Have we already seen the greatest of Stephen Curry?
If history is any indicator of the future, yes we have.
When the Warriors drafted a young, high scoring Stephen Curry from Davidson College in 2009, not a single scout, analyst or coach could have predicted what would have come to be six years later. Golden State took what was perceived as a large gamble when they renewed his contract for a mere 44 million dollars in 2013–2014; a gamble I could confidently say has paid its dividends and then some. Since then, despite his slight frame and youngish looks, Curry proved more than capable of not only handling the NBA opposition, but dominating it.
Let’s forget for a moment that after the All-Star break of his rookie season that he averaged over 22 points per game and finished second in the Rookie of the Year balloting. Forget that he earned himself a spot onto the USA Men’s Basketball Senior National Team that ended up winning a gold medal during the same year. His rookie season. Let’s forget that he was already great coming into the league.
Curry’s dazzling spectacle of a performance night after night really began in the 2012–2013 season, where he set a then-NBA record of 272 three pointers in a single season. A record that surpasses other well-known shooting greats including but not limited to Steve Nash, Reggie Miller, and Ray Allen.
Curry single-handedly forced his way to the top of an already prestigious list, and let the whole world know while he did it.
How did he accomplish such a remarkable feat in a manner that leaves you trying to think of another shooter to compare to his current self? Curry’s threes are not exactly what made him the best shooter of all time; it was the manner in which he took them. The NBA three-point line ranges from 22 feet in the corners out to 23-feet-9-inches near the top of the key. During the 2015–2016 season Curry has hit 33 of 49 shots from between 28 feet and half court. That is over four feet beyond where a player is required to stand to shoot a three from the most distant point from the rim (top of the half-circle). After quick calculations, that equates to an absurd 67.3 percent. Not only that, but he has hit 4 of 11 shots from beyond 39 feet, which is good for 36 percent. Some three point shooters average 36 percent in a season from beyond the arc overall. If that doesn’t put the pieces of the puzzle together for you, look at it this way; the NBA’s best scorer from inside 10 feet is Deandre Jordan, who is hitting 69.7 percent of his shots. Hassan Whiteside is second to Jordan hitting 65 percent from inside 10 feet, 2.3 percent lower than Steph is shooting from 28 feet to half court. On top of that, arguably the best player in the league in LeBron James has a lower shooting percentage from inside five feet than Curry does from 28 feet and out.
If that doesn’t convince you Curry is the first of his kind, I don’t know what will. Nonetheless, Curry has reached a new high in three pointers made in a single season again for the third time. He has managed to reach an NBA record 403 three pointers in a single season averaging just over 5 per game. While all records are meant to be broken, analysts have already said that Curry’s three point record can be broken eventually, by 2040. The way the game has evolved since its inception, all NBA records are broken as playing style and competitive edge changes with the years. However, it is clear that Curry is ahead of his time. Every year at the end of the season fans across the world are wondering if Curry will surpass his own record next season and so far, even though 403 three’s seems impossible, he has yet to prove us wrong.
The world has already accepted Curry as the best shooter they have ever seen, but that’s different than accepting if what we have seen will be the best of what is to come. Wondering whether we’ll ever see something as great as we already have out of Steph is something you could lose sleep over, but not if history is any indicator of what is to come. Records put aside, greatness is truly defined by one thing that Michael Jordan knows best; championships. While Curry’s Warriors coasted through the injury-ridden 2014 NBA Playoffs, there is still much more to accomplish to prove that we have not seen the best of Curry and Golden State yet. He and his teammates consisting of top-notch all-stars in Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes will need a couple more rings before we can say that this current season is not Curry’s best.
At this point, some may argue that it doesn’t matter if Curry can win more than one championship, his great shooting during the regular season is what has made him great. While that may be true, no one remembers a historic shooting season if it was a losing season in the end. Michael Jordan’s greatness was derived from his championships, combined with his dominating performances night in and night out. It is for this reason that during the Jordan Era, we have a difficult time remembering the greatest players in his time that weren’t him. They didn’t get a ring, they didn’t win an NBA championship.
For a moment, we kindly forgot that Curry was already a great player heading into the NBA. He carried Davidson to the Final Four in 2008, and almost won rookie of the year while shooting incredibly.
We can remember those days once again as it’s a part of who he is. But remembering every part of who he is can make some people cringe due to his history with ankle injuries. His Achilles Heel, if you will. In the midst of being great ever since he attended Davidson, he sustained a sprained ankle while practicing with the national team he was selected to during his rookie season. This was an injury that lingered for the following two seasons. In the 2012 season, he averaged a mere 16 points per game while only being healthy enough to play 23 games. He averaged just over 30 per game this most recent season. For three glorious years afterwards, Golden State fans across the world put the his past in the back of their minds and were treated to a championship and three beautiful seasons of Stephen Curry magic.
However most recently in this year’s playoffs, Curry scared the league’s fans once more, bringing back faint memories of his ankle history. After tweaking his ankle in Game 1 against the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs, Curry sat the next two games while the Rockets managed to win one at home. To make matters even worse, Curry sustained a fluke injury in his Game 4 return after slipping on a wet spot near half court right before halftime and did not return for the second half. Like I said before, if history is any indicator of what is to come, we may have already seen the greatness of Stephen Curry. His injuries evoke the memories of John Havlicek and the ’72-’73 Boston Celtics. Those Celtics were also a historic team setting what was back then an NBA record 68 wins in a single season, still good for fifth all-time. This Celtics team was not led by Bill Russell, Larry Bird, or Kevin Garnett. It was led by John Havlicek, a name far less known than the aforementioned players. The reason for that is because this team wasn’t able to win a championship. Therefore its greatest player wasn’t as well remembered, as I stated earlier, which happens if a championship doesn’t top off a fantastic regular season. Havlicek sustained a shoulder injury in Game 3 of 7 against the New York Knicks as the Celtics fell 2–1. Upon his return in Game 5, the Celtics Rallies to pull within 3–2. After winning Game 6, the Knicks figured out how to exploit a diminished version of Havlicek, winning Game 7 and crushing the Celtics’ dreams that seemed so close to reality. Both Havlicek and Curry told reporters after the game that their respective injuries have healed and they expect to play to their fullest ability. However, one has found a place in the history books as a disappointment while the other awaits his fate as Game 5 against the Rockets awaits. If history is any indicator of what is to come, we may not see Curry get another highly sought after championship. And if there’s no championship, as Havlicek and other ring-less greats have proven, there’s no greatness.