OAKLAND -- It’s a tale of two superstars chasing the same prize at the same time.
Player 1 sails through averaging 27.8 points per game, shooting 36.8 percent from 3-point distance and 55.9 percent overall. He’s 11th in the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating. He leads his team in rebounds and is second in assists. His team is 8-1.
Player 2 averages an NBA-leading 33.0 points per game, shooting 54.9 percent from the field and 52.9 percent beyond the 3-point line. His PER is tops in the league. He’s third on his team in assists and rebounding. His team also goes 8-1 in October.
Either could be named Western Conference Player of the Month.
Both share the very early lead in the NBA MVP race, in which there never has been a tie.
“From Year 1, where I was doing most of the overthinking for that first three, four, five or six months, whatever it was, until now,” Curry says, “it’s been night and day.”
Curry and Durant are acting and reacting. They’re taking turns asserting themselves with such precision and clarity that it seems choreographed. They seem to be savoring the magnificence of each other as much as they’re enjoying their own work.
“At this point, when somebody is that good, you just expect him to do it every day,” Durant says of Curry. “You tend to take people for granted when they’ve been doing it for so long. I try not to do that. But also I just want to sit there and marvel at him. I got to find that balance of just really, really appreciating what you see out there.”
Curry on Durant: “He’s such a versatile scorer. He can get it all sorts of different ways. Sometimes, you don’t need to call a play for him, and he’ll magically end up with 25 or 30 points just because of his sheer talent and ability and IQ.”
It’s two special players, on a special team, during a special time that, incredibly, seems to be getting better for each of them. This is how history gets made.
NBA lore is filled with great teams featuring high-scoring duos, including Wilt Chamberlain and Paul Arizin, the all-time leaders at 72.3 points per game, 50.4 of them belonging to Chamberlain in 1961-62. Among others were Jerry West and Chamberlain in Los Angeles, Julius Erving and Moses Malone in Philadelphia, and Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in LA.
Only the Chamberlain-Arizin duo combined to average more than 60 points per game. The highest-scoring duo in the last half-century was Bryant and O’Neal in 2002-03, when they put up 57.5 points per game. They did it on 49.9-percent shooting, even with most of Shaq’s shots within reach of the rim.
Entering the game against Minnesota on Friday night, Curry and Durant are at 60.8 per game. Their combined field-goal percentage is 55.4, their combined 3-point percentage 48.6. These are numbers that no teammates have ever posted.
It’s well within reach of Curry and Durant to combine for 50 percent shooting -- they did it last season (50.7). It’s reasonable to believe they can combine to shoot at least 40 percent from deep -- they did it last season (42.1).
Curry and Durant also have the benefit of playing in an era where teams are taking nearly as many 3-point shots as 2-point shots. All but five NBA teams are taking at least one-third of its shots from deep.
Curry is establishing himself as the best 3-point shooter in history. At 43.8 percent, he’s currently No. 3 in career percentage behind Steve Kerr (45.4) and Hubert Davis (44.1). Durant is coming off a season in which he shot 41.9 percent from deep.
Both are, at age 30, getting better.
“He doesn’t just wake up and that happens,” Curry says. “He puts the time and the work in. Having seen it for the last two-and-a-half years, there’s an appreciation for it. We have that chemistry and we continue to get better on the floor, balancing each other out.”
Durant on Curry: “I’ve got high expectations for him. I’m not saying the numbers or having 37 a game, but his efficiency, I expect him to do that every day because he works at it and he wants it.”
When Kerr took over as Warriors coach in 2014, he said it would take a year or two for the players to fully grasp the offensive system. By Year 3, he said, it should be second nature.
Curry and Durant are in Year 3 as teammates. It shows.
“As we go into this full 82-game schedule, it’s a matter of continuing to have that combo effort,” Curry says. “We have a full team, obviously, but we know what we bring out of each other and we try to encourage each other to be aggressive and do what we do.
“It’s more of an understanding of how we’re going to get into our actions, how we’re getting the ball in the right spots on the floor and how shot distribution goes. Whatever the game calls for on any type of night, we know how to respond to that. A lot of it is unspoken, to be honest.”
No words necessary. That’s where Curry and Durant are. Which doesn’t suggest it’s easy. It can’t be. But in the third week of this season, it sure as hell looks that way.