Stephen Curry’s tormenting of the net in the 2013 NBA Playoffs signified his arrival as a marquee player.
The Golden State Warriors’ point guard was the darling of the first two rounds, as he used his formidable three-point stroke to convince us all that he’s enough to carry a winning franchise.
That may not mean Curry can do it on his own—not even LeBron James has proven that—but the 25-year-old has propelled himself into the type of leader it takes to center a championship cast.
The fourth-year scorer meets all qualifications: He can take over a game, emotionally lead teammates and has proven that he can win. After catapulting Davidson ahead of its potential in college days, Curry has now led the Warriors to do the same.
So what's next for the breakout star? Here are some possible scenarios.
Can Curry’s Ankles Hold Up?
The ankles. Yes, always the ankles.
Mentioning Curry without first confessing that his vulnerable ankles can turn the Warriors’ future in an instant is ignoring the obvious.
The evidence is clear: Curry suffered a right ankle sprain three times in the regular season. He then sprained his left ankle in Game 2 of the first round against the Denver Nuggets, then re-sprained it in Game 3 of the conference semifinals against the San Antonio Spurs.
The right ankle has received two surgeries already, one to repair ligaments and another as a measure of clean-up. He has missed 54 games through four NBA seasons because of ankle issues.
He has flower-petal-thin ankles, and the problem isn’t rolling away.
But that doesn't spell doom for the league’s newest superstar; his career won’t be torn apart by bad ankles.
Let’s not forget, he missed only four games this entire season and postseason because of ankle injuries. The ankle sprains, as constant as they have become in the last two seasons, have not had a long-term negative effect on the scorer. It is doubtful the sprains from the 2012-13 season will result in further surgeries.
He has bounced back as quickly as he goes down. This postseason, he averaged 23.4 points and 8.1 assists in 41.4 minutes per game, despite each and every one of those ankle injuries.
It will ultimately be a question of luck for the Warriors. Curry is going to spend time icing his ankles, but Golden State simply hopes it just doesn’t occur again in the playoffs.
A Closer Look at His 2012-13 Numbers
Curry isn’t going anywhere, even if he limps through a career of burying three-pointers. If this version of bad ankles sets a precedent, remember that Curry hit an NBA record 272 three-pointers this season, and then 42 more in 12 playoff games.
He gave an early preview of what he'd end up doing in the postseason when he scored a career-high 54 points on 11 three-pointers in February against the New York Knicks.
Curry was widely thought to be the biggest All-Star snub this season, but that became irrelevant the deeper the team pushed into the playoffs.
Still, his numbers deserve recognition: He ranked seventh in the NBA's regular season with 22.9 points per game and and was the fifth-best scorer in the postseason at 23.4 points per game.
Curry can create his own shot due to his ability to release with the slightest window from anywhere on the floor. Of his 272 three-pointers, 105 of them came unassisted. He was also incredible on corner threes, hitting 52.8 percent.
Curry became more involved as a scorer as the season progressed. The Warriors' point guard upped his field-goal attempts from 17.8 in the regular season to 19.6 in the postseason. It wasn't simply an effect of All-Star David Lee's absence, as Curry's shot attempts jumped from 17 per game to 19.1 per game after the All-Star break.
Curry raised his three-point attempts from 3.5-of-7.7 (45.1 percent) in the regular season to 3.5-of-8.8 (39.6 percent) in the playoffs.
Overshadowed by Curry’s prolific shooting is his passing. His ambidextrous capabilities paired with underrated court vision to set up teammates. His ability to attract defenses through his shooting makes him an even greater threat for point guards.
Curry ranked 14th in assists per game (6.9) this regular season, and in the playoffs he tallied the second-most assists per game (8.1).
Curry does need to improve on his scoring at the basket, though. It may be partially credited to his fear of landing the wrong way on his ankle in the lane, but Curry only finishes at just 49.2 percent inside eight feet and 53.1 percent in the restricted area.
Projected 2013-14 Season
26.1 PPG / 4.0 RPG / 8.4 APG / 45.7 FG% / 44.6 3PT%
“If Curry remains healthy” is going to start being worn as t-shirts around the Bay Area.
But yes, if he stays on the floor, Curry can replicate his 2012 postseason into an entire 2013-14 season for the Warriors.
Fellow three-point artist Klay Thompson will remain as Curry’s consistent backcourt mate, which helps keep perimeter defenses honest in trying to shade heavy to Curry’s side of the floor.
Whether or not the Warriors return free agent Jarrett Jack in the offseason could have an effect on Curry.
What should be Curry's primary focus?
Jack’s abilities to handle the ball for heavy stretches during games allowed Curry to run free off cuts and find openings along the arc. The veteran Jack assisted Curry 98 times during the season, more than any other Golden State player.
Curry still needs to decide whether his primary motivation is to involve his team as an authentic point guard or if he needs to seek as many scoring opportunities as possible.
The best-case scenario for Curry, and perhaps the Warriors, is if the point guard continues to let his shooting dictate the offense. The more he connects on deep looks, the more the center of the floor opens and he can create for teammates.
His assists numbers will remain high, while his scoring will climb another notch.
The Crystal Ball
As the leader of a young core that includes Thompson and Harrison Barnes, Curry’s ability to again reach the postseason stage with the Warriors is now expected. Barnes averaged 16.1 points and Thompson averaged 15.2 points in the playoffs.
Big picture: Man, if this is the way Harrison Barnes plays next season, the Warriors could be a 55-win team.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) May 15, 2013
The Warriors will clear $24 million after the contracts of Andrew Bogut, Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson expire at the end of next season. That's good spending money for a high-priced free agent to play alongside Curry, while allowing the Warriors to extend the contract of Thompson.
Curry is a superstar on the rise, as humble as they come, with a shot that’s just as humbling. It’s his demeanor, and the all-around congenial nature of the Warriors, that will create a desirable landing spot for veteran free-agent talent.
Yes, the franchise is improving to the point of conceivably hanging a championship banner in its anticipated waterfront arena in San Francisco.
If that’s the case, the Warriors might as well adorn the arena with a statue celebrating the three-point stroke of the region’s only true basketball superstar of a generation. They already gave him the key to the city in San Francisco on Tuesday.
One gingerly taken step at a time, Curry moves the franchise ahead. Next season, Curry should likely take another leap forward.
If healthy, of course.