The night was February 28, 2013, and much of the basketball-loving world was being treated to a personal annihilation of the entire perimeter attack the New York Knickerbockers had to offer by a then-24-year-old baby-faced assassin named Steph— check that, he was still being widely called Stephen at the time—Curry. Many will tell you they’ve rocked with the man all-but universally known as the greatest shooter the League has ever seen since his days at Davidson University, but the reality is that night was the genesis of it all. A night when Curry would knock down 11 three-pointers while tantalizing the MSG crowd with moves that placed the likes of Pablo Prigioni, Raymond Felton and JR Smith into personal spin cycles (in a loss) that really established him as one of the League’s “next” guys.
Fast-forward five years, three rings, two MVP awards—and countless chewed-up mouthpieces and celebratory points to the air—and you’ll still somehow find those in search of ways to seemingly diminish what he’s accomplished, or at the very least question it from a historical perspective. Admittedly, part of that is likely due to the nature by which we watch and even cover the game. The constant assessments, breakdowns and analytical comparisons have reshaped the way we both consume the sport and judge the athletes.
Part of it could also certainly be the fact that he is the son of a former player, and a good shooter in his own right, making him somewhat of NBA pedigree. Taking absolutely nothing away from the accolades of Dell Curry and Mychal Thompson, but like his teammate Klay Thompson, Curry is one of the rare cases where his career accomplishments will actually dwarf that of his old man.
Another part of it is related to Curry not just representing, but actually embodying a shift in the way the game is played. His specialty, the three-point shot, has evolved from something that was employed in small doses as a way to keep defenses honest to a shot that is taken 30 feet away, while off the dribble, with 20 seconds left on the shot clock. While the notion of the post player being entirely obsolete is a bit overblown by some, Curry's impact as the game's ultimate floor-spacer is undeniable. In past years, some NBA traditionalists may have subconsciously dismissed the actual impact of scoring and/or shooting point guards simply out of habit, but Curry makes it difficult if not impossible to pigeonhole his skill set. If you came up watching NBA basketball during the ’80s and ’90s, you either marveled over the shooting of a Mark Price, Mahmoud Abdul Rauf or even one of Curry's relative contemporaries in Steve Nash, or appreciated the sheer scoring prowess of less efficient but even more electrifying guards like Allen Iverson, or even a current monster in Russell Westbrook. Curry is so cold because he possesses a blend of both. Plus, he’ll throw in a shimmy as he does it to you—which, one can only imagine, ranges from annoying to infuriating if you're a fellow professional athlete on the other end of one—with a smile.
Whether you view Curry as some sort of retroactive validation of his scoring guard predecessors or as something entirely new isn't important, but it is necessary to acknowledge that his ability to shift the longtime “big-men reign supreme” narrative was absolutely a result of taking aspects of their games and building upon them. Yes, he actually improved on the design and did something new.
Much like Kanye West did in the rap game—selling records and becoming the face of the genre without the braggadocio of guns and drugs, Curry has done the same in the basketball world. There’s little mean-mugging, flexing and posturing with Curry’s ascent to becoming one of the most recognizable faces in the League. Curry has been able to enjoy an extended period of success in the spotlight without being involved in any controversies or even had any negative issues of actual significance whether on the court or off. His most condemnable moment involved an errant hurled mouthpiece doinking a fan who we should add found it more fun than offensive. In an age where famous people are constantly being monitored and scrutinized via a camera phone, Curry’s good behavior streak warrants the stamp of approval from moms and dads—and financially speaking, corporate America—for athlete role models.
We’re not going to get into the discussion of where Curry might ultimately land in terms of being among the all-time greats. Mainly because it would be unfair to limit his greatness to merely what we’ve seen thus far, we are at a place where his real-time accomplishments can be placed into perspective using a bit of historical context.
Much like how comparing current NFL passing statistics to those of 30 years ago might give you a skewed view without a clear frame of reference, the same has to be taken into consideration with the three-point shot in the NBA. It wasn’t adopted into the NBA until the 1979-80 season (Boston Celtics guard Chris Ford is often credited with the first in history), so great shooters like Jerry West wouldn’t have even had the benefit of the shot. And even then, for the first 20 years of the shot’s history, it was seen as a novelty and not a viable strategy to success. For further perspective, even though Hall of Famer Larry Bird is legendary for his scoring and particularly his shooting, he only took a total of 1,727—a “high” of 237 in 1987-88— while shooting .376 percent over the course of his 13-year career. To contrast, Phoenix’s Troy Daniels hoisted up 458 triples in 2017-18 and Curry took almost as many threes (1,675) from 2015-2017 and hit at an astounding clip of 43.3 percent during the stretch. In fact, Curry has made almost as many three-pointers in his record-setting 2015-16 season (402) than Bird’s first 10 years in the League (455).
Ray Allen (7,429 attempts) and Reggie Miller (6,486 attempts) are the first real compeers in this conversation, but Curry is on pace to shatter their output (4,880 attempts entering 2018-19 season). While Allen and Miller set the standard at 40 and 39.5 percent from beyond the arc, respectively, Curry is at a career mark of 43.6 percent from distance and has never shot below 41.1 percent. Let’s not forget Curry shares the floor with Thompson and Kevin Durant—two equally deadly shooters who will both likely eclipse Miller/Allen—that garner attention, allowing Curry that much more daylight to flick his wrist from 23 feet.
He's a decade in—yes, in year 10—but doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon. Curry, a player coming off a season of 49.5 percent from the floor, 42.3 percent from deep and 90.8 percent from the line and just two years removed from his 50.4/45.4/90.8 unanimous MVP season, recently told media day attendees one of his goals heading into the season was to actually play more efficiently—that’s like getting a Bugatti to get 30 miles to a gallon.
On the surface, this could seem somewhat outlandish or even relatively cliché coming from a player that has produced at the levels of Curry, but that ability to remain internally motivated, even when championships and accolades are more or less preordained during the Warriors' recent dynastic run, is part of what makes him so special.
Although we, thankfully, appear to have plenty more to enjoy from Curry’s career, it absolutely goes without saying he is one of the best players of this decade. Just how far up the proverbial all-time rankings Curry will climb is much like the range of his jumper: limitless.
Decade of Excellence
There was no doubt Curry would adjust to the NBA three-point line. After all, the guy was hoisting up NBA threes as an amateur at Davidson, but as a rookie, Curry hadn’t yet earned the green light to shoot off-the-dribble, stepback threes just yet. But even with his rookie leash, Curry gave a glimpse of things to come, shooting 44 percent from deep. He was the young favorite to take the Three-Point Contest at All-Star. He found himself in the final round but the veteran gunslinger Paul Pierce caught fire, besting Curry. Curry did finish the season with an impressive 17.5 PPG, 5.9 APG and 1.9 SPG.
Following up on an excellent debut year where he was named to the All-Rookie Team, Curry firmly asserted himself as a point guard of the future with 18.6 PPG while leading the NBA in free-throw shooting with a .934 percentage.
Ankle issues limited Curry to just 26 games, but he still managed to shoot a career-best .455 from three.
Topping 20 PPG for the first time with 22.9, Curry asserted himself as the three-point king, leading the NBA in makes (272) and takes (600). His 272 threepointers made was a new NBA record, a mark he’s since topped three times.
The season where Steph became a household name and All-Star for the first time. He averaged a career-best 24 PPG and his 8.5 APG remain his highwater mark.
If the previous year was when he dropped the -en from his first name, this was the year his last name was no longer required and just “Steph” sufficed when discussing him. The banner regular season— one where he raised the bar in threes made with 286, finally won the Three-Point Contest (something almost expected of him since he entered the League) and debuted his first Under Armour signature shoe, the Curry One—was topped off with a Most Valuable Player selection and a Warriors championship.
If it were a surprise that Steph would take home the MVP award the previous year, his duplication of the feat in 2016 was a foregone conclusion, so much so that he became the first unanimous selection for the honor. Every first place MVP vote was cemented with every three-pointer made—402, to be exact, still the best mark of any player to date and shattering his previous personal-best mark by an unfathomable 116. He unlocked the shooting triple crown of 50/40/90 with a .504/.454/.908 shooting season and led the League with 30.1 PPG. His PER of 31.46 was on levels that only Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and LeBron James have ever touched. He led the Dubs to 73 wins, besting the 72-10 by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. It was about as perfect a season as you could have by an individual, but it would be marred by a loss in the Finals, one that saw the team give up a 3-1 series lead and Steph lose his cool—and mouthpiece—in defeat.
Steph’s numbers fell back to Earth in 2016-17. But his Earth still sat high in the stratosphere as he hit 324 triples (still the only player to ever make more than 300 in a season). The individual glory waned—he didn’t even make All-NBA First Team, a spot reserved for him for the past two seasons—but he did help the Warrior exact some revenge on the Cavs in the Finals to win his second title.
In his second season playing alongside Kevin Durant, Curry continued to take less shots, but upped his efficiency at the same time. The 26.4 PPG stands as his second-best mark as the Warriors went for three chips in the last four years.
Perfectly beginning his career at the start of the decade, Curry’s 10th year looks to be a carbon copy of his last five seasons. By the time you read this, Curry will likely have or be close to the 15K-point threshold and be sitting at No. 5 in all-time threepointers made, a category that he’ll one day set the career standard on.