Wow. That Curry guy is really something. Can you imagine shooting close to 47 percent from the floor on threes?
Wait. Wrong Curry. That was Seth Curry. You know, the younger brother. He shot .468 from the floor on threes while averaging 14.9 points a game for the Nets this season. He’s .439 lifetime on threes. But he’s not Stephen Curry, and everybody knows it. Sorry, Seth.
No, it’s big brother Steph people are focused on. He shot a career-low .380 on threes this season, but that’s buried in the mental fine print because our last impression of him was him being his irrepressible bombarding self en route to a fourth championship ring and a well-deserved first Finals MVP.
The TV and radio talking heads’ question du jour is, “OK, were his career to end right now, where does Steph Curry rank among the all-time hierarchy of NBA greats? Specifically, is he now top 10?”
We all know any such judgments are personal and arbitrary. You have your list and I have mine. Well, sort of.
My view is that any list of top 10 all-time NBA players, and possibly even top five, must include three centers, and, yes, I know that the position has become downgraded. I don’t care.
Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have to be there. Period. My next tier is for Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Now say hello to Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, or Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, if you prefer. That’s seven. Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant are there. That’s nine.
Oh boy. Now the fun starts.
It would be criminal to ignore Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, and John Havlicek. Yes, I said John Havlicek, who happened to be better than both Oscar and Jerry from 1969 on. Damn right he’s in the discussion.
Elgin Baylor is starting to fall through the cracks of history, and that’s sad. Kevin Durant needs no introduction. Hakeem Olajuwon is the fourth-best center ever. Shaquille O’Neal? A powerful force, but his relative indifference to rebounding brings him down a notch for me. Julius Erving will always have his adherents, as will Kevin Garnett. Never forget Moses Malone.
That’s 10 possibilities for one spot, and I’ll tell you who else is in the top 15-20 discussion, and that’s Dirk Nowitzki, the greatest European-bred player ever.
Now we have the Man of the Hour, Wardell Stephen Curry II, whom we all know as Steph. We can’t leave him out of this discussion.
What is there not to like? When you factor in degree of difficulty, he is unarguably the greatest shooter of all time. He has made a mockery of the 3-point distance, as he routinely hits them from 2, 3, 4 (and on and on) or more feet beyond the arc.
He shoots with hands in his face. He is an exquisite ballhandler who can create the necessary space to get his shot off any time he likes. And if he doesn’t have the ball, he is as good moving without it as anyone in the contemporary game.
He does not get enough credit for his ability to go to the hoop with admirable ambidexterity. Though not really a classic point guard, he is a clever passer. On top of everything else, you’ll look at the box score and say, “Where did those 10 rebounds come from?”
Finally, after entering the league as a subpar defender, he has become adequate to the task. He is not just a great shooter, or great scorer. He is a great player.
There is one more thing, and this separates him from the pack. Steph Curry is the most influential player of the 21st century.
Truly influential players are the rarest of athletic species. Way back when, Hank Luisetti showed the world that it was OK to shoot the ball with one hand. Bob Cousy popularized both dribbling and passing the ball from behind the back. Russell made both shot blocking and outlet passing art forms. Baylor introduced new individual offensive moves.
Steph Curry has glamorized the 3-pointer for the entire country, and indeed the world. There were celebrated 3-point exponents such as Reggie Miller and Ray Allen, but Steph Curry has taken shooting the three to another level. He is the very walking and breathing embodiment of the three to an entire generation of young basketball players. Ask any youth coach. Every little kid in America now wants to be Steph Curry.
It’s not just kids, either. Have you noticed how many NBA players are expanding their range, or perceived range, to what I refer to as “Curryland?” (Exhibit A: Tre Young.) That is a clear tribute to Steph Curry. That, friends, is influence.
So … top 10 or not? I’m copping out. But he sure has a case.
P.S. When you throw in Daddy Dell (1,245 made threes, .402 lifetime percentage), we know who the greatest shooting family is. That’s one thing on which we can all agree.
Bob Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.