Why Isn’t Steph in NBA’s Upper Echelon?


Oh how the great have fallen. After the Golden State Warriors built a dynasty around Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant, many NBA fans believed that they would sit on top of the league for years and years to come. After one quick injury to Durant and an NBA finals loss, however, the Warriors are fighting to get out of the lottery just two years later.

To start the season, the Warriors stumbled out of the gate, and looked to be rocketing towards the bottom of the West once again. Yet, after a rocky 2-2 start, the Warriors have jumped out to a 4-3 record, and are just one game behind the West leading LA Clippers.

Has Golden State Met Any Expectations Thus Far?

One big reason for their success is Curry’s phenomenal play. Last year, his season was cut short with a broken left hand, and coming off that injury into the 2020-21 season, he had a few rough games. After a good bit of criticism from the NBA Twitter trolls, Curry unlocked his Super Saiyan mode and went off for 62 points, five rebounds and four assists while shooting an outrageous 18-31 (58 percent) from the field and 8-16 (50 percent) from three-point range. In fact since he took that slander on social media, Curry has combined for 105 points, 18 rebounds and 17 assists on an otherworldly shooting split of 48/41/90.

With Curry’s most recent performances, and the fact that he looks like he’s back in super hero shape, the question begs to be asked: is he the best player in the league?

The Names in Steph’s Way

When it comes to declaring a player the “best in the world”, which is often just another way of saying best in the NBA, the first names that are often brought up are Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, James Harden and of course, LeBron James. With the names on that list, it’s a tough group to be a part of. Between just the four of the guys listed above there’s eight NBA championships, seven MVP awards, an unreal 40 All-Star game appearances and 36 All-NBA nominations.

Of course, while they’ve all been All-Stars and All-NBA talents, the honors haven’t been split evenly among the four of them. Leonard, for instance, has yet to win an MVP award, and Harden’s struggles in the postseason and lack of NBA Finals success has been well-documented. Curry, subsequently, has racked up six All-Star appearances, six All-NBA awards, three NBA championships and two MVP awards, so it would seem he has the gold to put his name in the running, and yet, it hardly ever is.

Somehow, even after all of this, Curry is still being overlooked. On Basketball Reference’s regularly updated MVP tracker, Curry still isn’t even within the top-10. Above him (as of writing this) are players like Domantas Sabonis, Nikola Vucevic and Malcolm Brogdon. They’re all good players, but no reasonable person would think they’re more valuable than Curry.

One reason Curry is very rarely named for the best-in-the-league debate could be the fanbase’s weird hatred of the super team. And when I say it’s weird, I don’t mean it’s odd people hate super teams, I mean it’s odd that everyone just acts like that hasn’t always been the case.

The Miami Heat had a dynasty with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron. The Boston Celtics practically had half of every great player in the NBA at one point. The Chicago Bulls had Michael Jordan, Steve Kerr, Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen and obviously Toni Kukoc. I could go on for hours, and yet it feels like just in the last five or so years that people have really started to hate this trend.

Some may argue that the difference is now these players are colluding to work together on the same team, but again, that’s always happened. Kevin Garnett wouldn’t go to Boston until they had Ray Allen, LeBron specifically worked to get Bosh to go to the Heat with him, and Jordan fought hard to keep those championship Bulls teams together. After all, you can’t just go and lose a valuable piece like Kukoc, right!?

The Tim Duncan Effect

Another reason for Curry’s omission could be something that I call “The Tim Duncan effect”. The Tim Duncan effect is simply when a player believes in building the best team possible, so he often sacrifices money, touches and ego for sustained success. Duncan is probably the most successful version of this, often sacrificing big extensions to help his San Antonio Spurs squad stick together, but Curry is probably the most recent.

He doesn’t necessarily need or want those personal accolades — though I’m sure he’s not torn up over his two MVP trophies — but the most important thing to him is team culture, chemistry and success. And while that’s an admirable quality for a superstar to possess, it often means Curry is not at the center of media attention surrounding the team.

However, that’s probably going to change this year. With Thompson out injured and Durant teaming up with Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn, the spotlight is going to fall directly on Steph. If the Warriors succeed, it will be because of him and, as unfair as it is considering how he’ll likely play, if the Warriors fail the blame will probably fall on him too.

Still, that pressure isn’t likely to get to Curry. He’s played with the spotlight on him before, and he’s excelled. Remember, the Warriors won one championship with just him, Thompson and Green. No Durant needed. If Curry can regain that mid-2010’s form, and especially if he can take this Warriors team deep into the playoffs, there won’t be any excuse to keep him out of the best-in-the-league conversation for much longer.

Follow us on Twitter @DubsLead for the latest Warriors news and insight. 

About Ethan Becker

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