Crowned the “greatest shooter of all time” by guys like Danny Ainge, Steve Nash, Jamaal Wilkes, and many others, Steph Curry’s rise a year ago remains truly remarkable, something we all felt we should have seen coming, yet over looked because of the misguided reasoning that championships and MVPs can’t be won by jacking up 3s. But Curry proved us wrong, as he’s done his whole life.
Yet even more astounding than his MVP or world championship was the coronation of Steph as the “greatest shooter ever”, the “best point guard in the league”, and in some instances, “the best player in the world”. Do the defenders of these have a case? Imagine this crowning as a legal proceeding, and you’ll understand why the jury is still out.
First, the defense lays out their case for Mr. Curry being the best shooter ever. In the court of public opinion, there are only two other players that could be in contention: Ray Allen and Reggie Miller. Statistically, everything points towards Stephen. Through his first six seasons, Curry shot over 40% from three-point land in each of them, shooting over 44% in four of those years. Reggie Miller and Ray Allen had two and three seasons, respectively, of over 40% from three in their first 6 years, while Miller NEVER shot above 44% in his career, and Allen only achieved the feat twice. So far in Curry’s career, he’s tied for second all time for best three-point percentage in a career, only behind his head coach Steve Kerr. The final nail in the coffin, Curry already holds the top two spots in the record book for most threes made in a season, even though one of those seasons (14-15), Klay Thompson, his 2-guard, had the ninth most threes EVER in a single season.
Yes, yes, yes, all very true. Yet those stats may be misleading, and don’t describe the full nature of what it means to be “the best shooter ever”. It’s no secret that a player can only be as good as what’s surrounding him. Last year’s Warriors played with the highest pace in the NBA and the highest assist rate in the league. Good passing and fast play brought miscommunication among defenses, leading to open looks for Curry. In his defense, he knocked them down, which many couldn’t do. But he wasn’t facing the double teams that Reggie Miller encountered in Indiana, or that Ray Allen encountered in Milwaukee and Seattle. Therefore, the stats don’t fully describe it. When Ray Allen played on a Celtics team with an all-star point guard (Rondo), and an offense that moved the ball better than anyone, he shot 40% four times in five years, and that was at 32-36 years old, not at 26.
The second part of this defiance to the defense comes through the definition of a “great shooter” as someone who delivers when it matters. Steph Curry hasn’t had that signature moment, especially in the playoffs, where he takes off to solidify a game in a situation he’s not expected to win. Reggie Miller dropped 8 points in 9 seconds against a better New York Knicks team. Ray Allen saved Lebron’s career by hitting a miraculous corner three with under 5 seconds to go, in an elimination game, against the greatest closing team of all-time, the San Antonio Spurs. In college football, they call it a “Heisman moment” for elite players, when you know that that player is the one, or the best. It’s not that we’ll never see it from Curry, but I’m still waiting on that “Heisman moment” where I know for certain.
Next on the docket: Steph Curry as the best point guard in the league. Curry was the second highest scoring point guard, while stealing the ball more times than anyone else, dishing out the 6th most assists, and, of course, shooting at a higher percentage and making more of those shots than any other point guard. Those are all the measure that matter particularly to point guards: shooting, passing, and defense. His real plus/minus, as calculated by ESPN is 9.34, almost 2 points higher than the next highest point guard in the league (Russell Westbrook at 7.08).
Oh boy, I’ve been waiting for this one. Over the past 10 months, this, more than the other claims, left me speechless. Steph Curry the best point guard in the league? How could anybody know? Let me preface my following statements by saying that as an athlete, all you can do is go out and compete against whoever’s in front of you. Golden State did that, and beat whoever came to play them in the postseason. But for goodness sake’s, the 2015 postseason can’t be the foundation, the middle floor, or the roof for this discussion. Curry matched up against Tyreke Evans, Pablo Prgioni, Mike Conley (who literally had a broken face), and Dellevadova in the post season. He did match up against an extremely injured Kyrie Irving, but not for an entire series. That means Curry didn’t have to go one-on-one against a healthy Kyrie or Mike Conley, Chris Paul, John Wall, or Russell Westbrook. In an opinion that many people share, there’s only one thing Steph does better than the rest of these guys, and that’s shoot. He’s not the scorer or athlete that Russ or John Wall are, or have the handles of Kyrie, and lastly, he doesn’t command the court, pass, or play defense like Chris Paul. It’s not the point that he won’t soon be the best point guard in the league, since the potential clearly exists. However, we can’t be so quick when we haven’t seen a large enough sample size against these elite players. Let’s remember we’re still only 5 months removed from Curry being SHUT DOWN by Delly on multiple occasions in the NBA finals. Imagine him trying to do his little floaters and fading threes against Westbrook (I put a good example below of what happens) and John Wall, or him reaching on Kyrie. Think about that first.
Lastly, Steph Curry’s campaign to be the best player in the world culminated with his MVP award. In arguably one of the toughest and closest races in recent history, Curry beat out the other “best in the world” candidates, like Lebron, Harden, Westbrook, and Davis. If you had money for one ticket in the league, you’d spend it to watch Curry, which carries significant weight in this discussion. Plus, he backs it up, with the highest plus/minus, win shares, wins above replacement, and a bunch of other analytic junk, which show the efficiency and effectiveness of him and his teammates whenever he steps on the hardwood.
The group claiming him to be the best player in the world mainly reside in the Oakland metropolitan area, or the dorms of Davidson. As long as Lebron James can play 30 minutes a night, nobody will take that crown from the King. Even Curry at #2 would be a stretch. If you’re the best player in the world, you don’t win the Finals but lose the Finals MVP to a 31 year old 6th man. What’s more damning to the case, is that Steph probably wasn’t even second in the voting, coming in third behind Lebron, despite the Cavs losing.
Curry may very well be all of these one day. But the discussion on present day shouldn’t include potential. Right now, we have an untested player. How will he show up when the lights are bright, and it’s not a 6’ undrafted Aussie covering him? His crown may already have been fitted, but let’s give him time at prince to figure it out first before we make him king. The facts at hand would split any jury across the nation (once again, except in Oakland or the dormitories of Davidson). There’s evidence, but it remains incomplete. Reggie Miller asked, “What do you do in winning time? That separates regular players from superstars”. We still need that “Heisman moment” in “winning time” from Steph. I rest my case, your honor.