Point guard discussions are getting really juicy.
There is a hugely talented group of young point guards in the league right now. From the pick and roll genius in Nash, to the slasher in Westbrook, to the game-changing defender in Bradley, we’re seeing a wide range in playing ability and style. But when you think “elite point guard”, someone you’re probably forgetting about? Stephen Curry. I’m here to tell you why he belongs in the discussion behind phenoms in Rondo, Paul, Deron, Parker, and Westbrook (maybe Rose, too, if you side with the hobbled).
Part of why Curry deserves more recognition is not only because he is arguably amongst the most unique players we’ve ever seen play the game, but because his skillset translates to a number of offenses throughout the NBA. As a point guard, he brings these five things to the table:
A) Off-the-ball scoring – Being a player who started off as a shooting guard and evolved into a point guard – and one who made the transition smoothly – Curry is a rare case. To his team’s liking, his shooting guard tendencies are still present, and this allows for them to run plays for him where he is asked to cut and use a series of screens. This is a pretty unique asset if limited to a point guard discussion, and a big reason why he’s averaging 20 points per game this season. Also attributable: smoothness. Steph isn’t great at getting to the rack, but with his aggressive dribbles and hesitation moves, he’s exceptional at creating space between him and his defender in order to get off his shot.
B) All-time shooting – A big part of what makes Curry so unique; in fact, Stephy may go down as a top-five shooter of all-time. His mere existence validates the True Shooting Percentage statistic: He maintains an unimpressive shooting percentage (i.e.: 43% this season), but then you realize that he’s shooting six and a half three pointers per game and making them at an incredible rate (also at 43%). 19 footers, midrange fadeaways, contested threes … though his shot selection can still see improvement, distance-wise, there isn’t a bad shot for Curry (in fact, he’s shot better from 16-23 feet than 10-15 feet for the majority of his career (courtesy of Hoopdata)). I guess that I should mention that Steph is one of twelve guards in history to have a career TS% of 58.0 or more while playing 30 minutes a game (courtesy of Basketball-Reference).
C) Good defense – Despite being far from a world-class athlete, Curry possesses adept lateral movement. Curry ranks in the top fifteen in steals per game, currently at 1.7. Though Curry is susceptible to getting pushed around a bit, since he thoroughly pursues his man through screens, has a good understanding of positioning, and moves well, he’s earned the status of a solid defender.
D) Great passing – Passing isn’t the best part of his game, and other point guards in Nash, Paul, and Rondo have a noticeable edge in this category. However, Curry is a very good passer even amongst point guards; he possesses great vision and passes with intelligence, sharing the ball with those whom are open and in rhythm. He’s somewhat prone to making passing errors (35 bad passes this season), but like with Nash in Phoenix, it’s usually for good reason.* It’s important to note, too, that despite Golden State’s tendency to run the offense through Jack and Lee for long stretches, Curry is still managing to put up six and a half assists per game this season. It comes with no doubt that if he played a ball-dominant style for 36 minutes, he could average ten assists per game.
E) Exceptional ballhandling – His incredible dribbling skills are widely overlooked. Watch a full game of his, and you’ll be sure to enjoy observing an instance where Curry sits in the middle of the key firing rapid left-handed dribbles two inches off the floor, waiting patiently for an open man to present himself (oddly enough, his left hand is likely better than his right). Curry’s average of 3.0 turnovers per game doesn’t look so special, and he’s no CP3 is terms of ball protection. But his turnover rate is actually excellent considering how active he is offensively. In fact, there have only been eighteen players in history to post up at least 6.5 assists, maintain a 24.8% or higher usage rate, and have 3.0 turnovers or less over the course of a season.
In sum: Curry embodies a point guard who brings defense that Nash can’t and off-ball play that Paul doesn’t; a point that brings scoring/shooting that Rondo can’t and a point that brings efficient, intelligent play that Westbrook doesn’t. He’s proven this year that he’s able to run his team. Does he really deserve to be ignored in “top point guard” discussions?
This guy is pretty special, and luckily for us all, he’s just getting started.