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The Rise and Rise (and Rise) of Steph Curry: The Wildly Miraculous Quietly Inevitable Success of Golden State’s Point Guard, by Grantland


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It’s important to stress here that from a historical standpoint, being a hot college shooter who jumps from a small school to the draft bears approximately the same relation to NBA superstardom as being born in the Middle Ages does to owning a castle.

Curry had set the NCAA on fire, set fire to the fire, and then poured jet fuel on it, but he was still a spot-up shooter who stood 6-foot-3 with his shoes on; his realistic best-case scenario looked a lot more like, say, J.J. Redick (a role player who adds a specific dimension to his team’s offense) than Kobe Bryant (a versatile scorer who passes the “so good he gets to star in brooding self-produced documentaries in which no one else speaks” test). His dad had been a situational shooter, and that’s all Steph was really expected to be; so many players with his approximate profile never made it at all. It’s not quite fair to say that the world expected him to fail, but MVP? The short, sharp slide to Red Star Belgrade beckoned as at least as likely a prospect.

Here’s a quick summary of Steph Curry’s NBA career:

2009-10: 17.5 PPG, 5.9 APG, .437 3P%; finishes second to Tyreke Evans for rookie of the year.

2010-11: 18.6 PPG, 5.8 APG, .442 3P%, .934 FT%; wins the skills challenge during All-Star Weekend; suffers multiple ankle sprains.

2011-12: 14.7 PPG (a career low), 5.3 APG (ditto), .455 3P%; needs two surgeries after multiple injuries; winds up playing just 26 games.

2012-13: 22.9 PPG, 6.9 APG, .453 3P%, .900 FT%; breaks the NBA record for 3-pointers in a season; reaches the playoffs for the first time, losing to the Spurs in six in the second round.

2013-14: 24.0 PPG, 8.5 APG, .424 3P%; starts in his first All-Star Game; loses to the Clippers in seven games in the first round of the playoffs.

2014-15: 23.8 PPG, 7.7 APG, .443 3P%, .914 FT%; becomes the fastest player in NBA history to reach 1,000 3-pointers (in 369 games; the previous record-holder, Dennis Scott, needed 457); breaks his own record for 3-pointers in a season; overall leading vote-getter for the All-Star Game; leads Golden State to the best record in the NBA.

This trajectory, if you need it put into context, is both flat-out bonkers and — because we’re talking about Curry, and Curry exists on the plane where the impossible and the rational coincide — disarmingly natural. Smooth, even. Of course you follow up two seasons when you’re quasi-written off as an injury case by rewriting the NBA record book; you just do. It’s as if his whole career has been the kind of long-range shot his whole career’s been based on: Surely no one can hit it from there, and yet …

At Davidson, Bob McKillop’s offensive scheme perfectly complemented Curry’s strengths. In the same way, every stage in the Warriors’ recent evolution, from the emergence of his backcourt mate Klay Thompson as a legitimate All-Star to the hiring of Steve Kerr as coach, has worked to Curry’s benefit; so has the overall direction of the game, which keeps placing more emphasis on 3-pointers and free throws and spacing. Still, systemic advantages matter only if you keep hitting your shots.

Golden State’s happy tear through the 2014-15 NBA season was abetted by the transition from Mark Jackson’s relatively slow, iso-heavy half-court offense to Kerr’s free-flowing cloud. Last season, the Warriors threw the fewest passes per game of any team in the league. This season, they’re running sets, thinking ahead of the next pass, and using Curry much more off the ball. His numbers aren’t radically different, but he looks more at home in the scheme, which is also just a hell of a lot more fun to watch. He looks like he’s playing in a system that was built for him, because, in effect, this one was.3