LOS ANGELES — The mere mention of Stephen Curry’s unforgettable, earth-scorching prime-time performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Feb. 27 draws a chuckle from Los Angeles Lakers rookie Anthony Brown. Standing on the sidelines at his team’s practice facility 48 hours later, the Stanford graduate smiles and looks down at his sneakers when asked about his initial reaction to Curry’s 46-point eruption.
“No comment, man,” Brown laughed. “That was…I’ve never seen anything like it. OKC was up seven, and I turned to my friend and said ‘Golden State is gonna win this game.’ Sure enough, they did.”
Curry is the best basketball player alive and arguably the most potent offensive weapon in NBA history.
"I was playing about four minutes a night, and he was probably playing 38, 40 minutes a night, and I would stay after every day because I had a non-guaranteed contract," he said. "I would stay after every day, maybe 30, 45 minutes after practice. I’d be at one basket; he’d be at the other basket. It [grew] to a competition to see who’d leave first. That’s just how hard he went."
For youngsters with uncertain futures, Curry’s path is proof that players can overcome insurmountable odds. Yes, the league's leading scorer was a lottery pick. Yes, players are realistic and aware that much of what makes him so otherworldly is unrepeatable.
To duplicate the accuracy of Curry’s jumper by stepping in a gym and firing up 10,000 shots a day is not possible. It'd be like singing a song over and over again with the belief that your voice will eventually sound like Beyonce’s.
But some of what makes Curry so special is within reach. And his own evolution can still motivate and inspire younger players who are constantly sharpening their own skill sets.
Last month, Kobe Bryant instructed Jordan Clarkson to study how Curry constantly stays in motion when the ball isn’t in his hands.
“[Kobe’s] been stressing to me being able to play off the ball, move without the ball,” Clarkson said. “He’s always harping on me, talking about Steph Curry. We all see him for his flashy dribbles and stuff like that, but the dude is always moving, and that’s why he gets open shots. So Kobe, he’s been stressing that this whole last month of February, and I feel like that’s when I started playing my best basketball.”
Lakers head coach Byron Scott agrees, and at practice one day before L.A. upset Golden State, he talked about how he wants young Lakers—particularly D'Angelo Russell—to look at Curry as someone they can learn from.
"I think the one thing [Russell] can learn is you know when you play against a guy like that, he doesn’t have a whole lot of weaknesses," Scott said. "You can tell just by looking at him and watching over the years how much work he’s put into his game. He might be the only guy—we went over this stat this morning—in the league that shoots above average from every area on the floor. It’s just amazing.
"The thing I hope [Russell] takes from [Curry] is how hard he plays, how hard he comes off cuts—how he handles his teammates, how they love playing with him. He’s unselfish, he has no problem making the hockey assist pass...he’s all about winning, and he works his butt off, and you’ve got to give him a lot of credit for that."
Brown—a Lakers second-round pick who was in and out of Scott's rotation before a recent foot injury sidelined him for about a month—feels like Curry's rise has impacted him on a personal level.
“I think the biggest thing is just working hard, but knowing that the results aren’t going to come right away,” he said. “[Curry] has probably been working on [his ball-handling and shot] for years and years and years, and his first few years in the league, it didn’t show. But over time, there was a point where it kind of clicked, and that’s the biggest thing.
"I feel like I’ve been working hard this year, but it doesn’t always reflect in my play. It hasn’t clicked yet, but you just have to stick with the process.”
One night after going toe-to-toe with the Warriors and nearly pulling off a major upset, Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo said Curry is "definitely" a source of motivation for him.
"I mean he’s improved every year, and he’s worked his way to being the best player in our league," the former No. 2 pick said. "So, there’s a number of guys who’ve done that, who’ve worked their way to where they are today, and gotten better year in and year out. I’m just trying to do the same."
Lakers rookie power forward Larry Nance Jr. sees a few significant reasons the reigning MVP is a role model for him.
“He went to Davidson, a smaller school,” Nance said. “And now look: He’s the best player in the NBA, and nobody would’ve ever [predicted] that. So, for me, going to Wyoming, a smaller school, that’s what really stands out about him.”
Currently struggling to find his way as the Brooklyn Nets backup point guard, Shane Larkin hasn't had the smoothest journey so far. For example, he has a higher turnover percentage than usage rate. But there are accessible parts of Curry's game that have caught the 23-year-old's eye.
"There are nights where I go out there and have a great game, and then the next night, I go out and have a dud, and that’s really what’s been my problem so far this early in my career," Larkin said. "As a young player, you can look out and say, OK, when he [Curry] first got in the league, he wasn’t playing to his potential. And he made it to be who he was by working.
"The stuff he’s doing is just crazy. He’s shooting from 37 feet. That’s out of control. But you definitely take things such as his ball-handling in the pick-and-roll, his reads, his ability to pass the ball with both hands, finish with both hands around the rim. He wasn’t doing that his first couple years in the league; he was more of a straight scorer shooting threes, shooting pull-ups, and now he’s getting to the rim, using hesitation. He just grew in so many areas of his game."
In the same way great superstars galvanized entire generations of prospective talent who grew up watching them play, Curry’s arousing something inside those who’ve already made it to the NBA.
Curry is not only the greatest shooter who ever lived, but he's also a paragon of hard work and dedication, of never giving up and refusing to let artificial barriers lower his ceiling. For young players, from Clarkson, to Bazemore to Oladipo, he’s hope and motivation in human form.
Michael Pina covers the Los Angeles Lakers for Bleacher Report. All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.