At this point, Stephen Curry has been specializing in his signature brand of faith-shaking basketball nirvana for almost 15 years.
Curry hit nine three-pointers in his sixth-ever college game at Davidson back in Nov. of 2006 against poor DIII Colby College on his way to averaging more than 21 points per game as a freshman. A year later, he was leading a No. 10 seed into the NCAA tournament as a sophomore, where he made 8-of-10 threes to upset Gonzaga in the first round and made 6-of-11 threes a week later to knock off Wisconsin in the Sweet 16.
Curry’s ability to dominate the best players in the world was questioned along the way. He went No. 7 overall in the 2009 draft, with the Minnesota Timberwolves famously drafting two other point guards ahead of him. He wasn’t a superstar right away, not while he fought off recurring ankle injuries over his first few years as a pro that allowed the Warriors to lock him up to a mere $44 million extension coming off his rookie deal.
You know what happened next: Curry won MVP and carried the Warriors to a championship season no one could have predicted in 2015. His follow-up season was even better, headlined by an NBA record 73 wins and the first unanimous MVP in league history even as Golden State blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals to LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers. Kevin Durant joined the mix the next year, and Curry was happy to make room for him on the way to two more championships, even if it meant the moments when Steph truly went supernova became more and more fleeting.
As the Warriors made a competitive mockery out of the league with Durant, it was easy to wonder what Curry could have done on a team that didn’t have so many other mouths to feed. Two years later, at age-33, while playing on team that was the worst in the league last season as he missed the year with injury, he’s giving us an answer.
Curry is on an absolute tear right now. His greatness has always transcended the numbers, but sheesh, the numbers are astonishing.
Over 10 games in April, Curry is averaging 40.8 points per game on 55 percent shooting from the field. He’s averaging 7.2 made three-pointers over that stretch on 50.3 percent accuracy. The Warriors have won six of their last eight games to surge to .500 and are now only two games outside of the coveted No. 6 seed that would mean they avoid the play-in tournament.
Curry has become the first player in league history to hit more than 70 threes in a 10-game span. He has six games this season with 10 made threes, while the rest of the NBA has combined for five such games this season. He has made 10 threes in a game 21 times in his career, while no one else has done it more than five times. And then there’s this:
Stephen Curry has the most 3-pointers in any 2-game span in NBA history.— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) April 20, 2021
And any 3-game span.
He needs 4 3's tomorrow for a 12-game record.
He needs 8 3's in his next two for a 13-game record.
And he has 14 already.
Steve Kerr coached Curry at his peak in 2016. He played with Michael Jordan in Chicago, Tim Duncan in San Antonio, and played against Kobe Bryant. He said he’s never seen anyone play the way Curry is right now:
“I’ve seen Kobe Bryant, early in his career had a stretch where he went nuts,” Kerr said. “And, obviously, Michael Jordan had some stretches where he just scored like crazy. But, obviously, nobody’s ever shot the ball like this in the history of the game.”
Calling Curry the greatest shooter of all-time is now the type of statement so apparent it almost loses its meaning. Curry changed the direction of the NBA forever with not just his three-point accuracy, but also his volume. There will be copycats for decades to come because three will always be worth more than two, but we’re unlikely to ever again see someone who does it like this.
Curry is taking 57.6 percent of his shots from three this year, which amounts to a new career-high of 12.1 attempts per game from deep. He’s making a clean 44 percent of his catch-and-shoot attempts beyond the arc, and he’s making 42.8 percent of his pull-up threes, which are supposed to be much more difficult. He’s making 52.6 percent of his threes when he’s guarded “very tight” — defined as having a defender between 0-2 feet from him. He’s making 52.9 percent of his threes after seven or more dribbles. He’s taking 6.5 threes per game where he touches the ball for two seconds or less, and he’s making 43.4 percent of them.
Curry no longer has the luxury of playing off Durant or even Klay Thompson. At this point, Draymond Green only averages 6.6 points per game. Golden State’s next most potent scorer is Andrew Wiggins, who even during a career season is only scoring at league average efficiency. On most nights, the Warriors’ only chance is if Curry goes bananas scoring the ball. In April, he’s doing that as well as he ever has.
For as much joy as Curry brings on his impossible shooting nights, there’s also some sadness in his current situation. It felt like Golden State blew its No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 draft from the moment they made it. It’s impossible not to wonder about what a Curry-LaMelo Ball pairing would have looked like, with Ball’s creation ability off the bounce and Curry’s immense off-ball gravity and shooting off screens opening up so many new scoring avenues for the offense. It is probably no coincidence that Curry’s latest ridiculous scoring binge has happened with James Wiseman sidelined by injury:
The James Wiseman stuff is really obvious when it comes to Curry.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) April 20, 2021
Notably, the Nuggets do not have a negative net rating with any player on-court next to Jokic over 100 minutes. pic.twitter.com/FDIVEacIBz
It isn’t Wiseman’s fault that ownership made up their mind well before the draft that they wanted to take him at No. 2. He will likely be a perfectly fine player in time, but the Warriors need pieces who really move the needle. Green can still do that even as he starts to slip with age, and Thompson will finally be back after missing two full seasons with injuries next year. Will it be enough?
When you watch the Warriors, it’s easy to think that this would be the worst team in the league without Curry. With Curry on the floor, the Warriors are outscoring opponents by +3.5 points per 100 possessions. When he’s on the bench, the opposition is winning by 7.1 points per 100.
Golden State’s brass talked a big game about how they were “light-years” ahead of the rest of the league, but the moves they’ve made since Durant left has put that into question. In reality, Golden State’s true advantage was having Stephen Curry, one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA.
Curry won’t win his third MVP this year even if he’s a deserving candidate. The Warriors would be lucky just to make the playoffs. At this point, Curry has enough accolades to fortify his resume either way. The current state of the Warriors is the only thing keeping Curry from competing at the highest level of the league. To watch him on this tear, it sure seems like not much else has changed.