Stephen Curry: Prodigious and spectacular, yet not a star
Albert Einstein famously said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
Well, not many can stand up and argue against the paramount perspicacity and sagaciousness of the legendary man. However, a certain player from Akron, Ohio can most certainly fight and prove his case to be a confounding mixture of both states.
Meet Stephen Curry, the man who made many heads turn with his indomitable 54 point display against the Knicks, at MSG, the grandest stage of all. A player who many consider to be among the best shooters to have ever laced their shoes; a star and the face of a resurgent franchise, but still maybe a touch overshadowed by the grandiose of the likes of a Chris Paul, Westbrook, Parker etc.
The game was significant as the whole league was excited to see how the Warriors would bounce back after the fiasco and the loss against the Pacers. And at the helm of the whole renaissance was Stephen Curry. With David Lee suspended, the onus was on Curry to deliver. A similar situation when a certain Kobe Bryant, devoid of the injured Andrew Bynum, came up and delivered a memorable 62 point performance against the Knicks under the brightest spotlight in all of sports. Curry did something very similar, scoring 54 points, and going berserk with 11 made three-pointers from beyond the arc, en route to almost snatching a win for the Warriors. And there lies the difference. Kobe won the game, Curry left with an if and a but. Another almost, in a career lined with such ifs’ and buts’.
Curry’s introduction to the game was as pure and holistic as one can ever hope for. Son of Dell Curry, a legend for the Hornets and a player who was respected and revered for his ability on the court, as well as his temperament off it. To the little Stephen, his father was the best player in the league, and he desired of nothing more than to emulate him. As a kid, he accompanied his father to many of the Hornets’ practice sessions, and at a very young age was showing great aptitude for the game. He would watch the team practice, study their moves and their plays, try to remember and copy every drill, and on every single break jump onto the court and start shooting the ball. Basketball was his only love, and he was having a ball enjoying the perks of being a star-child. Maybe not so much as little CP3 is enjoying, but Curry had his moments and he revelled in them.
While he was having his moments of juvenile stardom, Stephen was also showing that he had inherited a lot from his father’s basketball talents. Even as a kid, he had built a reputation of being a deadly shooter with a great quick-stroke and remarkable range. At Charlotte Christian School, he was the toast of the basketball team, and was named all-state, all-conference, and team MVP as he led his school team to three conference titles and three state play-off appearances. He averaged over 45% from beyond the three-point arc, a number that is impressive even by NBA standards, let alone high-school ball. Curry was a star, and played like one. He had been habituated to the fealties of his school mates and with his dad’s popularity and reputation, many already were predicting a future NBA All-Star appearance. As a kid, it is but difficult to stay modest in the face of such plaudits, and Stephen had started assuming greatness.
Stephen was banking on his school team heroics to get him through to a great college. It was then that he got his first taste of denial, as despite everything, none of the major conference schools came calling. Some who did, didn’t want to give him a full scholarship, and the dreamy eyed kid was watching his dream crumble right in front of his eyes. For a kid so habituated to having the best of all, rejection was not an easy meal to swallow.
Many reckoned that at 6-foot, 160 pounds he was too small to be a force in college basketball. Curry wasn’t the brawniest kid around, and he couldn’t change that. It may have been harsh on Curry, but it was however necessary because only in the face of obstacles do the great characters take shape. Stephen wasn’t ready for denial, and it was this moment that shaped his real and true personality. When Davidson College came calling with a full-scholarship and a guarantee that Curry was a major feature of their plans, Curry was ready and accepted the challenge. Davidson was not a major force in the NCAA circuit, and hadn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 1969. It was an underdog team; a perfect ambiance for Curry to step out, explore himself and his abilities.
Curry’s achievements at Davidson were surely the greatest possible vindication that he could have ever hoped for. He starred for the Wildcats and transformed them into a major force in collegiate basketball, while notching numerous plaudits, records and honours. The underdog had risen, and Curry was selected by the Warriors as the 7th pick in the 2009 NBA draft.
As fate would have it, Curry was anointed as the next big thing by a franchise much maligned by its horrendous record at managing and trading draft picks. Their history was against them, and their fans were hoping that Curry would prove to be some relief for many of the disasters that they had endured.
Curry was relieved and happy to have turned his life around, and to be able to fulfill his dream of featuring in the NBA. But his moment of basking in the spangle of achievements was short-lived, as the Warriors still struggled as a franchise. Many mix-and-matches were made, many players were drafted around, and it was only when Mark Jackson came at the helm that things seemed to sort themselves out. Curry had missed a huge part of the 2011-12 season due to injuries, but Jackson saw qualities in Curry that convinced him that Curry could be a leader and deserved to be the face of the franchise. Jackson’s belief was sure enough indication for the Warriors, who then traded away their biggest star in Monta Ellis for the herculean Andrew Bogut. With a roster boasting the likes of the dependable David Lee, the veteran guard in Jack, the herculean Bogut, the prodigal Thompson and the exuberant Barnes, Curry had role-players who could help him reach the potential that Jackson envisaged of him.
Life was coming at a fast pace for Curry, and he sure responded, averaging 22 points, 6.5 assists, 1.7 steals, while averaging among the league’s best in 3-point shooting percentage. Many consider that he should have been an All-Star this year, but in a conference laden with paramount talents at the PG and the SG positions, Curry was against a pretty tall-order. Had it been the eastern Conference, he surely could have featured over a Holiday, but at 24 he knows his time will come.
Maybe in the next few years Curry might actually earn an All-Star nod and improve his numbers. However, as the face of a resurgent Warriors franchise, there are still many areas of his game that he needs to work on. He is surely a gifted three-point shooter, and with his quick-release and range, he will always be counted among the best ever to heat it up from beyond the arc. He may feature and win many NBA skills contest and three-point contests, but the truth remains that in a hierarchy driven fraternity like the NBA, all such histrionics count for nothing. Curry has to realize that he has a chance at being great, something that isn’t implicit but has to be earned. And Curry fails on many such paradigms that isolate the greats from the prodigies.
He surely is among the better ball-handlers in the league as proved by the punishment he dished out to the likes of Raymond Felton and George Hill. However, Curry predominantly is transfixed on executing a cross-over and creating space to launch an impossible looking fade-away three-pointer. Yes, he is maybe among the best in the league at doing that, but Curry needs to understand that he has enough talent to earn his points through easier and higher percentage looks. He needs to work on his ability to beat players off the dribble, use screens and get to the rim more often. As they say, to get the ring, get to the rim.
Curry, also needs to work on his upper body strength, and try to become a more versatile player, rather than being the player who lives and dies on the perimeter. His court vision is amongst the best in the league, and if Curry develops his inside game, he can surely become a very effective player. It shall open options to drive and dish, orchestrate plays, feed bigs’ off rolls’ and also get some easy looks. He should still use his 3-point shot as his go-to move, but surely he should refrain from becoming one-dimensional.
Curry has certainly improved immensely as a pick-and-roll defender, but as a one-on-one defensive player he still leaves a lot to wish for. Many bigger PG’s have often looked to post-up on him, and succeeded against the comparatively fragile Curry. With the likes of Westbrook and Paul boasting of a competent post-up game, it is imperative that Curry works on his physique and his defensive ability.
But most of all, Curry needs to develop the character and the attitude that a franchise star should have. The same that defines a Kobe Bryant or a Kevin Durant. It is what is famously called the clutch gene; the desire to take the ball in the big moments and the certitude and conviction to come up supreme. Against the Knicks, Curry was virtually infallible from beyond the arc, and despite Felton’s best efforts, Curry was just shooting impossible rainbow shots. He seemed destined for a shocking win over the Knicks, only for destiny to challenge him. With 1:28 left in the fourth quarter, and the game tied at 105 points, Curry had the chance to nail the dagger. He had the ball in his hand, and the game rested on his shoulders. The grandest stage of all, the biggest match of his yet nascent NBA career. Till then, everything he shot just swished right through. But this wasn’t the usual shot. It was still the same game, he was in-form, but with this shot rested the fate of the game. The pressure got to him, as Curry forced a shot and was blocked by Felton. The Knicks scored on the ensuing possession and Curry’s shoulders drooped. The game was still within his reach, but Curry just folded as the next 2 possessions saw Jack aiming to put an isolation move and turning the ball-over, and Thompson missing clutch 3-point shots. The thing to realize is that suddenly, Curry, the Warriors best offensive weapon, didn’t want the ball, and had no role in the last few possessions. He had quit, and that is what still separates him from the elite few of the league. On nights, it is Jack who takes the clutch shots, and sometimes it is David Lee. Curry just seems too young to take on the ball in such situations.
And that is the prime reason why maybe few coaches still don’t consider it an obligation to feature him in the All-Star game. He is still too raw, and still shies away from the big moments. He has no play-off experience and doesn’t stand a chance against the seasoned pro’s like Paul, Parker and Westbrook. The only positive is that he is a willing learner, and the game at MSG would have surely done wonders for him as a basketball player. As Warriors legend, Chris Mullins remarked, “Everything in New York will be a little bit bigger, so it adds to it. If you look at those numbers, I don’t care where he does that. If he did it in Timbuktu, it’s unbelievable. An incredible shooting exhibition for any generation, any time, anywhere.”
But Mullins knows that such performances only count when you repeat the same at the business end of the season. Curry’s work ethics are well-reputed and his latest outing for sure may have developed in him a penchant and a liking for the big stage. As Mullins summed it up, “That’s why you put in extra time, to be ready for those moments. Those nights don’t happen a lot. Some guys don’t get that opportunity. To me, that’s what it’s all about — putting in the work so you can be ready. And he really took advantage.”
One can only hope that the 48 minutes he played at the MSG might be the first step in the seasoning of a player who promises to be a future Warriors legend. More than Curry, the franchise deserves and needs him to do so.