MVP or not, appreciate what Steph Curry is doing right now

It has been a humbling past 22 months for the most recent NBA dynasty, Golden State Warriors.

Since even before the 2019 Finals ended in defeat, the Warriors are a team that has grown accustomed to terrible news. From Klay Thompson’s knee to Kevin Durant’s Achilles, to KD’s departure (which was expected), to having to trade Andre Iguodala, to Curry’s broken hand and the miserable, forgettable, please-get-it-over-with last season, to Thompson’s torn Achilles.

Another blow came Thursday when rookie James Wiseman’s season ended with a torn right meniscus. It’s a crushing blow for the player and the organization, given that once Thompson went down before the season started, and the Warriors’ title hopes were flushed, the focus turned to seeing how quickly they could get Wiseman up to speed for when Thompson is healthy and the Warriors could try another run at something special next season.

Draymond Green is a diminished version of his once great self.

Klay may never get fully back after two years sidelined with career threatening injuries.

Another title run with the core of Curry, Klay and Draymond doesn’t seem all that realistic.

The once untouchable dynasty had become just another team and out of the spotlight.

But Curry, he remains in the spotlight this season.

He is a two-time MVP, a three-time champion, and a five-time Finals participant. He has proven to be the most valuable player to his team, above any other player on any team, though he almost certainly will not win the award, because the Warriors just aren’t good enough collectively for voters to truly consider him as MVP.

Just watching Curry perform like he has — without the protection of Thompson or Durant — validates all that Curry has accomplished, throughout his storied career, regardless of who was playing alongside him.

But when you’ve become so used to using the regular season as a runway to a Finals, for fine-tuning or trying new things or maybe even coasting a little, and now you’re celebrating a season-long four-game winning streak, just to get back to .500 at 28-28, and climb from 10th to ninth in the West, it’s just different.

I have a question for Steph Curry, and subsequently his fans:

What do you make of this season?

Do you appreciate the four-game winning streak, when not all that long ago you won 73 out of 82 games?

Is there fun to be had in a playoff chase when you’re used to running away with the conference?

How does it feel to be a middle of the pack team with no true chance of being the last team standing?

Everyone will have their own take on this question, but Steph Curry himself gave some insight.

His answer? Kinda.

“Like I say, every season has different challenges and different scenarios that you work through, but it’s all what we love to do,” Curry said. “So this year is trying to creep as high as we can in the standings down the stretch of the season, make some noise in a playoff series, and take it from there.”

Curry took the humble approach, talking about the team aspect of the season. As he should considering he is the heart and soul of the franchise, but the lone enjoyable aspect of this Warriors season has been Curry’s historic play.

Curry currently finds himself in the middle of the greatest scoring run of his career.

Stephen Curry is averaging 40 points in the 11 games he’s played since returning from a tailbone contusion. He has made 46 3-pointers in his past five games; nobody’s ever made more in a five-game stretch.

How good is that?

Klay Thompson has five career games of 10 or more 3-point makes, which is good for second on the all-time list.

Steph has splashed at least 10 triples six times this season, including in four of his past five games, raising his career total to 21.

Curry has scored 40 or more five times this month, and 30 or more in 11 straight, to leap over Bradley Beal and into the lead for this season’s scoring title.

It has been 5 years since Curry broke the sport of basketball. To anyone who had the pleasure of watching this revolution as it happened in 2016, it was hard to imagine that Curry hadn’t peaked. For the longest time I believe he did. Sure he won two rings after, but in 2016, minus the finals loss, the world revolved around Curry.

That last part isn’t true right now, but his play is right there.

Season MPG PTS REB AST FG% 3P% FT% TS% 3P 3PA USG% Points Per Shot Attempt PER
2015-16 34.2 30.1 5.4 6.7 0.504 0.454 0.908 0.669 5.1 11.2 32.6 1.356 31.5
2020-21 34.0 31.4 5.5 5.9 0.491 0.431 0.922 0.665 5.2 12.1 33.7 1.361 26.9

Curry’s basketball genius has always been the ability to make things happen that are not supposed to happen. He wasn’t supposed to be a force in college. He wasn’t supposed to be a generational talent in the NBA. He wasn’t supposed to change the game with his shooting, and the best shooter ever definitely wasn’t supposed to get better.

But he is at a level, at least for this 10 game stretch, that he has never played at. And his coach Steve Kerr recognized that.

“Nobody’s ever shot the ball like this in the history of the game,” Kerr said. “Even by Steph’s own lofty standards, this is above and beyond.”

The NBA’s other players have five games this season with 10 threes. Curry has six. There have been 25 games in history when a player hit 11 threes or more. Klay Thompson and Damian Lillard have two. Curry had two in the last week. The rest of humanity combined has 10. Curry has 11.

What makes Curry’s performance of late even more impressive is the circumstances which he faces. The protection of Kevin Durant is gone. The ability to rely on Klay Thompson to deflect attention is not available. The continuity of Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and Andrew Bogut are gone.

It’s just Curry. He has to play at this level for the Warriors to stay afloat.

With the exception of Andrew Wiggins and occasionally Kelly Oubre Jr., there is nobody else on the current Warriors roster who can reliably create his own shot, and certainly nobody else who can create one as likely to go in, from as many different areas of the court.

He’s doing it because Golden State—now 29-29, in ninth place in the Western Conference, with an injury-wracked and ill-stocked roster—needs every ounce of offense Curry can muster just to stay afloat in the race for a play-in tournament that

This has certainly been a heavy burden for Curry to carry this season, but he is handling it and making it look effortless. But it is safe to say Curry is making it look effortless because this is the toughest stretch of basketball he’s played in his career.

It’s hard to shoot as much as Curry does. It’s harder when the whole point of the other team’s defensive scheme is to not let you shoot.

Curry had to change his approach, and tinker with his training to ensure he would be able to attack this season the way he had all those prior.

One thing Curry has done is add the step back three to his regular arsenal of moves.

In the five seasons between 2015 and 2019, he managed to shoot 60% on stepback threes, according to the NBA’s public tracking data. The problem was that he didn’t take many of them, as stepbacks accounted for 8% of his threes. This season, 16% of his threes are coming from stepbacks, and he’s still hitting 52% of them. It solved one of the problems of not having as much space to operate with the lack of weapons around him.

But Curry wasn’t finished there.

The other weapon he’s added to his shotmaking arsenal is the deep three. You’re probably thinking well that’s an obvious tool he had in his arsenal this whole time considering he warms up at half court.

Curry took less than 5% of his threes from 30 to 40 feet in the five years he went to the Finals, according to Stathead. This year that number is 10%. The really astonishing thing: He’s been more efficient from 30 to 40 feet than Zion Williamson inside 5 feet.

But maybe the most effective skill for Curry is taking what the defense gives him. When teams have run him off the 3 point line, he has simply drove too the rim and finished with either hand effortlessly. It is a game of chess, when you take something away, you’re readily giving something up. In this case most defenses are caught between the nightmare that is Curry’s dominance.

Curry is not the only transcendent player in the NBA. We will tell our children and grandchildren what it was like to watch LeBron do everything at a higher level than basically anyone ever, and Durant destroy softly and constantly, and Kyrie weave, and Zion explode, and Giannis extend, and so on, and so on. But nothing else feels like this.

I don’t think Curry wins the MVP, nor do I think he should be top 3. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate his greatness right now. You should take the same approach to analyzing Curry and the Warriors 2021 season.

Leave a Reply