Sustained success can be a Catch-22. It’s what every athlete craves, what fans demand, but it also may cause us to take greatness for granted.
Steph Curry is faced with that tough proposition. Through no fault but his own virtuosity, Curry has raised his own bar. But even his flashier moments this season have fallen into the background while upstarts and up-and-coming MVP candidates like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kristaps Porzingis draw attention.
Curry’s 3-point percentage is 38.9, by far the lowest of his career, and he’s taking about one less attempt than last season. Weirdly enough, Steph has been best from the midrange, hitting a scorching 60.7 percent, per NBA.com. No, Curry hasn’t suddenly become LaMarcus Aldridge, but he’s flashing a slightly different repertoire with the same high level of efficiency (58.1 eFG).
Golden State is 32.4 points per 100 possessions better when Curry is on the floor. That’s a ridiculous difference that, as Basketball-Reference points out, is 10 points more than what it was in the 2015-16 season, when Curry won his second MVP and the Warriors won 73 games. His offensive rating this season is also a Mount Everest-high 122.3—the highest of any player in the NBA averaging at least 25 minutes a game.
In other words, Steph is being Steph. He’s merely producing in much subtler ways.
For example, the way his shooting ability draws the extra defender just long enough to free Klay Thompson for a 3-pointer of his own. Or how he’s able to send a parabola of a pass down the court and into the hands of a sprinting Draymond Green for an easy layup. How even after he obliterates a defender with a crossover, he’s able to find the open big man for a simple dunk instead of just pull up for 3.
Even when Curry dominates a game in multiple ways—he had 22 points (on 16 shots), eight rebounds, eight assists, two steals, and a block in 30 minutes of Wednesday’s 125-101 beatdown of the Timberwolves—he now receives shrugs, even from his teammates.
“Peaking!?” an incredulous Draymond Green shot back after a reporter asked him about Steph’s “crazy” numbers following Wednesday’s game. “Are they?...I’ve seen crazier.”
Draymond is all of us. But the ambivalence is nothing the eye test can’t fix.
Steph Curry with the fake shot pass to Javale McGee pic.twitter.com/iOiIP9K9D9— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) November 5, 2017
In one motion, Curry is somehow able to create space with his shooting range and also create an easy look at the basket.
And then there are plays like this one:
Curry doesn’t just blow by Austin Rivers with a quick dribble; he holds Rivers at bay with his backside to allow the roll man—in this case, JaVale McGee—to get to the hoop in time. By the time Curry’s beaten Rivers, the 6-foot-11 Willie Reed stretches out and jumps, thinking he’s covered his bases. But instead, Curry spins it around Reed for an easy McGee layup.
That kind of play may not make the highlight reels, but it’s one that showcases the kind of nuance that’s just as impressive.
Curry has already been named MVP twice. He plays on a team with one of the most dynamic scorers of all time in Kevin Durant, a polarizing figure in Green, and an equally automatic 3-point shooter in Thompson. As a result, each player will probably struggle to gain much traction in the MVP conversation. But a closer look will show you that Curry is the compass of one of the greatest teams ever. Let’s make sure we don’t take that for granted.