Despite a myriad of obstacles throughout his career that include lack of size, a never-ending string of injuries and unfortunate coaching early in his career, Stephen Curry has overcome it all and has poised himself to earn the spot as the most lethal scorer in the NBA.
Yes, I understand that Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, James Harden and LeBron James are all still currently employed in the NBA. What Curry possesses that those all-world players don’t, however, is the perfect situation.
Curry has already proven that while size does matter, it’s not necessary to achieve greatness. He’s also shown what he is capable of when his ankles allow him to play the majority of a season. Most importantly, however, he’s shown just how potent he can be when paired with the proper teammates and coach.
Measuring in at only 6’3” and 185 pounds, Curry is as about diminutive as they come in the NBA. Some referred to him as frail and believed his skills wouldn’t translate to the NBA level because he didn’t possess elite level athleticism to cancel out his lack of size.
Well, after dropping a line of 22.9 points, 6.9 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game last season, all while shooting .453 from three-point range and shattering the old single-season record in the process, all of those pundits are eating their words now.
That is what separates Curry from the rest of the league. When it comes to shooters, there’s Curry and then everyone else. He’s not just a catch-and-shoot bomber either. He can get his three-point shot anytime he wants, be it off a screen, off the dribble or even stopping on a dime during a fast-break opportunity and splashing it in from outside.
A hot Steph Curry, quite simply, is the most entertainment the NBA has to offer. Check out this video from his absurd night in Madison Square Garden last season if you need proof.
Enough about last season, though. That was just his coming out party. If this is the year where he firmly entrenches himself among the leagues elite, one aspect of his game must improve: finishing at the rim.
Curry’s shooting percentage on attempts at the rim last season was 59.2, well below the league average of 64.6. This is where his critics will point to his lack of size being a factor, and while that might be true, it was also the area of his game that he improved the most last season.
That 59.2 percent conversion rate at the rim was over six points better than his average from the 2011-12 season, where he converted on only 52.9 percent of his shots near the basket. Players like Curry find ways to enhance their game over the offseason, so it’s safe to assume that this area will be improved even more next season.
While another six percent improvement is likely a stretch, should he manage to at least get to league average, it will open up the rest of his shots even more. The ability to finish at the rim will help keep defenders honest and provide the inches he needs to get a shot off.
As we saw last season, Steph shooting is not something opposing defenses want to see.
What should also contribute to Curry’s ascension into the scoring elite is the combination of his prodigious passing skills and capable teammates. Curry has shown that he is just as capable of making a defense pay with his passing as he is with his shooting. The knowledge that they can’t over help leaves Curry holding all of the cards.
With defenses unable to focus solely on Curry due to the presence of such players as Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and David Lee, Curry can pick and choose his spots, ensuring that every shot he takes is a good one. That on its own should be enough to help Curry improve his efficiency from the field, helping him make the transition from a volume scorer to simply a prolific one.
More than anything else, the system in which Curry is playing in is what will contribute the most to his rise. Now going into his third year with head coach Mark Jackson, the comfort level should be greater than ever before, something the young star alluded to himself, via Marcus Thompson II of San Jose Mercury News:
"I'm 25. Still young. But I know the drill. I know the expectations," Curry said in a chat with local media after working out at the team facility Thursday. "For me to have the same coaching staff, the same leadership, for three straight years is big. ... We have the stability for us to make that move (to another level), and I hope to lead that charge."
Curry understands what he means to his team. His play will ultimately dictate how good the Warriors can be. Expect him to raise his game beyond anything we’ve seen from him before. After all, when you factor in his teammates, coaching staff and his own drive to succeed, joining the scoring elite is the next step in his meteoric rise.
Bryant is still recovering from his torn Achilles tendon, Anthony is mired on an inconsistent New York Knicks team and James, Durant and Harden are each tasked with sharing the ball with other prolific teammates.
While Curry may or may not be able to overcome the talent difference, the situation each star is in is what gives Curry a shot to reach the pinnacle of the NBA scoring summit next season.
All stats courtesy of hoopsdata.com