An unspoken truth: basketball has always been a big man’s game.
There are various definitions of what a “big man” truly is, but it’s an undeniable fact that basketball is a sport that favors the powerful. During the 60s and the 70s, Wilt, Russell, and Kareem dominated with their height. During the 90s, Michael won his championships with aerial artistry brought about by his breathtaking athleticism. Of course, skill mattered. But one’s physical capabilities, things that aren’t always blessed to us, no matter how much weights we lift, had unquestionable value. You at least needed to be physically gifted to stand out in the game of basketball.
It was understandable then that Stephen Curry came into the NBA with plenty of question marks. With measurements of 6’3″ and 181 pounds, Curry did not project to be a dominant force in the league. He was a monster scorer for Davidson and his craftiness received plenty of praise, but there was a ceiling to how much he could do in the pros. His NBA comparison, according to NBADraft.Net? Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who averaged 14.6 points and 3.5 assists per game, on 44-35-90 splits.
Fast forward to 2020 and Stephen Curry’s resume is as follows:
- 3-time NBA champion
- 2-time MVP
- Only unanimous MVP in the league
- Career averages of 23.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 6.6 APG, on 47-43-90 splits
Safe to say, he’s broken whatever ceiling was placed on him during the pre-draft process. Yet despite all of these accomplishments, there were still those doubting Curry’s legacy within the history of basketball. That was on full display during the start of the season, when the Golden State Warriors lost their first two games by an average of 32.5 points. It wasn’t the best way to start what many expected to be a revenge tour.
The narrative surrounding Curry’s season flipped as quick as his release after a 62-point explosion against the Blazers. Doubts were erased and Curry truthers sang their praises on social media. This was Stephen Curry: Top 10 player of all-time. Not just today, all-time.
That was two extremes in just a matter of weeks. Curry had turned into a polarizing figure with the fans of the league, and honestly, this shouldn’t be too surprising. As it is, Curry does not fit the archetype of the traditional NBA superstar. He isn’t physically gifted nor does he have the strength to bulldoze past defenses. What he does have, however, is shooting. God-level shooting.
That’s how he changed the game. More than the incredible range and flurry of made three-pointers, what’s made Curry so special has been his otherworldly off-ball ability. Instead of packing the paint and slowing the game down, he speeds it up so the floor loosens up for the Golden State offense. This kind of style plays into his advantages and hides whatever weaknesses he has physically. He’s not explosive, but he’s quick AND smart. By being purposeful with his movement around the court, he’s able to engineer a Top 10 offense on his own, without even holding the basketball. It’s something we’ve never seen before. It’s different. It’s unique.
Curry is unique, which is a large reason why assessing his legacy has become so difficult. It’s part and parcel with his style of play. Shooting, as valuable as it may be in the modern NBA, is still high variance. Threes may be greater than twos, but players are more likely to make an open layup than an open jumper.
For every 62-point explosion, there will be nights where he scores just 13 points on 5/17 shooting. The highs can be incredible but the lows can be excruciating. Such is the Stephen Curry experience. The league has never been witness to anything like this before. If so, why even bother assessing his career when it doesn’t fit any of our age-old archetypes? Why not just sit back, relax, and enjoy the moments provided by the league’s undisputed greatest shooter?
There will be those who will argue that all-time greats are placed under a microscope even at an early age and that’s understandable. But debating about Curry’s legacy will forever be a seesaw affair given the nature of his style of play. It’s too high variance. It’s too unpredictable. The only time his place within the realm of greats can be properly assesed is when he hangs it up. That time is a lot closer than everyone thinks.
Like what was said at the start of this piece, basketball is a big man’s game. There are a only select few point guards in the league’s history who were able to stretch their careers to incredible lengths. . Being a step slower hurts a guard’s game immensely. Moving off the ball for shooters isn’t as easy when players age. With a snap of a finger, the Curry flurries fans have always enjoyed will vanish. Curry is probably the epitome of the saying, “Enjoy it before it’s gone.” The margin for error is so small. Why not savor it while it’s here?
The Stephen Curry experience is unlike any other. To witness it with glasses colored by polarizing discussions of legacy, would be an insult to the very core of fandom.
#StephBetter? It doesn’t matter. The debating and ranking can come later. This show is only a limited release. Fans are witnessing something special; a show of dominance they’ve never seen before. Better to enjoy it before it’s gone.