It didn’t take long for Stephen Curry to establish himself as one of the best and most promising young players in the NBA after the Golden State Warriors drafted him No. 7 overall in 2009.
Nevertheless, his rise to stardom was something of a pleasant surprise. Despite his great college career with the Davidson Wildcats, he had a reputation of being nothing more than a shooter (albeit one of the best in NCAA history). As such, there were many who had doubts about his ability to transition into a capable NBA point guard.
Such concerns soon fell by the wayside during his rookie year, as he averaged over 17 points and nearly six assists per game. He ended up finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting, and was named to the 2010 All Rookie First Team.
I had the pleasure of attending the Warriors’ afternoon practice session on Tuesday, where I was lucky enough to spend some one-on-one time with Curry, which I very much enjoyed.
One of the first things that struck me when we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries was how much bigger Curry is in real life than he is on TV. He is nonetheless rather soft-spoken, perhaps even a little shy. But he chooses his words carefully, and he speaks them well.
One of the first things I asked him about were the different kind of challenges he’s faced in his sophomore season compared to his rookie campaign. He didn’t hesitate to narrow it down.
"The biggest thing has been the injuries," he said, "missing two weeks of action, and then trying to get back in the rhythm of things."
Indeed, Curry’s issues with his right ankle have been well-documented. At last count, he’s sprained it four times, and has had to miss a total of eight games. But injuries haven’t done anything to derail his confidence, especially when it comes to his ongoing development into a true point guard.
"I feel like I’m in a spot right now where I know I’m a better point guard on the floor. I’ve used the experience from last year, playing with eight or nine guys every night. It’s [all about] being confident and composed on the floor."
The stats would seem to support Curry. His APG is the same as it was last year (5.9), but he’s decreased his turnovers to 2.8 per game and has upped his PPG to 18.2.
Regardless, Curry’s ankle is obviously not the only injury issue that the Warriors have had to deal with this season. Suffice it to say that they’ve been snakebit in that department (not literally, of course, but even that’s surprising). But overall, the team has gotten considerably more healthy in recent days. And from a chemistry standpoint, Curry acknowledged that having everyone back on the floor in one piece is pretty significant.
"It’s huge," he said. "It’s all about knowing what to expect night in and night out; what kind of minutes guys are going to get, what kind of things we have to do on the court for us to be successful. You don’t have to worry about who’s playing, who’s not, who’s making the trip, all that kind of stuff when you’re blessed with good health."
To be sure, out of all the injuries that have plagued the Warriors this season, David Lee’s freak elbow infection is the weirdest. He still has to wear a bandage on the elbow, but he seems to be getting closer to 100 percent with each game.
I had planned on asking Curry about Lee anyway, but it of course just so happened that the big guy was coming off a great game against the New Jersey Nets on Martin Luther King Jr Day, in which he scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. The outside shots weren’t falling on Monday, and Curry admitted that having a guy like Lee around is a true blessing, one that they didn’t have last year.
"It’s definitely huge," he said, "when you have a guy like that who’s a connector piece that also gives our lineup a low-post presence. He’ll get you through some games where you’re not shooting the ball well, and games we would have lost last year. If our shots weren’t falling, we didn’t have any other options. We’re a pretty versatile team now.”
The Warriors went 1-7 in the eight games that Lee missed, which is hardly a coincidence. If he hadn’t gotten injured, the Warriors are probably at or above the .500 mark, and in much better shape in the playoff picture.
As for what it’s going to take for this Warriors team to make the playoffs, Curry narrowed it down to a single word.
"Consistency," he said. “We play really well against the good teams. We play close until the end of games. I think as of late we’re trying to figure out a way of how to finish games…I mean, guys are going to have their off nights, but for us it’s sticking with our rotation and playing as consistent as possible."
One presumes that Curry’s remarks are in reference to the recent games against the Heat, Magic and Lakers. The Warriors had halftime leads in all three, but were severely outplayed in the second half of each game. If you were so inclined, you might say that those are three more wins that could have inched the Warriors closer to the .500 mark.
In any case, as of this publication the Warriors are four games behind the Portland Trail Blazers for the eighth spot in the Western Conference. However, they have a major opportunity to make up some ground, as they are currently 2-1 in a stretch that has them playing 13 of 14 games at home. And Curry knows what this stretch could mean in the long run.
"I don’t think there are many points in the season where you can look at a stretch of the schedule and feel like you can win every game," he said.
"With this stretch, we can get a routine down, we‘re playing a lot of winnable games, and we can feed off our crowd’s energy. And that’s huge for us right now because we’re trying to dig out of the hole that we were in at the start of the season so we can get back to .500 before the All-Star break.”
As far as that home energy is concerned, Curry and I both agreed that the Oracle Arena faithful don’t get nearly enough credit in terms of being one of the more passionate fan bases in the NBA.
In fact, Curry had no reservations whatsoever about voicing his lofty opinion about the kind of atmosphere that the Oracle fans create.
"It may not be sold out every night, but the energy that the fans bring is far better than any place I’ve seen in the league."
Yeah, he said it.
Lastly, I couldn’t resist asking Curry who wins whenever he plays one-on-one with his younger brother, Seth, who is in his first year at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski.
"Me," he said with a smile. "For sure. He hasn’t beaten me yet. We play like these series, like five or seven games, and I’ll win the series. He might win one of the games, but I’ll take home the crown."
On balance, if the Warriors are to make yet another magical playoff run, you can rest assured that Curry is going to be right in the thick of it.
He and Monta Ellis make for perhaps the league’s most dangerous backcourt. And if they can continue to get consistent production from guys like Lee, Dorell Wright, and Reggie Williams, as well as contributions from Andris Biedrins, Vladimir Radmonovich, et al, they’ll at least be in it to the end.
And if they can (gasp!) stay healthy, there’s really no reason the Warriors can’t sneak into the playoffs.
And if that 2007 playoff run was any indication, the idea of the Warriors in the playoffs should send a chill down the collective spine of the Western Conference.