Evolution rarely follows predictable patterns. It’s a system built on optimization and efficiency, not an increase of physical attributes. Evolution’s chief concern is long-term sustainability. It’s the reason dolphins developed echolocation, elephants can communicate from up to two miles away, and why octopus have every useful defense mechanism from God’s lost & found. It also explains why Steph Curry isn’t just a great basketball player. He’s intelligent design.
Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins phased out the era of the dominant big-man by being insanely gifted above-the-rim talents in smaller, more agile, and economical bodies. Kobe Bryant added a dagger of a jump shot and became a dominant sub-species within this classification. Then came LeBron James, evolution’s great white shark in human form. LeBron is the summit of bigger, stronger, faster — and became the apex predator of counting stats.
Although there are still Jurassic mutants out there, like Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, that will survive the LeBron Age, a spindly 6’3" 170lb (listed at 190 but we all know better) point guard with average muscle definition is currently the NBA’s most un-guardable player — and it’s LeBron’s fault.
LeBron helped stretch the boundary of physical capability but that part of his model isn’t sustainable. But the other part of James’ makeup — the part that separates him from Jordan and Kobe — stressed the value of being part of a construct, not the construct itself. Seemingly capable of scoring 40 points whenever he damn well pleases, James remains insistent that, technically, there are better plays to be made. This introduced efficiency to the early stages design process. The resulting shift became the petri dish intelligent design had been waiting for.
And Stephen Curry is what it came up with.
Curry’s control of the basketball is unique. It’s not the herky-jerky lateral movements of basketball magician Allen Iverson. The Answer excelled at bringing out the inner-clumsy of defenders, but it always looked tiring — lots of sharp feints and fakes, aggressively seeking the combination that’d unlock his opponent’s ankles. Curry’s different, he just owns the basketball. It’s his and he’s never worried that it’ll be taken away. That confidence is rooted in his second-nature understanding of the effect of each move before it’s performed; every defender’s stumble is premeditated.
Steph’s shooting form is another attribute specifically designed to increase efficiency. The quickness and fluidity of his form is that of something that belongs in the sea. It’s smooth. It’s simple. And because it’s designed to require the least amount of energy, he can replicate it from various angles and/or levels of fatigue with minimal drop off. He makes 30-foot shots look effortless because the entire motion just looks "right." If you traveled into the past and found someone who lived and died in the times before basketball and showed them Steph’s form s/he’d agree ‘Yup, that is the right way to shoot a basketball.’
These two effortless abilities create moments of pure silliness in and of themselves. Add laser-guided accuracy and, well, that’s why he’s always open. But it’s also why he’s able to be uncommonly efficient around the rim for someone of his size. Despite giving up six inches, 50+ pounds, and enough body mass to grow another Nate Robinson, Curry has just a 3% difference in field goal percentage on shots within five-feet of the rim compared to LeBron (61%/64%). Steph has also outscored LeBron in these Playoffs, on fewer shots, and in no-less impressive fashion. He has turned 317 shots into 438 points while LeBron’s hulked his way to 386 points through 346 shots.
As good as LeBron has been this Playoffs, Steph has been better. That may not feel true, but that’s only evidence of our conditioned thinking not having caught up with the world we’re presently occupying. Jellyfish kill more humans than great whites but nobody’s ever made a horror movie about jellyfish — but even if they did the theme wouldn’t be as daunting as in Jaws, it’d be way more Maroon 5-y.
Thursday’s start to the NBA Finals will kickoff a strange matchup we rarely get to witness. When evolution scraps old models for more efficient ones it’s usually not much of a fair fight. The dinosaurs never had a chance against that asteroid, mammoths couldn’t withstand the need for human survival, and it looks like LeBron and the Cavs are unwittingly rowing by Jon Snow toward the shores of Hardhome.
Life may not be fair but I’ll take it over whatever nature does to you when she deems you replaceable.