Not to brag but I am currently in college. It is socially acceptable for me to take a nap whenever and wherever I want. I can eat frozen pizza for dinner every night. My phone even has this superpower that allows me to hail a personal driver whenever I want.
What an incredible life – a life I’m incredibly appreciative of. Yet, I worry that when it is gone – when the only naps I get are the hours the baby isn’t crying – I will reflect on the good ol’ days and think, “I didn’t appreciate it enough -in the moment, I underrated that part of my life.”
This is how I feel about Steph Curry. I think he is underrated. And I get it, this sounds ridiculous. I mean the man is the MVP, has almost as many commercials as Draft Kings & Fan Duel, and is the unofficial king of Twitter and Vine. How could he possibly be underrated?!
I could point to Steph being tied for fifth in MVP candidates on the NBA’s GM survey, or James Harden being crowned the NBA Players Association MVP last season, or Curry beginning this season with the fourth best Vegas odds to win MVP, but I don’t think that’s the real point here.
Instead, I think this is the crux of the problem: Curry’s style is such a radical departure from what we expect the world’s best to look like that we inherently dismiss a part of it.
Watching Curry does not feel like what watching an NBA All-Time great is supposed to feel like. Lebron and Durant as basketball superhumans makes sense. Someone who is not weirdly tall, has the build of an ultimate frisbee player, and does not dunk on the heads of other humans- that does not feel like what an all-time great is supposed to feel like.
I call this the Elvis dichotomy. I do not have burning love for Elvis (terrible pun alert!), but a radical hip-shaking artist who made people ask “this is great, but are we sure this is what greatness feels like?” seems emblematic of Curry. Curry is unquestionably special, but he is such a departure from what we’ve been programmed to label as greatness. He demands a redefinition of greatness. As history has taught us, redefining something is never a simple process. So, now in honor of calculus teachers everywhere, a three-part proof on why Steph Curry deserves a redefinition of greatness.
1) Basketball’s a game of geometry*: think about the Triangle Offense, or the rectangle we call the key. Manipulating that geometry – as former Grantlander (RIP) Zach Lowe would say, “bending the court”- is fundamental to winning. Steph Curry manipulates that geometry unlike any player in the NBA. Almost any Steph Curry pick and roll within 35 feet of the basket creates a four on three for the Warriors. Curry draws the screener’s defender as well as keeping his own because you just can’t leave him. He leads the NBA with 12.2 points per game (PPG) on pull up jumpers and the next highest is Damian Lillard at 9.1 PPG. As such, he then simply passes to the teammate who set him the screen, beginning a four on three. Creating a four on three this easy and this consistently is absurd, yet most opponents would rather sacrifice that than leave Curry with one defender. This is why Curry leads the league in secondary assists at 2.8 per game. His actions are the impetus for success like no other player in the league.
2) As is so common in proofs, the second part is directly correlated to the first. This idea of doubling a pick and roll anywhere on the court forces opponents to abandon a lifetime of defensive principles. Yet, in the fog of war it is incredibly difficult to fight against the impulses of the standard defensive coverage scheme you have been developing for decades. What derives from this are defenses stuck halfway between the defensive gameplay unique to Curry, and the gameplay they have executed most of their life. This creates chaos and unless your a youth team who specializes in the full-court press, defensive chaos usually is not a good sign. All of this emanates from Curry.
3) Curry’s shape-shifting, four on three inducing greatness, is not particularly reliant on teammates. All he needs is a screener who can competently run a four on three from the three point line and a cast of shooters who can nail decently open threes. This season Steph’s fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson is off to a groggy start, he’s mostly been without monster screen setter Andrew Bogut, and his head coach has missed the regular season so far and yet the simplicity that is a Curry pick and roll still works. Out of all NBA players who have been the ball-handler in 50 or more pick and rolls, Steph’s first in points per play (PPP) at 1.3 PPP. The next highest is Portland’s CJ McCollum at .95 PPP – a mere 27% difference between Steph and the NBA’s next best.
Instead of an isolation-heavy style complimented by soaring dunks, Curry’s greatness is equal parts jaw-dropping and subtle: he rains threes from the heavens, and triggers defensive schemes that systematically create four on three situations for his teammates.
Only one player can really guard him, and that guy is a human octopus who is so far the best defender of this century: San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard.
Steph is already acknowledged as the most fun player in the NBA*.
*Other contenders for most NBA awesomeness:
-Anything Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo (AKA The Greak Freak, or Zeus, or The Alphabet, or The Human Spell Check) does.
-Anytime Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett enters full teach-screen mode.
-Whenever Orlando plays Aaron Gordon with (Super) Mario Hezonja.
-Nothing the Brooklyn Nets ever do. (This will likely hold true for the next half-decade.)
-When Russell Westbrook becomes a human cyborg while Kevin Durant (a seven-footer!) rains threes over helpless defenders.
-Anytime Draymond Green’s even slightly pissed off.
As absurd as it sounds, I think Steph should be regarded as one of the league’s most underrated players. Or, we could just skip that step and acknowledge him for what he is right now. Not just the best shooter of all-time, or the best point guard in the league, or the best player on the best team, but as the NBA’s best player.
All of this while tweeting stuff like this.
So, my Wife bought me a new toilet for our house. You know, one of those automatic ones. And i’m Hype!!! Yep That’s it, Goodnight! #blessed
— Stephen Curry (@StephenCurry30) November 12, 2015
Lebron or MJ would never tweet that. Again we redefine our standards.