B/R Interview: Stephen Curry Talks Expectations, Names All-Time Starting Five
But with an insatiable drive to improve, a buttery smooth three-point stroke handed down by his father (Dell Curry, who spent 16 years spacing the NBA floor) and a welcome break from the injury bug, Curry has completed his ascension from college phenom to full-fledged NBA superstar.
In the midst of a career year that's included personal bests in scoring (23.5 points), assists (8.5) and efficiency (23.4 player efficiency rating) along with his first selection to the NBA All-Star Game, the 26-year-old is reaping all the rewards of years of hard work.
Consistent improvement is what Curry's career is all about.
Lightly recruited out of Charlotte Christian School in Charlotte, N.C., he settled in at Davidson College and promptly led the Wildcats to their first NCAA tournament victory in 2008 since 1969 (and then two more) during his sophomore season. A two-time All-American and still the leading scorer in the history of the Southern Conference, he was scooped up by the Golden State Warriors with the No. 7 pick in the 2009 NBA draft.
Last season, he guided the Warriors to their second postseason series win since 1991. This year, he has the team positioned to make consecutive playoff trips for the first time in over two decades. At 44-27—sixth best in the Western Conference—the Warriors may be the biggest beneficiaries of his meteoric rise.
Curry discussed his wild basketball ride, his all-time starting five, his involvement with Degree's DO:MORE campaign and more during a phone interview with Bleacher Report on Monday. His recent successes and those of his team have only whetted his appetite.
With championship thoughts running through his head, Curry is ready to help his team do more.
On a Busted Bracket and Postseason Experiences
Bleacher Report: We’re through the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. Do you still have a bracket in play or is yours like mine tossed in a recycling bin somewhere?
Stephen Curry: In the recycling bin. I’ve got Michigan State and Florida still alive for my Final Four. But other than that, it’s pretty bad right now.
B/R: As someone who’s played in both, how do you compare the pressures of playing in the NCAA tournament as opposed to playing in the NBA postseason?
SC: It’s similar. I mean, the intensity picks up from the regular season, and obviously, it’s the win-or-go-home situation [in the tournament].
But in college, when you’re playing a different team every game in the tournament, each game kind of takes [on] a life of its own and it’s a pretty special ride. In the NBA, you’re battling against that one team for a maximum of seven games. It’s so hard, one of the hardest things I’ve ever been a part of, trying to win four games in a series and move on.
So each has their own challenges, but it’s all for winning that championship, so [they’re] pretty similar.
On Playoff Endings and Establishing Expectations
B/R: Is either one more painful than the other, or does the sting at the end of the day hurt just as bad?
SC: In the NBA playoffs, the schedule, you’re playing every other day pretty much until the series is over with. College, you get that little five-day break in between weekends, which is nice to recover, obviously [you have] traveling and all that.
The NBA, the physicality and the grind, it wears on you, especially after an 82-game season.
B/R: The runs that you’ve made, both at Davidson and now with the Warriors, these are two places that hadn’t seen a lot of hoops success in recent years. What have you done to make winning a possibility in places where it hadn’t always been?
SC: Just trying to play the game the way I know how.
Obviously, nothing I’m doing by myself. I’ve been fortunate to have some great coaches, obviously coach [Bob] McKillop at Davidson, that set us up for success. It was just up to us to go out and execute the system as consistently as we could. Trying to make sure the mission is to improve every single day to get better, to find ways to get an edge.
That kind of mentality is pretty consistent whether it was college or the NBA. The opportunity you have in front of you to enjoy the process because it is a step-by-step process. There’s a lot that goes into it in making sure that you find ways to get better every single day.
On Changing Expectations and Enjoying the Ride
B/R: Where do you think you guys are at now? Coming off that second-round visit last season, now you’re on pace for 51 wins. Do you feel like you guys have proven yourselves as championship contenders, or is there another step that you have to take to send that message to the rest of the league?
SC: We’re in a good spot right now.
Obviously, we’d like to be higher in the standings, but the West is tough and we understand. Find our way into the playoffs and at that point, we’re going to be in contention, we’re going to be a tough out. Obviously, there’s some games along the way in the regular season that we feel like were winnable, especially at home, that we let slip. Definitely disappointing in some respects.
But if you look at where we are as a team and the strides we’ve made in two years, since being pretty much irrelevant in the playoff picture, we’re making strides. I think we have the tools we need right now to win a championship. It’s just about going out and executing under pressure this last month of the season, and then let it ride in the playoffs.
B/R: Now you mentioned the rough stretch the franchise had with the last few years before last season. Are you able to appreciate the ride that you’ve been on, or is it just impossible to do that while you’re in the middle of it?
SC: I definitely enjoy it. [We're] not too far removed from being an under .500 team and not having really much to play for at this point in the year. Definitely I appreciate the change that we’ve been able to make as an organization.
Coach [Mark] Jackson has done a great job, like I said, of changing the culture, and we’ve bought into the system. So, I think when you look at where we are right now and the expectations that we have for ourselves when the season started and even how the season has unfolded, it’s fun to have bigger goals in mind.
When we lose those games I was talking about earlier, it’s kind of fun to see the different reaction from our fans. They hold us to a higher standard as well now, from the experience we had last year in the playoffs. And that’s a good thing. It means you’re where you want to be.
On His All-Time Starting Five and Crowning the Best Dunker on the Team
B/R: You’ve been around the league a long time. I think you have a different appreciation for it than some of your peers, so I’ve got to throw this out there. Who belongs on Stephen Curry’s all-time starting five?
SC: Whew, that is a tough question. I got to Magic [Johnson], MJ [Michael Jordan], Larry Bird (pauses). I’m gonna go with Wilt [Chamberlain]. We’re going small, so Oscar Robertson.
B/R: When’s the last time you said “Wow” on the basketball court?
SC: Harrison Barnes dunked on somebody recently. I can’t remember who it was, but whenever that happens, and you’re on the court [when] one of your teammates rises up and dunks one home on somebody, that’s always a good moment. And I think the way he did it was with his left coming down the middle, so he’s a freak athlete.
I love to see special plays like that.
B/R: Who do you think is the best dunker on your team?
SC: On our team? Harrison’s definitely the best dunker on our team.
B/R: Better than [Andre] Iguodala?
SC: He’s right behind him. Iguodala’s got, it’s weird. He can run full court like effortlessly, slow down to a Euro step and then somehow, with his wingspan, find a way to powerfully dunk it home.
Not many people in this league can make that kind of play. He does it in a way that you notice.
On the Clash of the Underdogs and How to Realize a Dream
B/R: Can you explain your involvement with Degree and what this DO:MORE campaign is all about?
SC: Talking about great moments and obviously the time of year we’re in with March Madness and Degree being all about doing more and improving, we’ve unleashed the Clash of the Underdogs, which is an online bracket-style tournament where you can go to DegreeBasketball.com and vote for your favorite moment in NCAA tournament history. So, I’m voting for our run into the Elite Eight in 2008 over and over again.
Once you go to that website, you can vote and be entered for a chance to win a trip to the 2015 NCAA Final Four, where more moments like that will happen. So, [it's a] pretty cool opportunity and [you] get to relive all of the tournament’s great moments as you go vote for your favorite.
B/R: The campaign seems to be based around having goals and pursuing your passion. For people out there who hit roadblocks in that pursuit and have maybe lost sight of that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, do you have a message from your experience that you can pass on to them about chasing the dream and what it takes to get there?
SC: It takes hard work and trying to separate yourself. That’s the only way you can do it is by having that hard-working mentality, the willingness to want to improve every single day.
When I was in college, our coach used to ask us, if we had a good practice, he’d give us each a penny and we’d put that penny in a jar to symbolize the process and the progression of getting better. By the end of the year, hopefully that jar would be full with the amount of time and hard work we put into it to prepare ourselves for big moments and to get to that next level.
So, that’s kind of the mentality you have to have to make it happen.