I was extremely excited to be able to review the 2014-2015 NBA season of Wardell Stephen Curry Jr. What seemed like a rather easy task due to the laundry list of Curry's accomplishments this season quickly turned into quite possibly the hardest piece I have had to write to date.
Make no mistake: this article is not about me, but before I jump head first off the high dive into his season I just wanted to mention that I was fortunate enough to witness some of Curry's most spectacular moments this season — I mean anybody who went to more than five Warriors games this past season can pretty much say the same thing.
I saw him nail a game winning three-point dagger against the Magic, cross up the entire clippers team and even had the opportunity to see him receive his MVP trophy in the playoffs. I remember the days of going to Warrior games to watch an opposing star or team just as much as the Dubs. Curry now carries with him that same respect in every arena that he visits. He makes the game fun to watch, and leaves a lasting imprint on what it means to truly love your job.
Basically, Stephen Curry is a walking spectacle who is worth every cent of the admission price. While DubNation is fortunate enough to have the opportunity to watch him blow the roof off Oracle on a nightly basis, hoops junkies around the country are left to pack the arena of their home team just to catch a glimpse of such a rare shooting star. There are certain players in the world like LeBron James and Blake Griffin who you literally have to see in person to fully comprehend and respect their abilities as a player. Curry is one of those players who is so spectacular in his play and so full of undeniable talent, that basketball enthusiasts of all ages are forced by the will of his flashy play and unparalleled skill to "ohh" and "ahh" in admiration of what is unfolding before their eyes.
There are plenty of stats to back up Curry's MVP season — and, conversely, in James Harden's case, maybe not enough — but that is neither here nor there. We will get into some stats later, but what is more impressive than any number produced by The Chef himself are his tangibles and vast skill set. In my opinion, he is the most skilled player in the NBA. Kobe may have a higher IQ and LeBron may be more athletic, but no player possesses the pure skills of ball handling, shooting ability and competitive spirit that Curry encompasses. And that is not to mention that it is all completed with that baby faced assassin smirk of his night in and night out.
Legitimizing the Three-Point Shot
To put it simply, Chef Curry's three-point shooting skill is transcendent in every sense of the word. His threes are prepared fresh daily and cooked to order.
In and out cross over croissant into a step back french dip fadeaway? You got it.
Run off three jumbo shrimp screens with a slice of pumpkin pump fake pie to let the scrambling defender fly by? Coming right up.
Curry used every recipe in his book to break his own record of most three-pointers made in a season with a total of 286.
With 48% of his shots being of the three-point variety, it's hardly impossible to think that at some point in his career Curry will eclipse 300 made three-pointers in a single season (just think of how many fourth quarters he sat out this season). He absolutely destroyed Reggie Miller's record for most threes made in a single post season. The previous record of 58 made three-pointers took Miller 22 games in the postseason of 2000, whereas Curry notched his 59th three-pointer in just his 13th game of the 2015 postseason. All in all, Curry ended up playing 21 postseason games in 2015 (one shy of Miller), yet ended up banging 41 more three's for a staggering total of 98. For what it's worth, Klay Thompson did his best Slammin' Sammy Sosa second place impersonation as he almost broke the previous record himself with 57 made three's in the 2015 postseason as well.
During the 2014-15 season, Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors silenced all basketball purists who have previously written of teams as incapable of winning an NBA championship due to their reliance on the three-point shot. While critics in the media will still use the cop out of "jump shooting teams can't win championships" it is no longer out of the realm of possibility. While the Dubs have a much more complex team that plays both sides of the ball, they have long been considered a jump-shooting team. But what happens if said jump-shooting team is led by the greatest all-around shooter of all time? Dubs baby, and I'm not just talking Warriors — I'm talking wins.
While new age basketball fans (and players of past and present alike) oogle over Curry's shooting ability like school girls watching Magic Mike, what makes the staggering amount of threes even more incredible is the amount of attention Curry receives on a nightly basis. This effect that has Curry acting as the sun in the NBA universe is known as gravity. Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com helps break down exactly what gravity (along with other categories like "distraction" and "respect") mean:
'To recap, gravity score measures how closely a player's defender sticks to him off the ball. Higher gravity scores generally belong to bigs because their primary defender must stay close and also protect the basket. On the other hand, guards typically have lower gravity scores simply because defenders have more liberty to shade off their guy on the perimeter. But elite shooters typically generate more attention off the ball.
Then there's distraction score, which quantifies how much a player's defender is willing to help off the ball to stop the ball handler. The worse he is as a shooter, the more likely his defender will be distracted by the ball handler. To identify the most effective floor-spacers in the NBA, I created a composite score that combines the two metrics. The result is what I've called 'respect rating,' which has now been translated to a 1-to-100 scale with 100 being the most magnetic (think sharpshooters) and 1 being least magnetic (think non-scoring bigs)."
Haberstroh gave Curry a gravity score of 97, a distraction score of 98 and an overall respect rating of 98, which puts Curry at the top of the list in the entire league. That's higher than LeBron James and his bulldozing drives through the lane and Kobe Bryant with his trademark triple pump fake fadeaway.
The Evolution of Steph Curry's Defense
More surprising than any ridiculous amount of three-pointers that Steph Curry could make in a season has been the growth of the young superstar's defensive prowess. Ethan Sherwood Strauss of ESPN.com recalled newly hired head coach Steve Kerr as he first approached Curry in the offseason to ask more of him on the defensive side of the ball:
"It wasn't exactly a hard sell. 'He wants to be challenged,' Kerr frequently said of his superstar. It's something Steph's father, Dell, had told Kerr over the summer, and it's something Kerr keeps coming back to when discussing his point guard's growth.
And to the surprise of many, it has more than worked. Thanks to some clever new defensive principles, and despite his spindly frame, Curry has blossomed to become one of the NBA's most effective defenders -- ranking fifth among point guards in defensive real plus-minus. According to Synergy Sports, the opponents he guards have shot just 36.8 percent on the season. He's averaging a career high in steals and a career low in fouls."
The word that stood out to me most in that quote outside of Curry enjoying a good old fashioned challenge, was the fact of him being an effective defender. Being a solid defender should not be solely based off the number of blocked shots or steals a player tallies, rather by how they move their feet, how active their hands are and how much pressure they are wiling to put on an opponent while defending both on and off the ball. As Strauss pointed out, a career low in fouls can be attributed to Curry's ability to move his feet effectively, a career high in steals can be attributed to his active hands and defensive pressure both on ball and off ball can be be credited to his competitive nature of not backing down from a challenge.
While I would not be quick to label Curry as an elite defender in this league, he certainly holds his own on any given night and is making a concerted effort to improve his overall defensive game. And let us not forget that a great defensive team such as the 2014-15 Golden State Warriors requires a high level of basketball IQ from everyone on the court. Defensive rotations, switching all screens, constant communication, helping the helper, fronting the post, weak side help and anticipation of jumping the passing lane all require split second processing and decision making that is more than just keeping your man in front of you.
(For more insight, check out the great piece by Strauss linked above that is accompanied with numerous clips of Curry on D)
A Season for the Ages
Curry had a NBA season for the record books. A type of season that you will tell your kids about for years to come, or maybe your dog depending on your life choices. Regardless, Curry won the league's Most Valuable Player award by playing only 33 minutes per game, which was the fewest of any player to ever win the award. He even sat out the entire fourth quarter 17 times this season, that's four whole games worth of time sat out due to the Warriors dominance as a team. Which leaves only Kyrie Irving to question whether or not the Warriors would have won those games if Curry hadn't missed all that time.
As Curry's game continues to evolve, like his saucy Ragu type handle or his ability to finish in the paint, so does his superstar status. As the leading vote getter in the 2015 All-Star game, Curry also took home the prestigious three-point contest title. By the end of the season, he stood alone at the top of the league in both jersey sales and cutest kid fathered by an NBA player. He quietly led one of the greatest teams in NBA history to 83 total wins, where he collected an MVP trophy and an NBA Championship along the way. While Curry didn't average astronomical numbers this past season, he led the league in one of the most important categories of them all. According to Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group, "with Curry on the court, the Warriors scored an average of 11.5 more points than they allowed, the highest plus/minus for any player."
Curry is a special player, and an even more special human being. As Steve Kerr explains via Leung,
"And yet the foundation beneath all that is this incredible humility and humanity and a quiet strength. ... Steph is so quiet and humble away from the court, and to me that's the most powerful form of leadership."
Curry may be the brightest piece of the golden puzzle that makes up this Warriors squad, but will be the first to tell you he is just another one of the guys. His ability to lead by example, single-handedly win his team a game and then distribute all of the credit amongst his teammates is just the whip cream topper that is a slice of Curry's humble pie — and I'm not talking the douchey liar pie that Tom Brady and Bill Belicheck will serve to you, telling the world that it is apple when it is clearly cranberry.
I had to pinch my arm more than once this season just to remind myself that Steph Curry plays for the Warriors, and — for a player of his caliber — at a bargain price. But it doesn't really seem like money matters too much to Curry, but then again who would really expect it to with a father who played in the NBA for 16 seasons himself. Furthermore, Curry and the rest of the Golden State Warriors team are as genuine as they come. They are a team that, even as a broke college student myself, I don't mind forking over the price of a new textbook for a ticket to watch them play.
He is as religious as they come, but isn't here to shove it in your face. He would rather just knock down a step back jumper in your face to the tune of Oracle exploding in cheers.
Here's to many more great seasons from the leader of the 2015 NBA Champs, hopefully all played with the Bay Bridge, Chinese steel and cracked bolts in all, on the front of his chest.
For more on Curry's MVP season, check out our section documenting the highlights and all of his post-season awards. For more reviews of the Warriors players from the team's championship season, check out our 2014-15 Warriors season-in-review.