After Game 1 of the Western Conference matchup between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors, Clippers Head Coach Doc Rivers declared Stephen Curry “one of the most underrated players in the NBA.” It is easy to see why Rivers thinks so. On Saturday night, Curry poured in 38 points, thanks largely to deadly efficient shooting from behind the 3 point line. What’s more, with his eighth and final 3 pointer of the night, and number 386 of his Playoff career, Curry passed Ray Allen as the player with the most made 3 pointers in NBA Playoff history.
For anyone vaguely familiar with Curry’s storied career, the fact that he now holds this accolade is not particularly surprising. However, what is startling, even for the staunchest Steph advocate, is the fact it only took 91 games to accomplish this record. Ray Allen is now in 2nd place, with 385 in 171 games. Rivers’ most recent championship ring came in 2008, thanks largely in part to Ray Allen, who was widely considered the best shooter of all-time. Until now. Therefore, it is no surprise that the Clippers’ coach has lauded so much praise on the Steph Curry’s shoulders.
As a former NBA Point Guard, NBA Coach of the Year, and the man who lead the Boston Celtics to the title in 2008, Rivers’ opinion should certainly count for something. However, the reason his statement raised so many eyebrows is due to the massive success the 31 year old Point Guard has already experienced in his 10 year career. The Warriors have won the NBA Championship 3 times with Curry at the helm. On an individual level, Curry has already won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award two times, with his second being the sole time in NBA history the voting was unanimous. Therefore, it is inherently difficult to argue for Curry being underrated, as his accomplishments are so undeniable. Yet despite his amazing accolades and historic career, it may actually be possible that Steph is still underrated. But why is this?
First off, playing on a team full of superstars tends to make it more difficult for one player to shine individually. This is not the case for Curry. Since the Warriors added fellow MVP Kevin Durant to the roster in 2016, Curry’s play has remained absolutely elite. However, the media is often more reluctant to applaud individual efforts in powerhouse teams, and thus the two often seem to cancel each other out for media attention. Curry missed 13 games this season. Without Curry on the court, the Warriors have not looked pretty. For the first time in recent memory, the Warriors were no longer a dominating presence, despite the best efforts of Kevin Durant who was unable to sustain the team during Curry’s absence. On the contrary, whilst Durant only missed 4 games over the course of the season, the Warriors managed to remain consistent, winning 3 out of 4. Whilst it is not fair to pin all the blame on Durant’s shoulders for the poor run of form, the evidence does suggest Curry’s absence is more disruptive than Durant’s. In Game 2 of the series last night, the Warriors blew a 31 point lead, the largest in NBA Playoff history. This will certainly not help Curry’s case, however it is worth noting that Curry was by far and away the most efficient player on the court, as well as Golden State’s top scorer. His efforts to will the Warriors to victory after Kevin Durant was ejected for the second game in a row were not enough to topple the immense heart and will of a tenacious Clippers team in what was easily one of the games of the season.
Another potential reason for the Stephen Curry’s apparent flying under the radar may be due to the fact that he plays the Point Guard position, which very well may be the most stacked position in the entire league. For years Curry has competed with the best of the best for the claim to the title of best PG in the NBA. He has gone toe-to-toe with all-time greats and elite playmakers such Steve Nash and Chris Paul, MVP Point Guards and athletic phenoms, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook, and more recently breakthrough younger stars with excellent 3 point shooting such as Damian Lillard. Due to the intense competition in this position, it is very possible to argue that whoever has been in possession of the title of the best PG over the past few years, has also arguably been best player overall. Steel sharpens steel, and the perpetual PG battle royale has only made Curry stronger.
Despite being a household name, Curry’s career has not been without adversity. Firstly, let’s start chronologically with his genetics. Standing at 6’3 and 190lbs, Curry’s height, alongside a very slim figure is not exactly the prototype for a basketball star. Rather than conforming to any pre-conceived notions of what an NBA star should look like, Curry has simply carved his own archetype, paving a way for future generations to follow. Whilst he does not possess the strength of a Point Guard such as Russell Westbrook, Curry is able to take over games nonetheless. Likewise, Tom Brady has long since been of one of the slowest quarterbacks in a league becoming more and more populated by rushing QBs, yet he still remains one of the greatest of all time despite lacking what some would consider an essential component of a complete offensive arsenal. Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero has never scored a free-kick since arriving in 2011, yet he is unquestionably one of the best strikers in the history of the EPL. It does not diminish from his status as an elite striker since Man City simply do not need him to take free-kicks. He provides goals for his club using different means. At the same time, the Warriors do not need Curry to be a high-flying slasher, dunking over anybody in his path. Although, it is worth mentioning that Curry is excellent when attacking the basket off the dribble, despite his diminutive size.
Furthermore, despite being the son of NBA player, Dell Curry, Stephen Curry was unable to attend his first choice university, Virginia Tech. His first-choice would not commit to offering him a scholarship, only the opportunity to attempt to join the team as a ‘walk-on.’ Despite Dell Curry being a star for Virginia Tech, Stephen Curry maintains in a sincere self-publication in The Players’ Tribune, aptly named “Underrated“, that the offer was not genuine, and rather a “courtesy” to his father. A courtesy which Steph turned down, and went on to make history at less prestigious Davidson. Whilst many marvel at Curry’s accomplishments in the NBA, it is well worth revisiting his college days to discover that he has been denying the laws of physics long before his professional days.
After proving the scouts of most major colleges wrong by exceeding every expectation at university level, Stephen declared for the 2009 NBA Draft. He was selected 7th overall. Whilst this is a remarkable achievement that anyone could be proud of, it once again suggests that despite his best efforts and remarkable performances, Curry continued to be underrated. In fairness, the 2009 Draft was a fairly strong one, which introduced some outstanding All-Stars such as Blake Griffin (picked 1st overall) and current MVP, James Harden (picked 3rd overall). However, 2009 is certainly a year the Minnesota Timberwolves would rather forget. The T’Wolves had an astonishing 4 draft picks in the first-round, including picks 5 & 6. With these two picks they elected to draft two other point guards, Jonny Flynn from Syracuse, and Ricky Rubio from FC Barcelona, further rubbing salt in the wound for perennial underdog, Curry. Whilst Rubio was considered one of the most exciting European prospects of all-time and has had a solid NBA career so far (I dare say he too may be underrated, but that is a story for another time), it had to hurt Curry dropping as low as the 7th spot.
Then, there were the injuries. Curry’s early years in the league had moments of pure magic and great promise, but his ankles plagued him relentlessly, and brought about concerns for the longevity of the young Point Guard. However, the Warriors stood by Steph, and backed him over more established scorer and Shooting Guard, Monta Ellis. When rebuilding the team, Curry remained as its heart and soul. Whilst the team is unrecognisable now to how it was then, Curry has been a picture of consistency. Clearly the faith put in him from the Warriors has paid dividends, as Curry’s health has steadily improved, and he has become one of the most transcendent stars to ever play the game.
Ultimately, in spite of all his individual accomplishments and personal records, it is Curry’s quiet presence as a leader on one of the most skilled teams of all time which defines him. A picture of composure, it is rare to see Curry rattled. He has been ejected just one lone time over the course of his ten year career. On the contrary, Curry’s teammate, Draymond Green, known for being more volatile on the court has received seven ejections in as many seasons. Golden State have also had to do without Kevin Durant for large chunks of their previous two matchups as he too has been sent to the sidelines early. Whilst the Warriors, like champions across all sports, are the subject of hatred and envy from fans of the league, Curry seems to be exempt from this infinite scorn. In 2018, Curry’s jersey was the best-selling piece merchandise the NBA had to offer. For the third consecutive season. Clearly, Curry is a superstar in the States and overseas.
With the quality of players being at arguably an all-time high in 2019, it is tough to decide who is the best overall player. In a game of one-on-one would Steph Curry be able to beat Lebron James? Probably not. The size difference would be too much to overcome. Due to the vast array of shapes and sizes in the league, the one-on-one method is not exceptionally reliable. Therefore, another hypothetical is often posed along the lines of “Would the Milwaukee Bucks without Giannis Antetokounmpo be worse than the Warriors without Stephen Curry?” Yes, undoubtedly they would. For this logic, Curry has not been at the forefront of journalists’ minds when discussing the MVP race in recent years. But make no mistake, without Stephen Curry, the Warriors go from one of the greatest teams of all time to a merely the best team in the league at the moment. Whilst his numbers have been remarkable this year, they have not quite been at the level of a James Harden, who is having a historic year in his own right. In fact, Harden has even scored 34 more 3 pointers than Curry this season. However, when you take into account that Harden has attempted 218 more 3 pointers than Curry, the picture starts to become more clear than Curry’s individual statistics are due at least in part to the Warriors being fortunate enough to also have two of the best shooters of all-time in Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant playing alongisde Curry.
Ultimately, despite being perpetually underrated since high school, it is no longer possible to doubt the greatness of Stephen Curry. However, it would appear that the extended success of his team, combined with his high-profile teammates, and his individual status as the undisputed greatest shooter of all time may encourage some of us to take for granted the unbelievable performances Curry puts on night in and night out. Underrated or not, there will never be another like him, so it is best to enjoy it before he’s gone.
[Featured Image Credits: Greg Nelson @ Sports Illustrated]
[All stats courtesy of ESPN.com]