Over the last ten years, the correlation between success in college basketball and in the NBA itself has been all over the map. Think of the most recognizable collegiate players, like Tyler Hansbrough, Adam Morrison, JJ Redick, John Wall and Derrick Rose. Among that list, some players have flashed brilliance, some have shown true greatness and the rest have been “meh”. Hansbrough, Morrison and Redick seem to typify this player: incredible in college, but just another body in the hyper-competitive NBA.
Notably absent from the previous “meh” list is one Stephen Curry, and this omission is with good reason. A media darling through his days at Davidson, Curry dragged talent-devoid teams through the early rounds of the NCAA Tournament, shooting and gunning his way into the minds of fans nationwide. With the way things stand right now, Curry does not fit into the scrub list for one simple reason: He is a bona-fide NBA superstar.
In the context of the 2009 NBA draft, Curry was regarded as a one-dimensional shooter, offering little in the way of elite athleticism or defensive prowess. His biggest claim to fame was his incredible shooting ability, something that was unstoppable and deadly in college. The concern was whether Curry, a small individual, would be able to cope with the physical demands of the league and whether his incredible shooting would stand up against the rugged defenders that teams would be sure to run at him.
On draft day, it was a foregone conclusion that the Los Angeles Clippers would select Blake Griffin out of Oklahoma, the consensus top player in the draft. After that, the waters became much murkier; there seemed to be little to separate a loaded class of point guards. The Warriors held the seventh pick in the draft and were shopping it in an effort to pick up an established superstar. In fact, some draft pundits claimed that the Warriors would trade the pick, straight-up, to Phoenix for Amar’e Stoudemire, contingent on the fact that the player the Suns wanted to take was still on the board.
However, the draft slots fell in such a way as to leave Stephen Curry on the board when the Warriors were to pick. Then-GM Chris Mullin took Curry with zero hesitation and held pat while Phoenix tried in vain to pry Curry from the Warriors. At the end of the day, Mullin believed that Curry was a player with the skills to be the centerpiece of a competitive team. It bears mentioning that the Timberwolves held two top-10 picks ahead of the Warriors and three overall picks in the first round of the draft that year; their selections were (in order) Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn and Ty Lawson, with Rubio electing to stay in Europe for a few more years, the Flynn pick backfiring and Lawson ending up on the Nuggets through a trade.
Fast-forward a few years to today and Curry’s popularity and reputation have soared to uncharted heights. The pre-draft scouting report failed to recognize a willing and instinctive passer who can run the pick and roll efficiently, while also recognizing mismatches and exploiting them all over the floor. The report also understated the impact of Curry’s shooting; as the Nuggets and Spurs can attest to, giving Curry even a glimmer of daylight is enough for him to drain a shot, range be damned. We’re talking about a player who beat Rick Reilly (admittedly not a professional basketball player, but still) in a shooting contest while shooting from half court!
When Curry gets hot, anything he throws at the basket seems to go in (cue Nuggets fans nodding slowly). Paired with his “Splash Brothers” sidekick in Klay Thompson–another brilliant (if streaky) shooter with a lockdown defender’s mentality–the Warriors have the “best shooting backcourt in the history of the NBA,” if their coach Mark Jackson is to be believed. Regardless, over the last few weeks, we have seen firsthand that Curry can singlehandedly change the outcomes of games. That is a powerful statement that cannot be applied to just any player. It takes someone special to deserve that praise.
The poison darts in the strawberry tart are, as feared, Curry’s injury woes. To put it bluntly, his ankles appear to be made of a combination of brittle glass and paper mache; it seems like he suffers some ankle-related setback at least once a month. He has missed numerous games in each of his seasons in the NBA and his inability to stay healthy is reflected in his relatively modest contract; much of his potential depends on him being able to stay on the court.
Curry will also never really be a defensive stopper; he lacks the size and agility to stay with super-quick guards, and he gambles often for steals. However, the effort is there, which was a big doubt going into the draft. At worst, Curry will outgun the player he is matched up against 95 percent of the time; at best, he is a marauding freelancer who comes up with steals and other sneaky turnovers by his skill.
The 2013 NBA Playoffs have served as Curry’s coming-out party on the national scene. Following his 54-point outburst at Madison Square Garden, Curry has shot the lights out throughout the playoffs while also averaging over eight assists per game, the best among all players this postseason.
While he performs at such a high level, the Golden State Warriors suddenly look dangerous. Despite losing David Lee to injury, they already knocked off the 3-seed Nuggets and currently dueling the San Antonio Spurs to a 2-2 series win count in a wildly entertaining matchup. Much of this success has to do with Curry being handed the keys to the Warriors offense. So far, he has more than lived up to the expectations.
Between his college heroics and his playoff performances this year, Curry has elevated himself to superstar status at both levels, which is another rare accolade to bestow. Needless to say, the reputation is very well deserved. Now if only we could replace his ankles with some steel joints…
Viggy Venkataraman’s lifetime goal is to meet Stephen Curry. If you know how to make his dreams come true contact him at [email protected]