Tuesday night featured the two of the best players in college basketball and the match-up lived up to the hype.
Oklahoma defeated Davidson 82-78 in a ridiculous back and forth game. Stephen Curry and Blake Griffin, two very different players playing different positions, had very similar levels of dominance.
Curry only shot 12-29 from the field, but also went 6-15 from three-point range and a perfect 14-14 from the line. The crazy thing is he had an off night, missing a few open looks, as well as forcing a couple of threes. He still finished with 44 points against a very strong Oklahoma team and should have easily had over 50 (a point my friend alluded to via text right before the announcer said it himself).
Griffin countered with 25 points on 7-11 shooting and 11-12 from the line, as well as 21 rebounds. Davidson runs a three-guard lineup and does not have much size. Griffin exploited this with a combination of dominating physicality around the basket and a very solid mid-range bank-shot game when the defense backs off of him.
It is looking like the two of them should both be top five picks should they choose to go to the NBA, so what is their potential ceiling?
The color commentator continuously compared Griffin to Amare Stoudemire and when finally asked why, he said because of his "explosiveness." I do agree with the comparison to a certain extent, his power is complemented by his athleticism, his shooting game by his play around the basket.
Physically he is very similar to Stoudemire, 6'10" and very strong. He appears to be very long and plays that way as well, although I would guess Stoudemire's wingspan extends a bit further. I believe he has the potential to play in the NBA at Stoudemire's level, hopefully excluding the micro-fracture knee surgery.
While watching the game and considering the Stoudemire-Griffin comparison, I tried to ponder a proper comparison to Curry. The man I came up with and mind you, this is if Curry hits his ceiling in the NBA, is Chris Paul.
I understand Paul has reached a point where, not only is he potentially a MVP candidate every year for the rest of his career, but he has established his own unique identity for style of play in a league devoid of quality point guards who play like point guards.
The closest comparison in the NBA you can make to Paul right now is probably Deron Williams and as much as I love him, I don't think it's that close (in terms of talent it's somewhat close, but in terms of style it isn't).
Obviously Curry has not played like a true point guard, taking at least 25 shots a game with a shoot-first mentality. But neither did Paul in college.
I was lucky enough to go to the Sweet 16 game at the Meadowlands in 2004 between St. Joe's and Wake Forest. It was an unbelievable experience, I was a St. Joe's fan growing up and it was the first NCAA tournament game I ever attended. It also featured an incredible match-up: Paul versus Jameer Nelson.
Nelson ended up getting the best of Paul (despite an unbelievable performance on his part) and St. Joe's advanced. But I still remember my impression of Paul as a shoot-first player who will probably have a solid NBA career, but will always just be a scorer.
Not that he was selfish or couldn't pass and handle the ball well, but he didn't show any glaring signs of what a true point guard is all about: putting the offense in the highest quality scoring situations and maximizing the abilities of your teammates, especially your big men (somewhere along the lines of Derrick Rose last year).
Paul has turned Tyson Chandler into one of the better big men in the league. His ability to set people up from anywhere on the field while still posing the threat to drive or pull up leaves defenses clueless on how to defend him.
He turned New Orleans into a championship contender in a brutally tough Western Conference. In his short career, he has averaged 9.6 assists per game, while still scoring 18.3 points per game. In short, between seeing Paul in person at Wake Forest and seeing him several times that year on TV, he far exceeded my expectations.
I find Curry in a similar position, only I think he is better than Paul was in college in terms of creating his own shot along with his range combined with accuracy. The thing is Paul had a solid center at Wake (his name escapes me but take my word for it, he averaged 14 and 8 or something along those lines that year), but didn't set him up much at all.
Curry has no supporting cast to create with, especially up front. This was what amazed me aside from the 44 points: Curry only had three assists, but he made at least three passes that would have ended up as top ten plays on ESPN had his teammates finished.
If Curry is a better scorer in college than Paul was, and Paul was a damn good one, and doesn't have the same supporting cast Paul did, who is to say that Curry can't reach Paul's level? He is similar in size, probably less quick, but still has a great ability to drive to the basket, and is better at creating his own shot off of screens and the dribble, let alone spot up shooting.
Which leads me to my final point. While I think Griffin is a tremendous player and is capable of playing at Stoudemire's level, he could also be the next Marvin Williams. In the 2005 draft the top four picks in order were as follows: Andrew Bogut, Marvin Williams, Deron Williams, and Paul.
Note to teams in the top five in next year's draft, if it comes down to Curry or Griffin (or Tyler Hansbrough for that matter), take Curry, he might be the next Paul.