To watch the NBA Finals and Golden State, is to contemplate the very concept of Steph Curry.
I have read more than a handful of well structured pieces about Curry proclaiming him – already – in the top-3 point guards of ALL TIME in NBA History. (And no, none of these pieces listed Lonzo Ball ahead of him.)
My first thought is: “that’s nuts. No way!” I mean, he’s a helluva a shooter, a fancy dribbler, a nifty passer… but all time top-3 point guard? Nah. Doesn’t feel right. Would we have said that about Steve Nash? He too, had back-to-back MVP seasons once upon a time. Of course the stats on Curry are otherworldly, but then again, we are living in an entirely different NBA world.
In 1987, the Lakers took 41 three-pointers the ENTIRE SERIES in beating the Celtics 4-2. Thirty years later… Golden State took 43 threes….. in Game 2.
I’m just not sure how you can compare across a basketball transformation like this through the decades. Technically, it’s the same game. Orange round ball. 10-foot hoop. 2 points from inside the arc, 3 from outside. Same, same…. totally different. Not unlike the Arby’s commercial about the differences in bacon vs. pork belly.
Curry’s weaknesses get amplified in the post-season, especially as you climb the bracket. He can’t/won’t finish most drives to the basket, without making some acrobatic flip shot. His shooting is amazing, but his shot selection is sometimes insane. Surely he’s smart enough to know when he’s taking some crap looks, but in the Warriors system, it doesn’t really matter. That bad 3 might just go in, but even if it doesn’t, it’s likely a wild-caroming brick that’s much more easily rebounded by a teammate for an easy put back or dunk, or at least another possession.
All of that said, there’s nobody like Curry and his skill-set is capable of warping the normal order of Naismith’s game. What makes him such a brilliant basketball creature that is a wonder – and joy – to watch, is the purity of his stroke from absurd distance. A normal three from just beyond the line, is a man’s shot. Where Curry shoots from with form and elegance, is basketball outerspace.
What this does to defenses, cannot be understated. Effectively, it’s as if Golden State gets to play on a larger court than every one of their opponents – a court far more open with passing and driving lanes, and less clogged with defenders and rim protectors.
It dawns on me that the new NBA going forward, is going to be a battle to establish a team that can assert air superiority over opponents. Much like the history of warfare since World War II, if you control the air, you control everything. It’s why militaries strive to build a fighter jet that’s just a little bit faster, a little bit more maneuverable and a little bit more evasive than the NEXT fastest, bestest fighter jet in the world.
If I were an NBA GM, I would seek out superior long-range shooting out of my draft picks over everything else. Even your so-called “inside players” need to have 3-point capability. Back in 1987 Magic Johnson took only 2 three’s the entire 6-game series. It wasn’t his thing, and he didn’t need to do it.
But a funny thing happened late in Magic’ career. After languishing as a reluctant 20% shooter from outside for the first 9 years of his career, Magic suddenly exploded into a 35% shooter who took almost triple the amount of shots.
Why? Good question. I guess Magic just figured: “there’s no reason I can’t be a 3-point threat, so why not?”
It was ultimately just a matter of time before a generation of shooters rose like the oceans to change how the game is played. When I was a senior in high school, not a single blacktop anywhere had a 3-point line (college nor NBA) painted on it. Our pickup games included one of us bringing a bar of soap to draw it by hand.
Now, that line is standard on every court in America. And kids today are stepping back, jacking ‘em up, and dreaming of being the next Steph. Where does he rank among the all-time point guards in league history? I have no idea. But he has changed the game, no matter if you think the change is for the better, or not.