TORONTO -- Stephen Curry is far and away the best shooter in the NBA. He's one of the best that has ever lived. If there was any doubt, he erased it on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.
That's what making 11 of 13 three pointers in a nationally televised game does. That's what scoring 54 points on 28 shots does. Curry's incomprehensibly stunning shooting display against the New York Knicks earned him attention for what he does for the Golden State Warriors on a nightly basis: shoot the lights out like no other.
Chris Mullin, owner of one of the purest shooting strokes in NBA history, played 807 regular season games for the Golden State Warriors. Curry has made just 41 fewer threes than Mullin did in a Warriors uniform in 234 games and is shooting 44.7 percent, a career mark second only to Steve Kerr's. As a broadcaster, Mullin calls Curry the league's best shooter whenever he has a chance.
The Hornets' all-time leading scorer agrees, but he's a little biased.
"I think so. I mean, you ask me that, I'm his dad," Dell Curry said with a laugh. He shot over 40 percent on three-pointers for eight straight seasons, so he's an expert on this art form.
"I've seen ‘em all," Dell continued. "Ray Allen is still up there, [Kyle] Korver's having a good year but you think about all the guys, they're catch and shoot guys. He's doing it catch and shoot, off the dribble, runners in the lane, floaters, finger rolls, using the glass, he has an array of shots that he can use and he's very good at it. So I would definitely say he's the best in the game right now."
Curry's shooting is so special because he's Golden State's number one option and his opponents' number one concern every night. He doesn't have the luxury of simply standing still for spot-ups but he's still shooting a scorching 46 percent on 7.1 three-point attempts per game. He routinely goes from a full sprint to squared feet at the snap of a finger. If he even has to square them, that is.
"That is the benefit of a lot of hard work and a lot of time in the gym," said Dell. "And when he got going -- it's important I think when you get your first few shots that you square up and line up and get everything right -- but when he had it going like he did in the third [in New York], there's a couple shots he didn't even worry about getting his feet square or lining up to the rim. He was just like, ‘Do I have enough room to get a shot off?' because he knew they were going to run at him."
No one but Curry shoots off the bounce behind the three-point line and makes it look like a layup.
"He's always had a quick trigger," said Dell. "What really impressed me is the ability to shoot off the dribble and then shoot quickly off the dribble. Usually you make a move to create on your own, it takes time to pick the ball up off the dribble, gather it and get it off, but he's developed a really high skill of being able to handle the ball the way he does and then to get it up out of his dribble and into his shot so quickly."
Before the Garden party -- and the previous night's tussle with Roy Hibbert in Indiana that somehow obscured his 38 points and 7-for-10 three-point shooting, his then-best performance of the season -- the most attention Curry garnered this season was for something he didn't make: the All-Star Game.
"I was telling my father I've probably got more recognition from not making it than if I would have made it," Curry said following a Warriors shootaround a few days after the reserves were announced on TNT. When the names rolled out, Charles Barkley called his omission "a joke" and his compatriots, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O'Neal, agreed that the coaches made a mistake. If you flipped to ESPN later, you saw Mullin, Flip Saunders and Jon Barry speak up for Curry. On any list of snubs, his name was right at the top.
"It's neither here nor there," Curry said. "It would have been a great honor to be on that team and I'm going to keep working to try to get there. But it has been pretty cool to hear all the good words and praise from some legends that have been All-Stars themselves for many years, who study the game and are fans of the game, and also my peers who are still playing. It's a good feeling to hear all that and whether I would have made it or not, that's good enough for me."
Averaging 21.9 points, 6.5 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game, this year is the first Curry was in the All-Star mix. But his ability has been apparent for a while. Los Angeles Clippers big man Ronny Turiaf played in Golden State during Curry's 2009-2010 rookie season, the one that featured a 36-point, 10-rebound, 13-assist triple double in February and ended with a 42-point, 9-rebound, 8-assist statement in April. To Turiaf, Curry is the same humble, hard-working guy now that he was then.
"I always say he has the ‘it' factor," said Turiaf. "You can't really pinpoint everything but you know that people want to follow him. He has charisma. He's definitely one of the best point guards that I've ever played with, along the lines of two of them - one of them is French and the other one I'm playing with him now -- so he's definitely up there and I can't wait to see him blossom."
Before making that comparison to All-Stars Tony Parker and Chris Paul, Turiaf called Curry's All-Star exclusion unfortunate. The biggest difference Turiaf has seen in the sharpshooter since that rookie season? "His eyes. The confidence in his eyes," he said.
As well as Curry's confidence, consistency is what separates this year from prior ones. He got his only cold streak of the season out of the way early, shooting 39 percent from the field and 30.9 percent on three-pointers in his first nine games after missing about two thirds of the 2011-2012 season and then signing a four year, $44 million extension that now looks like the biggest of bargains.
"I just told him, ‘Hey man, you relax,'" Dell said. "‘You missed just about all of the season last year, you haven't played basketball 8-10 months, your shot will come. It'll come with the rhythm. Don't worry about that, you just try to get yourself in shape, stay healthy.' And that's really the only advice I've given him all year."
Curry's right ankle has kept him off the court too many times, but it hasn't been much of an issue since this season started.
"I think last year I played well but it was in spurts," Curry said. "Obviously I missed a lot of games and didn't play as many minutes but to be able to do that night in and night out, only missing two games [now four] so far, that's just a big step In the right direction for me. To be able to play almost 39 minutes a game and stay healthy and try to play at a high level. Obviously there's a lot of season left but with the rhythm that I've gotten ... I hope that continues."
"It's great," said Dell. "It's finally he's playing like the player that I knew he could be, that the Warriors knew he could be, and it goes back to him being healthy. He's not worried about his ankle, he's not thinking about it, he's playing and doing the things that he wants to do on the floor without being inhibited by his ankle, so that's number one is his [concern] about being injured is not there anymore. And then I think [Golden State head coach] Mark Jackson has done a heck of a job in really developing him into the player [he is]."
Jackson has known Curry since he was 12, being teammates with Dell in Toronto for 52 games in 2000-2001. He played the point for 17 years in the NBA and flew to Curry's hometown of Charlotte with assistant coach Mike Malone when he got the job after the 2010-2011 season to have a conversation with his floor general.
"We had dinner for about two hours, just talking about the future of the team and going forward how he envisioned things playing out," said Curry. "He instilled a lot of confidence in me from that night on that he was going to put the ball in my hands and allow me to, if I was healthy, make plays and try to be a leader on the team. For a coach to have that kind of confidence in you, it's a dream come true. I'm just trying to take that responsibility and run with it."
"What I'm most impressed with now is his game management, time and score, finding mismatches," said Dell. "Just his feel of his game and how it's going, who's hot, who needs a touch. Those are the type of things that it takes a while for most point guards -- especially young point guards -- to realize because you're so worried about your game, trying to find your niche in the league and the point guard is a tough position to play."
On a running team with an abundance of scoring options, Curry's ability to read the defense and make quick decisions is even more essential. Watch the Warriors for a few minutes and it's obvious how Jackson has empowered him.
"He's still coaching me, he's still obviously calling all the shots but he does trust his players that he puts out there to make plays. Sometimes when you're in the flow of the game you can't really hear his voice as much when things are kind of uptempo and [fast-paced], so it relies on me to be the coach on the floor."
While Curry's daring and deadly playmaking and shooting earned him Steve Nash comparisons years ago, it's still sort of strange to think of the baby-faced point guard as a good defender. Curry, listed at 6'3 and 185 pounds, has surely gotten stronger since coming out of college but in NBA terms he's not built to be a stopper. Still, he's shown he can be sturdy.
"He competes, makes multiple effort plays, doesn't give up on plays and he sets the tone for our defense," Jackson said.
"When he came in as a rookie, we'd attack him, make him play defense," said Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. "But now he's doing a much better job with his defensive hands, being in the right place. Being in the defensive system has helped him a lot, so you can't really exploit that as much as you used to."
"That's something he takes a lot of pride in," said Dell. "He's gotten stronger through his workouts in the summer. He's learned tendencies of guards ... He wants to be a complete player. He has the skill, he has the ability to do that. He's worked hard at it and I see tremendous improvement in that area."
For Curry, it's a matter of sticking to the scouting report and the defensive system that, while it has fallen off a cliff recently, had Golden State playing top-10 defense for the season's first two months.
"It's the NBA, there's a lot of talented guards, guards that are quicker, faster than me. But it's up to me to execute our defensive game plan going into each game. If we're going to force a guy right all night, I gotta make sure that he doesn't get left. Guys are going to score but being able to be part of that 5-man unit that's on a string and helping each other out, you can't have any weak links."
Curry's skills and his smarts have all but eliminated the weaknesses that come with his slight frame, magnifying his many strengths.
"There's a reason why he's so successful out there on the basketball court," said Turiaf. "Does maturity level have to do with it? Yes. Does the fact that he plays the game at a slower pace to attack mistakes? Yes. Does the fact that he can shoot? Yes. Does the fact that he has a great basketball IQ? Yes. He's definitely a special one."
Special is one way to describe the shooting exhibition Curry put on this Wednesday. You could also call it spectacular, sublime, scary. The scary part? He's not only the league's best shooter. He's just one of the league's best.
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