How things could have been different. Had Stephen Curry been forced to sit with a sprained ankle -- yes, that ankle -- on Monday night, the Warriors would have missed him sorely, and might have lost to the visiting Lakers. L.A. was abysmal in the first half, but put together a strong enough effort on the back end to make it a game. And if Curry had sat in a critical game because of his pesky ankle as Golden State fought for its playoff position, we wouldn't be talking about his inclusion on the bottom of the five-deep MVP ballot. We'd be talking about whether he'll ever be dependable.
But he played, and he conquered. Curry finished with 25 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and two turnovers. The scoring didn't come efficiently (28 shooting possessions), but the assists helped get two co-stars -- Klay Thompson and David Lee -- above the 20-point mark.
I'm loathe to credit snubs for boosted performance, especially for players whose effort had never been questioned before the snub. But All-Star reserves -- a list that did not include Curry -- were announced on Jan. 24. In the 29 games since, Curry has averaged 24.5 points on .599 True Shooting, improving from numbers (20.9 points on .574 True Shooting) that already had him in the All-Star conversation. In other words, Curry was excellent before being left off the All-Star team. He's been even better since.
The Warriors haven't been -- they are 13-16 since Jan. 24, and were 26-13 up until that point. Defense is the prime suspect for the team's tampered progress, and Curry plays a role in the ineffective resistance Golden State presents many opponents. His Monday match-up, Steve Nash, was one of the few Lakers to have a solid offensive game (21 points on 20 shooting possessions, seven assists and zero turnovers). That leads me to prefer leaving Curry out of the No. 4 or No. 5 spots on my totally make-believe MVP ballot. There are enough excellent two-way players -- Tim Duncan comes to mind -- to be picky in choosing the elite.
That Curry's in this conversation is still amazing. He had a wide swath of believers when he entered the draft in 2009, but he also had plenty of doubters. Players who look like undersized twos from small conferences should carry doubt. Curry squelched it enough in pre-draft workouts to go No. 7 overall; he nearly took Rookie of the Year out of Tyreke Evans' hands, and took the mantle of best point guard out of the 2009 class before last season ended. (He didn't take that title from Evans, who conceded it in an injury-riddled second season and a subsequent position change. He took it from Ty Lawson. Jrue Holiday and Brandon Jennings remain in the mix, too. That draft class!) Having a father who starred in the league helped make Curry's case back in '09, but it's the absurdly quick trigger, the true shot from up to 28 or so feet, the better-than-advertised court vision and the waterbug quickness that have turned Curry into a star.
In a world where Russell Westbrook still gets cursed every time he gets more field goal attempts than Kevin Durant, Curry is a real scoring point guard, and he isn't bemoaned that fact. Is it because he's such a good shooter? Is it because even his misses look straight out of the instructional video? Whatever the case, he's (again) made it acceptable to be a point guard who scores more than anyone else on his team. Someone had to pick up the slack while Derrick Rose heals up. If Deron Williams has fallen out of favor due to a need for control of the ball, Curry has risen because of how he can mold the court situation to fit his game. Again, when you can shoot from basically anywhere, that helps.
In less than a month, Curry gets his first taste of the NBA playoffs. Here's to hoping he'll continue to surprise us.