Steph is dominating NBA like never before... but one ‘lazy’ tag still undersells him
When it comes to Steph Curry, we are programmed to expect the unexpected. To be used to the ridiculous being made to look routine, the abnormal suddenly becoming normal.
But even the greatest shooter of all time sometimes surprises himself. Like he did after hitting a running, one-legged 3-pointer in October last year against the Memphis Grizzlies.
That’s the thing with Curry. He continues to find new ways to reinvent himself, his game and the game itself. He still finds ways to conquer and confound logic.
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To label Curry as the ‘greatest shooter of all time’ though is a disservice, ignoring the countless other ways he has found a way to make an impact on both ends of the floor.
It is what makes Curry and Golden State’s title triumph against the defensive juggernaut that was the Boston Celtics of 2022 so impressive.
Even when he failed to shoot a single 3-pointer in Game 5 – the first time he had done so in his playoff career – Curry still had the highest plus-minus (+15) of all starters.
He may have not been making shots but the Warriors were much better for having Curry on the floor, opening up looks for his teammates and manipulating the best defence in the league.
Former NBA player and current ESPN analyst JJ Redick said it best on his podcast ‘The Old Man & the Three’.
“Steph is a star... and by star I mean literally a star,” Redick said.
“Like our sun that has gravitational pull which requires other planets to orbit around him… everything the Warriors do orbits around Steph, everything that opposing defence does orbits around the Steph Curry game plan.”
That gravity comes with a magnetic force, pulling defenders in even when he does not have the ball in hand. When he does, double-teams and even triple-teams sometimes are not enough for Golden State’s masterful maestro.
Before an off night in Game 5, Curry had been shooting 54.3 per cent on tightly contested field goals and 61.1 per cent on tightly contested 3-pointers. That was all while also attempting the most tightly contested shots of any players in the Finals.
Now he is at last a Finals MVP, scoring 34 points as the Warriors took Game 6 103-90 on another masterclass from their chief conductor. Surely, that’ll be enough to silence the doubters.
You know, the ones who ignore the six Finals appearances, four championships, two MVP awards and All-NBA accolades – looking for some reason, any reason to put disrespect on Curry’s name.
Maybe it has something to do with the fact he is not a dominant, physical presence like other all-time greats. He is dominant in his own right, just not an in-your-face, dunk on their heads kind of way.
Curry’s true greatness is far more understated, although that in itself may get lost at times in 10-second highlight clips that have seen him crowned the 3-point king.
“The lazy reporting we’ve all done is called him one of the greatest shooters of all-time,” former NBA player Mark Jackson said on ESPN’s coverage of Game 6.
“No, he’s one of the greatest players this league has ever seen. The sacrifice he puts his body through to make his teammates around him better hasn’t been seen in the history of this game.”
The Athletic’s Marcus Thompson II knows Curry better than most, author of the best-selling biography ‘GOLDEN: The Miraculous Rise of Steph Curry.’
He knows just how much work it took for Curry to become more than a 3-point king, to go from a defensive liability to a disruptive force in passing lanes – and that is only just the start.
“We have to remember he basically dropped out of the sky in 2014, nationally,” Thompson II said on ‘The Zach Lowe podcast’.
“For him to come out of nowhere and do this… we’re talking about the last nine years of a 12-year career. To me the uniqueness of his story, whatever place he ends up, this dude will have carved a really unique space in the NBA that will never be forgotten, that will be a part of lore and that is just incredible on its own.
“Somehow or another, he’s been able to figure it out. Now that they are taking away his 3s, he is driving, he is getting to the free-throw line more, he has become this more complete player, he is playing defence and being more vocal as a leader. The dude just wins.”
Winning on both ends of the floor too.
Speaking of Curry’s critics, if there was any area of his game for them to immediately latch onto in the past, it was his defence.
“The thing I’ve always appreciated beyond his great skill level is he has improved as a defender, is an outstanding rebounder for a guard and I think those gritty things directly lead to winning,” former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy said on ESPN.
“When you see your best player commit to the hard parts of the game, which is defence and rebounding, and then add the skills, you’ve got great leadership. And I think what people don’t talk about, because he’s not longwinded in what he says, is that he’s truly an outstanding leader.”
Take Curry’s now viral reaction (and fist pump) to a reporter calling him a ‘two-way player’ last month as proof that even he is well aware of it too.
Sure, he shot the lights out (except for Game 5) this Finals series but Curry has also been making it hard for the Celtics’ offence, disrupting passing planes and grabbing defensive rebounds.
While plenty of the focus after Game 4 was on the 43 points, Curry also had 10 rebounds to his name – eight of which were grabbed on the defensive end.
Game 2 was the same as Curry grabbed six defensive boards and had three steals to go with 29 points in a 107-88 blowout win.
“Steph was breathtaking in that quarter, not just the shot-making but the defensive effort,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters after that game.
“He just doesn’t get enough credit for his level of conditioning and physicality and defence. People go at him to try to wear him down because they know how important he is to us offensively.
“It’s pretty dramatic, the difference in Steph’s strength and physicality and his body now from eight years ago when I first got here.”
And that is not the only area of Curry’s game that does not get the credit it deserves.
Kerr told reporters after Game 1 of Golden State’s series with Denver that there was “no drama” bringing Curry off the bench as he eased back from a foot injury – a telling revelation,
“It was really easy for him,” Kerr said.
“He just thought about it and said, ‘No, let’s bring me off the bench. That makes the most sense.’ That was it. There’s no drama.”
Standard Steph, classic Curry – the selfless superstar, willing to do whatever is best for the team and in the name of winning.
And how do you think that made Jordan Poole feel? Pretty damn good if you go by the 22-year-old’s sudden emergence in that Nuggets series, filling the void left by Curry in the starting side.
Curry was confident he could get the job done so why would Poole not feel that way too? Empowering teammates without a ball in hand – the true definition of a leader not seeking out the headlines or highlights.
“If you truly watch him, you then appreciate what he does, how selfless he is,” NBA on TNT reporter Jared Greenberg told ‘The Reiter Than You’ show.
“What I think we’ve done with Steph Curry is, we’ve put him in this box, where we’ve said, ‘He’s the greatest shooter of all-time. There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s not even an argument anymore.
“But, that’s not all he is… it’s not just the shooting. The closest star -- and I got this from Steve Kerr -- that compares to Curry, in terms of his selflessness, is Tim Duncan... he’s a great playmaker and a great teammate... So, I think the term for him is underappreciated.”
To get a true appreciation of how Curry operates, you simply just have to watch him and him alone, regardless of whether he has the ball in hand. Again it comes back to that one word – selfless.
“Steph is an unselfish superstar and he’s willing to put the ball in the hands of the hot player or the guy who is going or get guys going,” former NBA player Vince Carter said on ESPN’s ‘Get Up’.
“That’s one of the things that’s great about him is that Steph does not need to have the ball to be effective.
“His ball movement, his ability to move off the screens… eyes are following him… the defence has to pay attention to him.”
But even after his greatest triumph yet, the magnitude of what we just witnessed – both in this year’s Finals series and Curry’s entire career – may not be truly appreciated until it is gone.
Kerr has had a front-row seat to the Curry experience and even he still finds himself struggling to make sense of it all.
“Even though we’ve all been here watching it, I’m still blown away,” Kerr said after Curry put 45 points on the Clippers last year.
“There’s never been anyone like him.”
And there may never been anyone like him again.
Curry and the Warriors were not even supposed to be here, back in the NBA Finals already, just a few years after one of basketball’s most dominant dynasties appeared to be on its last legs.
There are still many chapters left in Curry’s career, more magic moments that are expected and yet somehow still unexpected at the same time. This though may be the most unlikely of them all.
Now is the time to step back and take it all in while we still have the chance.