Remember Microwave Johnson? Real name Vinnie Johnson, of the Detroit Pistons fame from back in the eighties and early nineties.
If you remember him, then you can sort of see the similarities between he and Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors.
I said sort of…
Johnson got the nickname “Microwave”, due to his ability to come off the bench and instantaneously provide a scoring punch for the Pistons. One might jokingly say he got cooking real fast. Johnson spent a majority of his career coming off the bench – he started in 51 out of 82 games in the 1982/83 season, the most in his career. Johnson was a scoring specialist and he was really good at what he did.
Curry is also a scoring specialist, and I guess that is where the similarities begin and end.
I am sure other basketball pundits would rather find a better comparison, than Johnson but I thought he was the best fit, because let’s face it, there is no one that comes to mind when it comes to a player that precedes Curry’s games style.
That’s why, jokingly, I used Johnson. All you have to do is just multiple the output from Johnson by… like a hundred, and then you will have Curry.
A superior shooter and ball handler, the son of former NBA player (and former Toronto Raptors player) – Dell Curry – Curry grew up around the game and soaked up as much as he could. When his dad was playing for the Raptors, young Steph was a staple at the games and was always shooting around in the Air Canada Centre at the teams practice courts, pre and post team practices.
Young Steph got to play one-on-one with many of the players, including Alvin Williams. In an interview with Dave Feschuk, the Sports Columnist for thestar.com, Williams reminisced on the one-on-one games:
“I had to guard him seriously when he was 11 or 12 years old, because he could fire from deep and it was consistent, man. He was the real deal way back then from NBA three-point range. If I let him get to nine, I knew he could beat me with one shot.”
For Williams to have that revelation of Curry’s game, back when he was just young Steph is astonishing. Curry can definitely beat anyone with the “shot”, especially when put in context of what he is doing right now.
Approximately a couple of months before Curry was announced as the winner of the Maurice Podoloff Trophy – known to most fans as the MVP (Most Valuable Player) trophy. I boldly tweeted that Steph Curry was my choice as the 2014/15 NBA MVP. In retrospect, I must admit that my tweet at that time, was more reactionary and not actually based on research and thoughtfulness. Not to say much research and thoughtfulness were necessary for a player, who was playing such amazing basketball.
You see, I saw Curry weave through opposing players and then he dropped a step-back three pointer.
It was March 8th and the Golden State Warriors were playing against the Los Angeles Clippers. With a little less than nine minutes left in the third quarter, Curry wove his way through what seemed like the entire Clippers players – including bench plays just to add to the joviality and allure of the play – with an awesome display of dribbling skills followed by an off-balanced and improbable shot which found the bottom of the net.
In that moment, I felt like a teenager who just saw Kobe Bryant in his first two seasons in the league, and determined Bryant was already better than Jordan – all because Kobe did an in-game 360-dunk over a ten feet tall opposing player.
I crowned Curry the MVP, just because of that play and I left it at that. Then I decided to look into the numbers. I figured I had to do that much, if not for the sake of making sure I was not going to have to backtrack, but more because LeBron James was also in the MVP race. I wanted to make sure that I was not eschewing James’s greatness, simply because of one basketball sequence from Curry.
It has been posited before, that James could and maybe should win the MVP every year due to his game stats – consistently posting good to excellent percentages and averages, and being among the top players in the league with high “Player Efficiency Rating” (PER).
In this era of the proliferation of analytics in sports and especially basketball, I had to look at the numbers. One stat really stood out to me and that was the plus-minus rating.
According to SportingCharts.com, “Plus-minus measures the point differential for the team when the player is on the court, which is the difference in the points scored for, and the points scored against. This is largely a team statistic, but when looked at individually, can show how the team performs when a particular player is on the court.”
I focused on this stat because of what it showed for Curry in comparison to the other MVP candidates. Curry was second in the league with a 9.9 rating for his plus-minus; James was fifth with a 7.4 rating. To me that meant without Curry on the floor, his team lost ten potential scoring points. In the NBA, that can amount to a lot of lost games.
Although James led a team which would have struggled to make the playoffs, even if they had somehow landed Kevin Love, and James had not returned. This was definitely a herculean type of season for James, and his numbers in the NBA Finals is even more incredible.
But before Curry got to this crossroad against the Goliath-statured James, how many people can say they saw this coming for David-physiqued Curry? I even wonder if the Raptors’ players with whom young Steph used to play pickup games, really thought the little scrawny boy would grow up to be the player he is today.
I cannot say I knew Curry would be this good and do what he is doing now, but I did pick Davidson University to make it to the Final Four, back in the 2008 NCAA March Madness Tournament. I made that choice solely because of Curry.
Curry and the Davidson Wildcats lost narrowly in the Elite Eight to eventual champs, Kansas. Prior to that loss, Curry led the Wildcats in upset victories over Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin – he averaged 34.3 points per game. His game was below-the-rim with high arcing three point shots, and he used that to introduce himself to the basketball world.
A small pocket of that basketball world was Queensway Christian College in which Curry’s father and mother, Sonya, enrolled him during their years in Toronto (1999 to 2002). This might be the stage where his almost refined confidence in his game was spiked even more. Playing against other grade 8 and 9 kids, Curry steadily had 40 and 50 point games for the Saints.
This bit of Toronto connection cannot be ignored, as Curry is on the verge of possibly leading his Warriors team to an NBA Championship.
If you look at the body of work leading up to what has transpired thus far, during this Finals series with the Cavaliers – from his Queensway Christian College Saints days here in Toronto, to his Raptors practice facility one-on-one games, with the likes of Alvin Williams, to his incredible run during the 2008 March Madness tourney, (which, by the way, included a 30 point second half output to help his team beat the Gonzaga Bulldogs), and his emergence as the new type of superstar player, that looks like the average you and me – Curry will shoot the lights out, and put on another dribbling and scoring performance.
Win or lose, Curry has carved out a place for himself as the game’s best shooter, maybe ever. It feels good to know that he, somewhat, honed that craft here in Toronto.