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Venkataraman: Chronicling the journey of Steph Curry and the Warriors

It is scary to think that in the 2009 NBA Draft, there were two (or three, depending on your perspective) point guards taken ahead of Stephen Curry. The Sacramento Kings took Tyreke Evans, a stereotypical shoot-first point guard blessed with a shooting guard’s body, which was moderately rational, as he won Rookie of the Year in 2010, has performed at an above-average level throughout his career and currently plies his trade for the New Orleans Pelicans.

The Minnesota Timberwolves owned the next two picks, which they used on Ricky Rubio, a generational passing talent with a total lack of jump shot and no desire to immediately play in the NBA, and the immortal Jonny Flynn, a diminutive point guard out of Syracuse who is out of the league entirely.

The Golden State Warriors, at the time owned by Chris Cohan, seriously thought about swapping the seventh pick to the Suns for Amar’e Stoudemire, allowing the Suns to ostensibly pick the clear heir-apparent to an aging Steve Nash. But through stubbornness and some sheer dumb luck, the Dubs drafted Stephen Curry, the baby-faced assassin out of Davidson.

It is easy to forget that Curry’s time with the Warriors began with a series of unfortunate events that would give Lemony Snicket pause. Before they had even met, the notoriously forthright Monta Ellis, current superstar of the team, insisted that he and Curry could never co-exist together. The team, not so far removed from the magic of the “We Believe” playoff run that sank the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round, was constructed from a number of mismatched and enigmatic pieces. Baron Davis had fled to the Clippers, and the Warriors in turn attempted to pry Elton Brand away before settling for Corey Maggette, a black-hole statistical anomaly who is reputed to have called assists “teammate turnovers.”

Stephen Jackson, brought over from Indiana after the “Malice at the Palace” of Auburn Hills, was rewarded with a slightly over-market contract that made him immovable without the Warriors giving up key assets. The Warriors’ roster going into Curry’s rookie season was filled out with Andris Biedrins, Raja (Kobe-killer) Bell, Devean George, Anthony Morrow, Kelenna Azubuike, Vlad Radmanovic, Reggie Williams, Anthony Randolph and Anthony Tolliver. Though the individual pieces did not all lack for talent, the cohesive whole was far less than the sum of its parts.

Under Don Nelson, who would retire shortly thereafter, the Warriors went 26-56, with the magic of “We Believe” evaporating almost entirely. By the very next season, Jackson had been jettisoned and Keith Smart brought in as coach. With another untalented roster, the Warriors improved slightly to 36-46, but they were essentially treading water at this point. Curry was a decent player in his first two years, flashing some of the insane shooting ability and handle that won him praise at Davidson. His biggest issues turned out to be physical — he seemed to sprain his ankle at the most inopportune moments, and he lacked the size and physicality to defend bigger and stronger point guards. Defense, it must be said, was not a hallmark of the Don Nelson Warriors, and while Smart tried to right the ship, without any competent defensive centers on the roster and with Monta Ellis being one of the worst on-ball defenders in the NBA, the results were not surprising.

The team’s struggles over this time period allowed it to snag snag lottery picks Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson in the process, but Curry remained an enigma with an unknown ceiling as an NBA player. With the Warriors being sold to the Lacobs and Grubers that year, a cohesive plan for the future was finally implemented. To the outright rebellion of fans, Ellis was shipped off to Milwaukee for Andrew Bogut, a move that drew boos at the time but greased the skids for the Warriors becoming Curry’s team.

The rest, as they say, is history. Under Mark Jackson, the Warriors made huge strides defensively and began to climb the ladder of the NBA’s elite. While the offense was plodding and pedantic, the team stopped being the whipping boy of the Western Conference. After Jackson was let go, Steve Kerr elevated the Dubs to glorious heights, leading them to a championship in his first season as head coach. At the center of that rally was Curry, who deservingly won an MVP for one of the finest displays of shooting and playmaking ever seen. Much as people started to tune into Lob City games to see who Blake Griffin was going to posterize when he first came into the league, any game featuring Stephen Curry and his Splash Brother buddy Klay Thompson instantly became must-see-TV.

Charles Barkley scoffed that a jump-shooting team would never win a championship, but to call the Warriors of last year and this year that would be a disservice to them. They take jumpers, yes, but said jumpers have a remarkable predilection for going in. This season, Curry has managed to make games with 50-plus points seem mundane, games with 40-plus points seem common, and games with 30-plus points barely worthy of notice. My father, normally very controlled with what he says, has caught himself swearing out loud when watching Curry pull up from just beyond the half-court team logo without any thought and casually drill a 35-plus-foot shot.

The Warriors may win the most games of any NBA team, ever, and Curry is on pace to have the greatest player efficiency rating for a season, for a guard, ever. And all this from a guy who was taken behind three other guards. #StephGonnaSteph.

 

Ask Vignesh Venkataraman about his favorite Steph Curry moment at viggy ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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