Stephen Curry

Steph Curry the most game-altering player to ever step foot on a court

Steph Curry the most game-altering player to ever step foot on a court

Programming note: Warriors-Rockets coverage starts tonight at 6:30pm on NBC Sports Bay Area, and continues immediately after the final buzzer.

OAKLAND -- As the curtain is raised on a new NBA season, the conventional wisdom is the league consists of four distinct tiers, only one of which has a single member. That would be the Warriors, alone at the top and projected to lock up the No. 1 postseason seed several weeks before the season ends.

The reigning champions boast a collaborative work environment, a diverse and creative co aching staff and, conceivably, the most dangerous roster in NBA history. The Warriors are to the NBA what Tesla is to the electric car market and, moreover, they have the benefit of having Stephen Curry at the wheel.

And it’s quite a benefit when you have the most game-altering player, regardless of position, ever to set foot on a court.

[SHILLER: Kerr: Curry better now than his unanimous MVP season]

The Rockets, who come into Oracle Arena to open the season Tuesday night, make no attempt to hide their aspirations. They want to push the Warriors in hopes of knocking them over. Warriors coach Steve Kerr concedes that his system is based largely on principles created by former Warriors coach Don Nelson and advanced by Mike D’Antoni, now the coach in Houston.

The Rockets, however, do not have a Curry. Neither did the Knicks or the Suns, D’Antoni’s previous NBA teams. The closest he ever came was in Phoenix, with Steve Nash running the point.

“Steph is like Nash on steroids,” Kerr says. “He’s faster and quicker and he’s shooting from 35 feet instead of 25 feet.”

Curry’s presence is not the only reason the Warriors have been able to separate themselves. It’s also a product of being the only team with four legitimate All-Stars, each of whom is uniquely superior. No one combines movement and catch-and-shoot excellence as well as Klay Thompson. No one affects a game in more ways, at both ends, as well as Draymond Green. No one even begin to approximate the gifts Kevin Durant or Curry. Can you imagine a Warriors opponent rummaging through its roster trying to form a scout team?

And while Durant may be the toughest matchup in the NBA -- and the better bet for league MVP -- it’s Curry who flavors the essence of the Warriors.

“Everything we do revolves around Steph,” Kerr says. "If you want to say who affects the game the most offensively, Steph’s the best player in the NBA.”

Kerr has been around the NBA for 30 years, been teammates with Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan and an opponent of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Curry is indeed a different beast, a transformative figure in a toned but hardly imposing 6-foot-3, 190-pound physique.

The Curry Effect has been generated by the devastating power of 1,545 3-pointers in five seasons, and the way they rain despair down upon the faces of opponents. He frightens defenses in such a way it opens up scoring avenues for his teammates.

David West has been playing basketball for 25 years, the last 18 in the NBA and in high-level Division I at Xavier. He has been an opponent and teammate of Curry. He has played with and against greats, from the primes of Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson and LeBron James, but can’t even begin to summon a fair comparison to Curry -- all because of the 3-ball.

“It’s become such a psychological weapon,” West says. “Having been on other teams and knowing how a coach will try to prepare, you can tell. A coach wants to protect the rim and guard the 3-point line. And it’s an absolute nightmare, because you’re giving up layups. You’re basically going against what you’ve been trained to do. You’re giving up layups and paint points, because these (3-pointers) are too deflating. These are too defeating. These are too damaging to the psyche.”

For an example, go no further than the comments of Clippers coach Doc Rivers after his team took a 144-98 lashing last Jan. 28.

"At halftime, I asked the guys what's hurting us, and they said 'the 3'," Rivers said after the game at Oracle. "And I said 'You’ve got to be kidding me. We're even. We were 8-for-13 and they were 8-for-13.

“It's amazing the mental thing when they make a 3. They needed Curry to make a halfcourt shot to tie us (in first-half 3-pointers). They had 46 points in the paint. The paint is what killed us tonight. Their drives, their cuts, their layups, and our guys are still thinking about the 3-point shots. That didn't hurt us. It did later, but in the first half it was all the layups."

Yet it was Curry’s triples -- including a 51-footer to close the half -- that tortured the Clippers. It’s all they could think about.

It’s all the Spurs can think about, too, because San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich demands his team guard the arc. The minute Curry gets free and hits one from deep, Pop is out of his seat calling w timeout, knowing that one often leads to two and then three.

“This is something we’ve never seen,” West says. “There have been great shooters. But nobody has ever inflicted the type of psychological damage that he does.

“They’re knockout shots.”

Curry’s 3-point shooting has spawned a legion of wannabes, pale imitators firing from 25, 30 and 35 feet. As much as Wilt Chamberlain, and then Michael Jordan, did for the dunk, Curry’s influence has been far greater because shooting the deep ball seems so much more realistic thank soaring for a dunk. The belief is that one can practice toward being a great shooter, whereas dunking generally requires superior athleticism.

So, now, you see 3-pointers coming off the fingers of players from all five positions. Even such centers as DeMarcus Cousins and Karl-Anthony Towns won’t hesitate to float out beyond the arc and let it fly. Lurking beneath it all is the Curry Effect.

No team in the NBA averaged fewer than Minnesota’s 21 3-pointers per game, while D’Antoni’s Rockets launched a league-high 40.3 per game. Contrast that to 10 years ago, before Curry entered the league. The 76ers took the fewest treys, 10.0 per game, while Nelson’s “We Believe” Warriors and D’Antoni’s Suns tied for most attempts with 24.0.

Now, straight out of a D’Antoni fantasy, here come the Rockets, not only shooting a high volume of triples but spacing the floor -- as Curry does -- by setting up from well beyond the line.

“They’re saying, ‘All right, we ‘re going to space the floor to three feet beyond the 3-point line, because that’s even harder to guard.’ I never thought I’d see that,” Kerr says. “But Steph has played a role in that. So guys are actually practicing deeper shots. So there’s no question he’s making an enormous impact on the game and he’s changing the game.”

There is little doubt that rules changes, particularly on defense, also have had an effect on the direction of the game. Hand-checking is illegal but many teams are willing to employ variations of a zone defense.

Yet Curry continues to wage an assault on the record book. His 402 triples in 2015-16 were more than 116 better than the previous league record, his own at 286, set a year earlier. Curry owns four of the top five single-season bests, with the other belonging to Thompson.

Curry is 10th on the all-time list, with 1,971 3-pointers and it’s conceivable he could climb into the top five before his 30th birthday in March. Of the nine players currently ahead of him, four are retired and the five active players are all at least 36 years old.

So, yes, he’s changing the game. And Popovich, not a huge fan of the 3-pointer, doesn’t want to see any more changes. With Curry crushing triples during the 2015-16 season, the Spurs coach responded to those musing about a possible 4-point line.

Popovich wondered, well, why not a 5-point line before he answered his own question.

“The problem is, Steph would probably kill us.”

Steve Kerr: Steph Curry better now than his unanimous MVP season

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AP

Steve Kerr: Steph Curry better now than his unanimous MVP season

Programming note: Watch the Warriors' final preseason game tonight at 7:30pm on NBC Sports Bay Area.

Steph Curry won the MVP in 2015.

Steph Curry won the MVP in 2016.

During the 2017 NBA Finals, he averaged 26.8 points, 9.4 assists, 8.0 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game.

“I think Steph is at his absolute peak right now -- physically, emotionally," Steve Kerr declared after practice on Thursday. "This is probably as good as he's ever gonna be. I think he's better now than he was last year or the year before. And that's saying something.

“He is the most impactful offensive player, in terms of what he does to the defense, maybe ever. There's guys, obviously Michael Jordan impacted things, but the way Steph plays puts the fear of God into defenses like nobocy I've ever seen. Nobody has been able to shoot off the dribble from 35 feet in a normal setting. But he does that, which changes the entire game. So everything we do revolves around Steph."

Shortly after the Warriors won the title, Steve Kerr said that Kevin Durant, not Curry, is the second best player in the NBA.

At the championship parade in June, Kerr singled out every player on the roster... except Curry.

Many people on "Warriors Twitter" think that Curry is underappreciated and underrated.

“You can talk about where he stands in terms of the best players in the league. He's obviously one of the best, by that standard he's the best," Kerr explained. "If you want to just say ‘who affects the game the most offensively?' Steph is the best player in the NBA. But there's different ways of measuring that stuff. From a two-way standpoint, if you like the two-way guys, maybe it's Kawhi Leonard or KD or LeBron because they're bigger or stronger and can protect the rim.

“Steph is an excellent defender though. He does not get the credit he deserves. There's a lot of guys in the playoffs who are great one-way guys. Steph, he's a two-way player. He gets his hands on passes, he deflects the ball, and all you have to do is just look at the impact he makes every time he's on the floor for us to know that everything we do, everything we run offensively, the other guy's ability to make plays -- Shaun, Andre, Draymond -- it all starts with Steph's gravity."

[REWIND: Kerr's message to Warriors fans who want more pick-and-roll for Curry]

“And then what's amazing about Steph, what continues to add to all that, is his personal character, his unselfishness and the way he approaches the game. His usage rate is maybe 30th in the league. I don't know exactly. He could easily be like, ‘why don't I have the ball? I'm the best offensive player in the history of the game?' We could run high screen every time.

“But he understands the power of the group. He understands that Shaun and Andre and and Draymond and Zaza and David are all great passers and as a group collectively, we are a better team when everybody sharing. And that's what makes Steph amazing. 

"I've said it many times -- he reminds me so much of Tim Duncan in that he's got this incredible package of skill, arrogance and humility. It's a weird combination but it makes sense and the result is this powerful force that drives our entire organization.”

Curry finished sixth in the MVP race last year and did not receive a single first-place or second-place vote.

It's possible that he never wins another MVP again.

But it probably wouldn't be wise to bet against Curry.

Drew Shiller is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders and a Web Producer at NBC Sports Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter @DrewShiller

Standing his ground: Steph Curry will keep expressing himself and you can't stop him

Standing his ground: Steph Curry will keep expressing himself and you can't stop him

OAKLAND -- In the 19 days since he expressed zero interest in visiting a White House occupied by Donald Trump, Stephen Curry has seen the best and worst of America through the most accessible lenses we have.

Social media.

“You should go look at my mentions,” Curry said Wednesday when I asked about the response to comments he made nearly three weeks ago.

“It’s pretty positive.”

Don’t get it twisted. Those last three words were basic sarcasm made transparent by Curry’s chuckle.

Yes, there was overwhelming support from fans, celebrities, Curry’s NBA brethren and athletes beyond basketball. But the two-time MVP, who also happens to be among the sports world’s most committed philanthropists, was subjected to waves of insults, anger and dissent.

Curry was referred to as, among other things, ignorant. He was described as a “millionaire punk” and as un-American. And, of course, he was labeled a racist.

Never in his eight-year NBA career has Curry, a devout Christian with a spotless image, been subjected to such blowback from a public that, for the most part, adores him and considers him a role model. Fans of opposing NBA teams aside, if you didn’t like, or at least, appreciate the human being that is Stephen Curry, you probably kicked puppies. Or carried a scowl and a torch.

Curry is acutely aware that his level on the global popularity meter generally ranged between ultrahigh and insane. No matter. Principles are at stake and he has more than a few. Which is why, even as an active player, Curry is walking a sociopolitical path Michael Jordan, the greatest sports legend of the past 25 years, wouldn’t dare.

Even as the face of a major sports apparel company (Under Armour) and an automobile brand (Infiniti), Curry is willing to alienate a segment of the marketplace.

“I’m well aware that, in this world, there’s no way you can please everybody and there’s no reason that you should want to,” Curry said. “I’m very comfortable understanding that, and not letting that affect my view or my stance.”

It was eight months ago that Curry described Trump as an ass. He was among the first group of athletes to speak out, unapologetically, against the man who was voted into office despite admissions of sexual assault, mocking the disabled, taunting POWs and urging his supporters to resort to violence.

It was 19 days ago that Curry said he didn’t want to go to the White House, a statement that prompted Trump to withdraw an invitation never delivered.

Curry has seen and heard plenty. He’s keenly aware of the ongoing conflict between Trump and the NFL, and he knows there is no end in sight. Curry’s promise to himself seems to be to stay consistent and on message, regardless of derisive or divisive reaction.

“Especially with the spotlight I’m under, and my teammates are under, and anybody who is in front of the public eye,” he said. “We’re kind of subject to that. You’ve got to not let that shake your confidence.”

So bring on the insults and the hate. Curry knows they’re coming. He isn’t going anywhere. He will continue to play basketball and use his platform to express his convictions. He has planted his flag, so to speak, and is prepared to stand by it.

“It’s usually the ones that want to speak out the most usually find me on there,” Curry said of social media platforms. “But I don’t pay ‘em no mind. The conversation is still going, and that’s a powerful thing. That’s what it’s all about.”