, the Warriors’ leading scorer only truly took off after the All-Star break in 2012-13. If he can channel into that very same confidence he had in the second half of his breakout season, he will be in the MVP discussion and perhaps put pressure on every top-10 player.

Game on.

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