Last week, my esteemed colleague and close friend, wrote a very passionate article about Steph Curry, and touted him as the best in the world. And after I read it, I knew I was going to have to write a rebuttal.
I remember where I was on Saturday Feb. 27th, when Steph hit that game winner. I was sitting in my living room with my mom watching The Right Stuff. As my mom slowly closed her eyes and fell asleep, I pounced on the remote. My phone told me there was just under thirty seconds to play in OT.
What I saw next was (and still is) unbelievable. My inner coach was screaming: timeout, TIMEOUT! What the @#$% are you doing shooting that shot?!?!? Oh. Damn, that was a good play. I guess.
And even though what he did is nothing new to us, he’s been spoiling us for a while now, that shot definitely felt different. And I am certainly not sitting here trying to say I don’t think Curry is an “out of this world” player. Rather, there are one or two things to consider before we place him in the “best in the world” category.
First, I am not here to back up Isiah, Oscar, Kareem, or any other legend that has a problem with the NBA’s defense, and how that effects Steph’s game. What he is doing is unprecedented, and even though I personally would like to see tougher defense in the NBA, I am not going to fault Curry for playing the game so well in today’s NBA.
Second, as you know from previous Sixth Man discussions, labels for basketball players are tricky to define. And to put someone into the “greatest in the world” category, with the likes of Magic, Russell, Dr. J, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James (to name a few), then the player has to fit a certain definition.
In my opinion, to be considered the best in the world at any given point, you must fulfill a list of requirements: great two-way player, leader on your team, captivate fans and casual bystanders all around the country, NBA champion, good independent record (that is carrying a team with little back-up, great stats, and the feeling that you belong, along, on the pedestal at the top of the world. Curry checks off most of these boxes, but not all of them.
For me, the first area of concern is that Curry’s defense is suspect. When you think of the most recent greats, MJ, Kobe, LBJ, you think of their lock down defense. At their respective peaks, you know they would be defending the other team’s best player. Even if they weren’t the best defender of their generation, each of those guys had a reputation as a grind-it-out defender who stepped up in the clutch.
While Curry is by no means a bad defender, he does not carry that same sort of reputation. If you want a defender for the end of the game on Golden State, you are choosing Iguodala or Draymon, not Curry. And I understand, that may seem like a subjective analysis, but I have some numbers to back this up.
Curry’s career averages as an all-around player are pretty good. For his career, he averages 3.6 defensive rebounds per game, 1.8 steals per game, and not surprisingly, 0.2 blocks per game.
His defensive win shares, that is how many games his team usually wins because of his defense, is only 17.1. So in any given season, Curry’s defense alone has helped the GSWs win around 17 games. And his defensive +/- (basically his net defensive contribution per 100 possessions) is -0.6. So for his career, he hurts his team’s defense while he is on the floor, albeit by a small amount.
To put these numbers into context, here are some comparisons:
So while these number don’t point out glaring differences, I think there is something to be said about Curry’s overall game. Is he simply a really, really good Carmelo Anthony? The only reason his overall +/- is a positive number is because he crazy on the offensive end. Melo, as we can see, is terrible at defense, and his offensive efficiency is not great enough to overcome that (more great news for Knicks fans ).
And, while I think it is valid to argue that things are changing in the NBA and the requirements for being the best in the world may be changing as well, I would still argue that basketball is 50% offense, 50% defense, and that we should hold the greatest players in the world to that standard.
The second area that I want to point out is Curry’s supporting cast. For players like MJ, Kobe, and LeBron, we saw them on teams where they carried that team farther than they should have gone in the regular season and in the playoffs (2007 Cavs anyone?). LeBron did it so many times that he had to go down to South Beach to partner up with some all-stars to finally win a championship. Jordan was destroying teams before Scottie got there, but MJ needed him to win a championship.
With Curry, we have never seen him carry a team for a season like those other greats. What is fascinating about the Golden State Warriors is that the core of that team all seem to be peaking at the same time: Curry, Thompson, Barnes (although he might have more potential), and Green. And yes, it is extremely likely that Curry could do it by himself, but we haven’t seen it. That’s why we still play the games, and don’t just hand the trophy to the Warriors, because anything can happen.
He has a great demeanor on a winning team, but does he have the leadership that LeBron shows us every year? Doe he have the ability to grind out games while the other team’s defense is smothering him and he doesn’t have all-stars to pass to?
Overall, Steph Curry is an amazing player. And, just because I don’t want to give him the title of “the best in the world” just yet, that doesn’t mean he isn’t an MVP-caliber player who deservedly won a championship and currently “owns” the league. Simply put, my standards are strict, and while Curry clearly fulfills and surpasses the offensive requirements, I don’t think the rest of his game is strong enough. Yet.
…The scary thing is, that means he still has room to improve!!