As a Golden State Warriors fan living in the Bay Area, I've occasionally attempted to explain my basketball obsession to people who couldn't care less about sports.
In recent years, the mere mention of Steph Curry, a 27-year-old point guard for the Golden State Warriors, has become an easy shortcut. Even friends who hate basketball will concede that they enjoy watching Curry lead a dominant Warriors squad. In just two years, Curry has gone from an above-average player who didn't make the all-star team to a global celebrity who stars in State Farm commercials and sells more jerseys than LeBron James.
Why is the Steph Curry phenomenon so exciting, even for non-fans? Well, if you're just catching up, here are some FAQs.
Curry’s dad—Dell Curry—played a solid 10 years in the NBA, but coming out of high school, nobody could’ve predicted the same for Steph. He stood a rail-thin six feet tall, and got scholarship offers from three schools: Davidson, VCU, and Winthrop. (None of these schools are exactly known for their basketball prowess.) Here’s Curry during his freshman year at Davidson:
Does that look like a guy who’s eventually going to take over the NBA?
Then came the 2008 NCAA Tournament his sophomore year. In the 64-team tournament, Davidson came in as a 10-seed, meaning they were favored to lose their first game. Instead, Curry put up 40 points, carrying Davidson to an upset win.
These highlights feel like a sneak peek to the future: the quick release, the insane range, the crazy, off-balance left-handed bank shots, the poise under pressure. Against all expectations, Davidson made a miraculous run to the quarterfinals, carried solely by Curry’s magnificence.
As a junior in 2009, Curry once played in a game where he was double-teamed on every single possession. Curry shot just three times, but his team won by 30, because the other team opted to leave someone on Davidson wide-open the entire game rather than let Curry shoot.
"We had to play against an NBA player tonight," the opposing coach said after the game. "Anybody else ever hold him scoreless? I'm a history major. They're going to remember that we held him scoreless or we lost by 30?"
Later that year, Curry departed for the NBA. Many believed Curry could be a decent NBA contributor, but few predicted stardom. His shooting could translate, but he gave the ball away too much and was too small and too weak to play defense against the bigger, stronger guards in the pros.
Well, yes, but Curry’s also improved significantly since he’s reached the NBA, and nobody—even the smartest NBA minds—saw this coming.
For Curry, it all starts with his ability to shoot the ball better than anyone else on the planet. By pure numbers, it may not appear that way at first: by the simple statistic “percentage of three-point attempts made,” Curry ranked just 4th in the league last year. That number, however, belies just how much better of a shooter he is than every other player in the league.
What you see, here, is Curry attempting almost 100 more three-pointers than anyone else in the league. Not only is Curry taking way more three-pointers than anyone else in the league, he’s doing it by taking a ton of these shots “off the dribble,” meaning nobody passed him the ball before shooting. (The latter form of shot, referred to as “catch-and-shoot,” is commonly believed to be significantly easier than Curry’s preferred brand of jacking up shots.) Here’s an example:
Nobody else in the league can pull off that play.
Most casual fans understand that Steph Curry is the best pure shooter of all-time. But it’s important to understand that Curry’s shooting not only allows him to score a ton of points (31.6 a game this year, leading the NBA), but opens up opportunities for his teammates to score a ton of points, too. Look at this GIF from a Zach Lowe piece on the Warriors from May:
Klay Thompson misses the shot, but watch the two guys sprint at Curry after Draymond Green sets a screen for Curry at the top of the arc. If they don’t double team Curry like that, there’s a chance Curry might find a sliver of room to shoot a three-pointer. In other words, they’re so scared of the mere threat of Curry shooting that they’re willing to give up a 4-on-3 situation, meaning somebody’s going to be wide open for a shot.
Curry’s also an amazing dribbler:
…and an amazing passer:
…and a pretty damn good defender:
Put it all together, and Steph is simply the best player in the NBA.
Okay, okay, I understand how he’s so good—but why is he so fun? Why will Steph Curry make me like sports?
I mean, I guess we can show a couple more videos.
Just look at all these highlights. How fun is it to watch this (relatively) tiny guy dribble around people like nobody’s business, and toss insane no-look passes, and shoot shots nobody ought to be able to take?
He's also a compelling character. Pay close attention to the way Curry acts after each of these highlights. Most of the time, following a particularly impressive play, Curry doesn’t celebrate as much as float away from the play, less an exhibit of arrogance and more of a complete absorption of the moment. He’s taking it all in; he’s riding the high of transcendence. I think that’s what makes the guy so easy to watch—on top of the highlights, on top of the brilliance, he’s just having so much goddamn fun.
Okay, so, crazily enough, Steph's daughter Riley might be even more famous than him. As Deadspin once wrote, "Riley Curry will crush any Sports Baby challengers." While Steph carried the Warriors to an NBA title last year, Riley was doing this:
Basketball is fun, but it's hard to top such an elite sports baby.
Michael Rosen is a reporter for Fusion based out of Oakland.