He did, however, say Golden State's first-time All-Star starter has a long road ahead if he hopes to reach legitimate superstar status.
Appearing on an All-Star conference call Thursday morning that was reported on by Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle, Barkley said Curry's still learning how to use his individual talent to elevate his teammates:
The maturation of Steph’s game is going to come when he learns to make the players around him better. He does have assists, but not the right kind. There are a lot of very good players in the NBA, but to go from a very good player to an All-Star to a superstar, you have to start making the players around you better. That’s the next maturation process for Steph Curry.
If nothing else, Barkley's right on one point—Curry has the assists. In fact, he has the highest assists-per-game average (9.1) among qualified players this season. Chris Paul has averaged 11.2, but his separated shoulder has cost him too much time to qualify for now.
That number could be even higher. According to NBA.com's SportVU player tracking data, Curry has created 16.6 assist opportunities per game, which is good for fourth-most in the NBA.
Superstars aren't judged solely on numbers, though.
Barkley's colleague Kenny Smith, who spent 10 seasons in the league, said Curry needs to learn how to use his passes to manipulate the defense:
Sometimes ball movement shifts the defense, and sometimes you’re just doing that to shift the defense. A lot of times, you’re making the team better by just moving the ball and shifting the defense. A lot of times, you’re just giving the ball to a guy to score or to make a play. All of his passes are ‘Here it is to score.’ But when you make your team better, you make passes that aren’t just to score. That could shift the defense, create different scenarios, understanding when guys get better and by getting hockey assists. That’s the next step toward superstardom.
What surprisingly didn't come up in the conversation, at least not in Simmons' transcription, were Curry's turnover problems. He's coughing up 4.1 giveaways a night, by far the highest total in the league. Only James Harden (3.6), John Wall (3.5) and LeBron James (3.5) are even at the 3.5 mark.
"Just trying to do too much, thread the needle,'' Curry told Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com about his ghastly giveaway numbers. ''I've been studying film, trying to get better, and I'll continue to do that. Sometimes, getting a shot up is better than trying to thread a needle when it's not necessary.''
The Warriors play a risk-reward style of basketball, and that's not due solely to the fact that they launch 24.4 triples a night (fifth-most in the league). At times, they play with an unnecessary flair that helps their TV appeal but doesn't show nearly as well in the box score.
What does Curry need to improve to become a full-fledged superstar?
"Coach doesn’t put a leash on anybody — in a good way," center Andrew Bogut told Grantland's Zach Lowe. "Eight times out of 10, we’re gonna get open 3s and open layups. The other two times, the ball’s going to go into the fifth row. We'll take that."
Maybe that's what kept Curry's turnovers out of this chat.
Self-inflicted wounds are correctable. If Golden State gives up some style for substance, perhaps Curry could bring his turnover numbers down to a manageable number.
What Barkley and Smith are talking about—the ability to perch one's teammates and play the opposition's defense like a puppet—is something that can't necessarily be taught. It's the byproduct of a grueling growth process that sees only the greatest of the greats escape with a passing score.
The initial results on Curry's superstar test aren't great. However, the path to elite status has been officially laid out in front of him.
Statistics used courtesy of NBA.com.