Warriors

Warriors

During his two MVP seasons, Steph Curry was one of the most transcendent talents the NBA has ever seen. The greatest shooter in league history forever altered the way the game of basketball is played.

Kids used to want to "be like Mike," soaring through the air for an acrobatic dunk. Now, they wish to pull up from anywhere on the hardwood and drain a dagger 3-pointer ala Curry.

Curry already is the best player under 6-foot-3 in NBA history. He passed Steve Nash, Allen Iverson, Isiah Thomas and Jerry West during his meteoric rise to the top of the game. He's already, according to my very scientific list, a top 20 all-time player.

But the top 10 is rarified air. It's reserved for the undisputed greats. Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal and the like. It's a group that's hard to crack into, with the guardians of basketball history always standing watch.

It's an almost impossible group to enter. In order to do so, you must not only have a lasting impact on the game -- which Curry undoubtedly has -- but you must also have unimpeachable credentials when it matters most.

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To be clear, the "Curry hasn't performed well in The Finals" narrative is tired and lazy. But he also hasn't always played his best when the lights are brightest.

 

The 2015 NBA Finals MVP going to Andre Iguodala isn’t important. What likely will matter is the fact that -- even in the loss -- LeBron James was the best player in that series, as he was in the 2016 Finals when Curry and the Warriors blew a three-games-to-one lead.

Kevin Durant undoubtedly was the best player in both the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals. The injuries to Durant and Klay Thompson played a factor in the Warriors' loss to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 NBA Finals, but Curry once again was outplayed by Kawhi Leonard. The difference between being the No. 11 player of all-time and No. 8 is razor-thin, so these things will matter.

To be clear, Curry was very good in the 2019 Finals with Durant missing all but a quarter and Thompson missing Game 3 before tearing his ACL in Game 6. Curry averaged 30.5 points per game, 6.0 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. He scored 47 points in Game 3 and forced the Raptors to use a box-and-1 defense to try and contain him. Curry did just about all he could to will the Warriors to a title and keep the dynasty alive.

But he didn't hit the shot to breathe life back into the dynasty. With fewer than 10 seconds remaining, Curry had a good look at a 3-pointer that would have given the Warriors the lead, sent the series to Game 7 and silenced all the doubters who believe Curry fails to deliver in the biggest moments.

Yet the ball clanged off the back of the rim and the Warriors' dynasty, as it was currently constructed, was no more.

In fact, Curry is 0-for-8 on go-ahead shots with fewer than 20 seconds to go in his NBA playoff career.

When debating the best of the best, all of that matters. All those above him have had their moments. Jordan had a number of game-winners. James erased a three-games-to-one deficit against one of the greatest teams of all-time. Magic's skyhook in Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals will live on forever. The list goes on.

Another hurdle Curry will have clear is proving he can once again win a title without Durant. Yes, Curry led the Warriors to the 2015 title. But after blowing a three-games-to-one lead in 2016 and falling to the Raptors last season, questions will remain about Curry's ability to carry a team to the title if Durant's not there.

The 2015 title is often viewed with a blemish with James and the Cleveland Cavaliers playing short-handed without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.

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There are no knocks on Curry. To be considered a top-10 player of all-time is an honor you must earn by proving you are better than some of the greats that came before you. Curry already has cracked the top 20 and perhaps even the top 15. His impact on the game of basketball never will be forgotten, and he'll finish his career as one of the best statistical players ever. Full stop.

 

But he still has work to do to reach the pinnacle. Perhaps he won't reach it. No player under 6-foot-5 is in the top 10. It's almost universally reserved for dominant post players or transcendent wings capable of hauling a team to a title.

Curry won't ever have the usage rate of a James Harden. The Warriors don't play that way, and he doesn't want to. He's the embodiment of an unselfish superstar, willing to do whatever is needed to win.

But he'll need to win again, without KD, and do so as the most impactful player in The Finals. That doesn't mean win Finals MVP, a subjective award that has been given to the wrong player a number of times. Curry must lead the Warriors back to the title and have a Finals moment that has eluded him thus far.

Only then will he be allowed into the NBA's hallowed ground.