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How Stephen Curry Can Become the NBA's Best Point Guard

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistSeptember 9, 2014

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 27: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors during a game against the Los Angeles Clippers in Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena on April 27, 2014 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Stephen Curry is not routinely recognized as the NBA's best point guard.

Yet. 

Sitting atop the point guard hierarchy, towering over everyone else at his position is an attainable goal—an ambition that has become a personal mission. 

“I’m trying to establish myself as the best point guard in the league,” Curry said on CBS Sports Radio's The Morning Show in August.

Establishing himself as the foremost floor-general authority is a process, but it's one Curry has already begun. His rise from a promising, injury-prone prospect to superstar has not been meteoric or spectacularly sudden. Curry put more than a year of distance between himself and a harrowing 2011-12 campaign before solidifying his status. 

Multiple ankle surgeries played against him. It left him with little leverage while negotiating the four-year, $44 million contract extension he signed with the Golden State Warriors in 2012.

Doubt was everywhere. His talent undeniable, his shooting stroke unparalleled, Curry found himself at the behest of cardboard ankles and downhearted wringers. 

But no more.

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Superstar designations are handed out too often. Meaning and substance of such classifications have digressed amid cavalier and haphazard usage. Curry, though, has emerged as one of the legitimate exceptions. He is, without question, a superstar.

One day soon—in conjunction with sustained excellence, mended vices and strengthened shortcomings—Curry might find himself on different ground, no longer chasing any other point man, his place among superstars unmistakable, his reign as the league's best floor general active and beyond doubt.

Do What You Do

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 27: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors takes a shot against the Los Angeles Clippers in Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena on April 27, 2014 in Oakland, California
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Part and parcel of Curry's quest for positional power is acknowledging what he does well. So, shooting and scoring. And passing. Offense in general, actually.

Last season wasn't a coming-out party for Golden State's offensive lifeline. It was a reaffirmation of what we already know: Curry is an offensive playboy.

Per-game averages of 24 points and 8.5 assists on 47.1 percent shooting overall and 42.4 percent shooting from deep remain mind-melting touchstones. No other player in NBA history has registered said benchmarks simultaneously for an entire season, which admittedly isn't surprising.

No other player in league history—not even Ray Allen—shoots quite like Curry, after all. He's the lone player to ever attempt seven or more treys per game and drill at least 42 percent of them twice. 

There is no such thing as a bad shot for him. If he's going to shoot, there's a better than good chance it finds net. His field-goal percentages by zone will attest: 

Curry's Sweet, Sweet Shooting
RangeLess Than 5 FT5-9 FT10-14 FT15-19 FT20-24 FT25-29 FT
2013-14 FG%57.143.451.249.847.340.9
Source: NBA.com

At the same time, Curry has undergone offensive evolution. Identity-wise, he's not some glorified shooter or even just a scorer. That part of his game has expanded to include off-the-dribble moves and high-arcing floaters, among other things. But he's become a more distinguished passer and integral part of Golden State's offense overall too.

Curry finished third in assist percentage among qualified players last year, assisting on 39.9 percent of the Warriors' buckets when on the floor, behind only Chris Paul (48.9) and John Wall (40.5).

The Warriors offense also scored 15.9 points more per 100 possessions with him in the game compared to when he sat. They actually posted the equivalent of the league's worst offense without him, notching only 93.8 points per 100 possessions. 

All of which starts leading us to one infrequently acknowledged development: Curry has already established himself as the NBA's best offensive point guard.

Although his playmaking abilities are rivaled by a few, no other point guard amassed more offensive win shares than Curry (9.3) last season. More importantly—since Paul appeared in 16 fewer games than Curry—only one other point guard represented more points per game. 

While leading all point guards in scoring last season, Curry also finished seventh in points created by assists (19.2). Combined with his 24 points per game, he accounted for 43.2 points every night.

Using Bleacher Report's official point guard rankings—penned by our own Adam Fromal—as a guide, here's how that stacks up against the Association's top-10 point men:

Only Paul represented more points than Curry, and it was by a slim margin. Playing in fewer games may have helped him, or it may not have. Either way, Curry is right there. And when you consider his range, usage rate and efficiency—each of which exceeded Paul's for 2013-14—he emerges as the complete offensive package, competing against only one player.

If he's competing against anyone at all.

Turnovers

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 03:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors tries to pass the ball between Chris Paul #3 and Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers in Game Seven of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

On to the flaws.

Ball protection remains one of Curry's greatest foibles. His 294 turnovers last year were surpassed only by Wall, who committed 295.

High usage rates play a significant role in drumming up turnover totals—Curry's 28.3 usage rate ranked ninth in 2013-14—but coughing the rock up 3.8 times per contest is still noticeably high. 

Errant passes, many of which are the byproduct of snap decisions going rogue, hurt him the most last year. Almost 2.5 of his 3.8 turnovers per game came off bad passes, according to 82games.com. Paul, by comparison, committed only 1.5 hiccups in such fashion.

Troubling still is the progression of Curry's bad passes. They're not exactly trending in the right direction since he entered the league:

The good news here is his issues boil down to collective volume. Roughly 65.8 percent of his per-game turnovers came off bad passes, similar to that of Paul's 65.2 percent. This half-baked trend isn't shattered by Russell Westbrook either. More than half of his turnovers for last season came off bad passes as well. 

More judicious decision-making is the goal for Curry. Rushed passes will continue to hurt him. Perfecting his process and using slightly more time to draw play-defining conclusions should help him limit the number of turnovers he commits.

Especially late in games. 

Curry's turnover percentage was at its highest during third and fourth quarters:

Curry's Ball-Protection Woes
1st QTR2nd QTR3rd QTR4th QTR
Turnover %10.210.713.712.8
Source: NBA.com

Protecting the ball better in the second half and making calculated decisions will drive his stock through the roof—more so than last season's dominant display already has.

Defense

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 14: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors on defense against the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 14, 2014 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or us
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Dissecting and subsequently criticizing Curry's defense has become a cliche—but it's a necessary one.

Defense has never been his strong suit, and that hasn't changed. His 104 defensive rating ranked 11th on the Warriors last season. That the team itself still ranked third in points allowed per 100 possessions is impressive. 

And misleading.

Ethan Strauss @SherwoodStrauss

The greatest Warriors defense I've been alive for starts Stephen Curry and David Lee

Defensive efficiency isn't an individual tell-all. Klay Thompson, who spent most of last season guarding the opposition's best guard, had a higher rating—as in worse—than Curry, allowing 106 points per 100 possessions. 

Are we about to call Curry the better defender?

Absolutely not.

The Warriors allowed fewer points with Thompson on the floor; they gave up more with Curry. 

Making the point guard crown his own demands Curry become a two-way player. As the starting point guard on a championship contender—who also led his team in minutes per game—Curry cannot make the Warriors worse defensively. 

To be sure, this one reality doesn't hurt Curry much within the point guard pyramid. Here's a look at the defensive point differentials for the top floor generals from before; it's basically a glance at whether a team's defense was better or worse while they were in the game:

Somewhat sadly, Curry's marks aren't an anomaly. They're outright good compared to certain peers. But if he's to put himself in the same class—or rather above—as Paul, he'll need to be a harbinger of improvement, someone who can defend elite point guards consistently.

Can he improve? 

Ask Fromal, and he'll tell you he already has:

Curry can still spend time acting like a sieve against quick point guards, but he's made noticeable strides on the less-glamorous end under the tutelage of Mark Jackson. Particularly evident is both his ability to chase off-ball threats around the court and his knack for navigating pick-and-roll sets.

Pick-and-roll defense in particular no longer seems like a glaring weakness. Curry improved remarkably in that aspect last season compared to 2012-13. 

Opposing pick-and-roll ball-handlers converted just 36.5 percent of their shots against Curry last season, down from 41.4 percent in 2012-13, per Synergy Sports (subscription required). Where Curry ranked 380th in points allowed per possession for 2012-13, he creeped into the top 90 for 2013-14. 

Let us not forget the Warriors serviced a top-five defense with him on the team as well. That his deficiencies are not only improving, but can also be covered up is huge.

The buck won't stop there either. According to the Bay Area News Group's Diamond Leung, Curry worked alongside "defensive guru" Ron Adams over the offseason and may be primed to take the next step.

"I think he has all the prerequisites to be a good defensive player, and he shows that at times,” Adams said.

Having the chops to defend comes first. 

Putting them to good use comes next, and, if successfully implemented, pushes Curry over the top.

Plausible or Impossible? 

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 3: Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers and Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors embrace after Game Seven of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 3, 2014 in Los Ang
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

All point guard conversations begin and end with Paul. That hasn't changed. Fromal ranked him No. 1 overall among all point men last season, and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't think he's the standard for active greatness at his position.

But there is always competition, and Curry is Paul's. 

There aren't two point guards better than Curry at the moment. Perhaps a healthy and productive Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Westbrook will make things interesting. For now there is Paul; then there's Curry, like Fromal's rankings also show.

And having positioned himself as a top-two point guard despite his imperfections—at age 26, no less—Curry has made one last leap possible. His shortcomings are correctable, his vices curable.

If he continues evolving, his positional standing is limitless.

Most importantly, Paul's place at the top won't be safe. It already isn't. It has come under siege, courtesy of Curry, the rising star with enough means to displace the only point guard still standing in his way.

*Stats via Basketball-Reference and NBA.com unless otherwise cited.


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