Thankfully, it seems as though we've gotten past the point in human evolution where (reasonable) people are still wondering whether Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry is a point guard.
Winning a MVP award goes a long way toward acceptance of one's abilities.
I'm sure you could travel to some dark corners of the internet and find someone somewhere, perhaps a highly compensated troll, who is still out there trotting out the notion that Curry's point guard bona fides are in doubt because he shoots a lot, but it seems as though most of those people have returned to whatever hole they emerged from (and are probably reminiscing on the good ol' days by watching looping highlights of John Stockton beautifully orchestrating the pick and roll with Karl Malone in matching short shorts).
But now that we've established that Steph is a point guard, there might still be an ongoing debate about whether he's the best point guard, a debate that I find to be perfectly justifiable in a world in which Curry, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook co-exist in the same conference. And the biggest problem in determining who's best comes down to what you value in a point guard and how you operationalize that, even if done with nebulous and subjective terms like "leadership", "presence" or "heart" in addition to whatever lingering notions you have about what role a "true" point guard "should" play out there on the court.
As an example, Shane Young of Hoops Habit recently published an impressive breakdown of all thirty starting point guards in the league with an impressive level of detail and the assistance of a point guard metric he created simply called "Passer Rating" (click here to see that formula). I'll end the suspense by just telling that Paul, Curry, and Westbrook were ultimately ordered as the top three point guards in that order (with Curry and Paul in a two-man top tier); his rationale for ranking those top three is probably more interesting than the order themselves.
Yet, to me at least, Young perfectly made the case for Curry as the top point guard.
In reality, Curry is the focal point of everything Golden State runs, and his eye for pinpointing shooters is always a mystery. There are only a handful of point guards that can sling the ball across the court like Curry, finding guys without causing too many turnovers...He was the engineer of a team that won 67 games in the Western Conference — after most picked them to win below 53 — and he only missed one game due to injury for the whole year. If we're going to give Nash the award for being "the best player of the best team" for one of those years, Curry deserved it even more.
It's hard to make the case that you could expect a point guard to do any more than what Curry did last year. Yes, he calls his own number more often than most point guards (with the obvious exception of Westbrook), but why not? If the point guard's job is to make decisions that help the team maximize the value of offensive possessions and Curry is the most efficient scoring option in the league because he can make threes from places most people would never dream of attempting shots from (off the dribble, no less), why wouldn't Curry shoot as much as he did? Shooting, even from absurd distances at comic book angles, is often the best decision for Curry, even if you can imagine how shot location efficiency unfolds in real-time between Curry and his very talented teammates.
However even with that impressive description of Curry, Young acknowledged that his selection of Paul as the league's top point guard, "...almost feels like hanging on to a past relationship. When your spouse wants to end ties with you, but you just keep gripping on to something that isn't there." He continues as follows:
Find me a point guard with Paul's size that desires battling for a rebound against three frontcourt players. Find me one that will actually secure the board, and the be unselfish and modest enough to kick it out for a 3-pointer...instead of going for the second chance score himself. Find me a point guard that ALWAYS knows where everyone is on the floor, while also seeing fastbreak plays two steps ahead of anyone else. Find me one that puts 110% of this energy (in the first quarter) to intercept an outlet pass, and then attack the defense himself...Being a verbal extension of his coach on the floor is one thing, but to anticipate the action before the head coach sees it, is enough for me (to) walk out of the room sometimes.
I totally agree with everything Young said there — I'm just not sure that statement of Paul's somewhat singular value sets him apart from Curry, who is stunning singular in his own right. While Paul does an exceptional job of filling the traditional role of a point guard, Curry has opened up possibilities for action on the court that most coaches simply cannot possibly be expected to see because most of them are simply without precedent, like when he makes his coach think Steph, what in the fu- OHMYWHATICAN'T EVEN!!!
More irrationally, I just want to revisit this moment.
So which style of point guard play is "best"?
Oops! How did that get there?
What I meant is that it's hard to say — to be totally clear, I'm not at all invalidating Young's analysis as I think he provides some very interesting fodder for debate as the season begins with the Clippers-Warriors rivalry only escalating. More than anything, I think Young's rankings illustrate the value of tiering players instead of trying to identify a rigid hierarchy: even if you try to quantify what makes a point guard "great", underlying assumptions about what point guard attributes are most important will inherently push the outcome away from being "objective". That is no slight against Young's Herculean effort in putting that piece together or Paul as a point guard talent, but if those are the attributes you define as valuable in a point guard, then, yes, Paul is certainly the best — I'd agree that neither Curry nor Westbrook is as good as Paul on those terms. In a sense, that ranking is set up to select Paul as the point guard.
But — since I'm a Warriors blogger — Curry's gravitational pull on the floor is just so dominant and all-encompassing that I'd probably argue that he would immediately improve the prospects of a wider range of situations to a greater extent than Paul or Westbrook (or John Wall or Kyrie Irving or whoever else you want to compare these guys to). Paul is in fact brilliant at finding scoring opportunities for his team; Curry creates scoring opportunities that don't normally even exist on the basketball court because nobody else is capable of imagining doing them with anywhere near the efficiency that he does.
Young noted in his write-up about Curry that he's probably the most disrespected MVP since Derrick Rose or Steve Nash, perhaps not-so-coincidentally also point guards. And at least some part of that could be attributed to the difficulty that people continue to have in detangling the league's point guard hierarchy.
Other interesting commentary on the Warriors
Sticking with the theme of ranking players, Vantage Sports' Home Court Vantage podcast had an interesting show ranking the top shooting guards and centers over the weekend. As you might expect, Andrew Bogut got a mention but didn't make their top five — one of the show's hosts mentioned he finished sixth in his statistical rankings, which pretty much just reinforces my belief that Bogut is a very good, yet incomplete center, whose strengths and weaknesses are best maximized on the Warriors. But Thompson generated a bit more discussion.
The two ultimately decided that Thompson was the fourth-best shooting guard in the league after struggling to separate him from third-place Jimmy Butler, which led to an interesting comment that I think we as Warriors fans might sometimes dismiss too easily: "Especially when we think about guys who can take over a team, I feel better about Butler."
Similar to Bogut, I'll just say there are very few shooting guards in the league I'd rather have next to Curry than Thompson — it creates a historically dominant level of space on the floor that opens up so much for everyone else. I'll leave the debate about whether Harden (first) and Dwyane Wade (second) are better options to build around to others — did I mention how good it feels to enter the season rooting for a reigning champion?
Speaking of Bogut, Monte Poole of CSN Bay Area reported on Saturday that Andrew Bogut will undergo surgery today to "reset his broken nose" suffered during the preseason win against the Houston Rockets last week. For anyone worried, Bogut is expected to be ready to go by the regular season opener.
At the other end of the rankings spectrum is Leandro Barbosa, who Mika Honkasalo of Nylon Calculus mentioned for having one of the lowest on/off ratings in the league last season with the caveat that, "It can be argued in the cases of Austin Rivers, Chris Kaman or Leandro Barbosa that their replacements (or rather players they were replacing coming off the bench as subs) were so good that their numbers are bound to be bad. This is true." Mama, there goes that man (Curry) again.
Former Warriors fan favorite and nemesis Jarrett Jack got mention in both the Hoops Habit (29th) and Nylon Calculus (-3.65 RPM) posts as being particularly bad last year. In other news that may or may not be related: life is good next to Curry, huh?
Yahoo's Marc Spears put together a good read about the NBA's dress code on its 10th anniversary (Oct. 17) this past weekend. Worth a read on its own, but for Warriors fans in particular, it includes quote on the NBA's policy from Bogut, Curry, Andre Iguodala, coach Steve Kerr, and former Warriors great Jason Richardson. A longer read that's worth your time.
Just to bring this thing full circle back to the Clippers, Doc Rivers is just full of cool stories . On a related note, I can say with some certainty that Draymond Green's trash talk is so awesome until you're on the wrong end of it and you find yourself emotionally defenseless. But I'll get over that — regular season basketball is coming!
Of course there are probably other links out there that you will find interesting throughout the day -- feel free to drop them in the comments below if you wish to share.