Last Word On Basketball

Top NBA Players 2022-23: #2 Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry handles the ball pressure as Draymond Green sets screen

SAITAMA, JAPAN - OCTOBER 02: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors drives to the basket during the NBA Japan Games between the Washington Wizards and the Golden State Warriors at Saitama Super Arena on October 02, 2022 in Saitama, Japan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jun Sato/WireImage)

Stephen Curry, fresh off earning his first-ever Finals MVP award, also earns the number two spot on our list of the best players for the upcoming 2022-2023 season. The three-point king surpassed Reggie Miller to become the all-time career leader in made threes last season. Curry made his eighth appearance at the  All-Star game and the All-NBA team last season.

Despite his transcendent performance in the Golden State Warriors’ NBA Finals win over the Boston Celtics, Curry actually performed below his normally lofty standards in the regular season. Could Curry, who turns 35 in March, actually be better next season?

Top NBA Players 2022-23: #2 Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry’s 2022-2023 Season

Curry’s tremendous playoff performance, including the first-ever Conference Finals MVP award, masked what was (in Stephen Curry’s universe) a subpar offensive season. Defensively, Curry had more responsibility than ever to start the season with slender Jordan Poole in the backcourt instead of the rugged Klay Thompson. He responded with his best defensive season by far, but it’s fair to wonder if his energy waned a bit on offense. 

Curry shot 38% from three last season, the only full season of his career in which he shot under 40%. His two-point percentage dropped four full points (from 56.9% to 52.7%); interestingly, he attempted fewer twos per game than any other season in his career. Normal shooting regression (or progression, in this case) would suggest Curry will easily be over 40% from three this season. It’s worth monitoring Curry’s performance from two as he ages.

Of course, Curry is an all-time great player, and the normal rules of aging don’t historically apply to the very best players. LeBron James, fresh off averaging over 30 points a game at age 37, is just the latest example. Tim Duncan remained an effective defensive anchor (bulky Punisher knee brace and all) for 19 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs. Michael Jordan returned from a (second) retirement lasting three seasons to average over 22 points for the Washington Wizards in 2001-02. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar kept lofting skyhooks until he was 41. 

That’s the company Curry keeps, and that track record suggests Curry has a number of seasons left as a top player on a contending team. His incredible skills should help offset his relative lack of size compared to the players above.

Stephen Curry’s Outlook with the Warriors

The Warriors enter the season as one of the few teams with realistic championship aspirations. They’ll hope the trio of James Wiseman, Jonathan Kuminga, and Moses Moody can offset the departures of Gary Payton II, Otto Porter Jr., and Nemanja Bjelica. Curry’s on-court gravity will help the young players expand their games under less defensive pressure. His leadership skills will help integrate them with the team’s vets.

Curry’s leadership has already been given a strong test with Draymond Green’s shocking punch of Poole during practice. Green rejoined the team ahead of their final preseason game against the Denver Nuggets and did not receive a suspension. The microscope the ever-controversial Green will be viewed under will come equipped with the strongest lens imaginable this season. Now that Poole has signed a contract extension, any interaction between the two will be parsed like the Zapruder film.

GM Bob Myers has already made it clear the entire organization will depend on Curry’s leadership this season. Rather than wilt under the additional pressure, Curry has made thriving under this kind of adversity a defining character trait throughout his career. 

The Last Word on Stephen Curry

Other than team accomplishments, Curry has only two things for which to play: legacy and respect. Few legends have had their merits or play debated by fans and media as endlessly as Curry. Even fewer Finals MVPs have had to work as hard for their standing in the league to be recognized.

ESPN’s NBA rank is flawed, but it is a universally-recognized player ranking system that is annually updated. Comparing Curry’s ranking to those of past Finals MVPs is a puzzling exercise:

Curry’s relatively low ranking compared to past Finals MVPs is a reflection of a lack of imagination. We (fans and media) are so conditioned to believe the best players must be at least Michael Jordan’s height we remain unable to accept Curry’s supremacy.

Curry certainly isn’t contesting shots at the rim like Antetokounmpo or facing up and firing over helpless defenders in the midrange like Durant. Those players aren’t sprinting around screens to create cutting lanes for teammates or firing away from 30 feet in transition, however. Curry’s immense skill ensures there are plenty of feats he can do that others cannot duplicate. That should be acknowledged as much as his short stature when debates about the best NBA players take place.

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