Measuring Stephen Curry’s greatness is a nearly impossible task. We witnessed him galvanize and carry a KD- and Boogie-less Golden State Warriors team over the hungry, redemptive Portland Trail Blazers with a ridiculous 36.5 ppg, 7.3 apg, and 8.3 rpg Western Conference Finals statline. His mix of otherworldly ball-handling and impossible 27 footers triggered flashbacks to Steph’s 2015-16 unanimous MVP season when it felt like he never missed a shot. Now, the Baby-Faced Assassin is headed back to the NBA Finals for the fifth straight year.
If we've learned anything over the past few weeks, it's that it is easier to remember how great Steph is when KD isn’t on the floor. Even so, we as fans typically qualify greatness through comparisons. Most historic players model their games on others. Wilt feasted on barbeque chicken in the post before Shaq was even born. The Black Mamba bit the mid-range turnaround from MJ, and their competitive spirits are eerily similar.
The point is, someone isn’t someone until they’re someone else. LeBron became LeBron when we started calling him the GOAT, the next MJ. LBJ and KD represent the latest stage in basketball’s evolutionary chart, the biggest dinosaurs the old world could produce. But Curry is no dinosaur. He’s a meteor.
He’s the agent of change ushering in an entirely new sport, which can be seen in transformations in roster construction, how we perceive efficiency, what we consider the “ideal” point guard, and more. Curry is the new prototype, pushing the boundaries of the game to places and spaces (literally, on the court) we’ve never seen. While he might not be the best player in today’s NBA, he is certainly the most transcendent. More than KD, more than Harden, and more than LeBron James. Quite frankly, it’s not close.
Steph holds the high mark for most three-pointers made in a single season (402), shattering his own record by over 100. Not to mention, he was the first player ever to attempt 700 and 800 three-pointers in a season. Harden usurped the top spot by launching over 1,000 triples in 2018-19, but it’s clear the Beard, like the rest of the Association, was merely following Curry’s lead.
It’s not just the spike in raw three-point totals. Dudes are jacking up treys well behind the arc. When Curry led the NBA with 47 shots made from at least 28 feet during the 2015-16 season, only three other players notched double digits. He again topped the NBA with 62 this season, but unlike three years ago, 33 players reached 10-plus. Trae Young (53) and Damian Lillard (44) could challenge him for the long distance crown next season. Even LeBron got in on the fun, making 16 with the Lakers, and it’s not because he’s living his best life in L.A. The Chosen One is emulating Steph.
This adaptation, this effort by The King to remain efficient from deep, is entirely necessary. Just look at the position Curry has played into extinction. Forget power forwards, traditional low-post centers hardly exist at the highest levels of the playoffs because Curry and the Warriors realized that against James’ Cavs teams, the shooting, spacing, and defensive mobility of going small far outweighed the lost rim-protection and rebounding.
To compensate, more and more centers are adding three-point shots late in their careers in a bid to survive. Brook Lopez attempted seven total threes in the first six years of his career—four fewer than the amount he took in the Bucks’ Game 1 Conference Finals victory over the Raptors, alone. Not coincidentally, this year represents the furthest he had ever advanced in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, a guy like Trae Young, would have never been a top-five pick in the NBA Draft if he couldn’t be so readily compared to a (r)evolutionary talent like Curry. No. 30 has indirectly created a new breed of players out of desperation and opportunity. James cannot claim to have accomplished the same. He’s neither birthed, nor been birthed, by alternate archetypes—Magic and Scottie came before him, Giannis and Ben Simmons after.
Speaking of, the prevailing narrative for Simmons (thanks to another disappointing second round exit) is whether winning is possible with his lack of shooting. The one surrounding Curry is whether or not it should be possible. Just as the league twice widened the lane to weaken the very centers Curry has now rendered useless, there’s a large subset of fans and analysts clamoring for rule changes to neutralize guys like Steph; or as Greg Popovich would say, to make the game beautiful again. Because Curry is "ruining" it.
The ideas range from simple, like moving the three-point line back, to extreme, like Kirk Goldsberry’s proposal to add a three-second violation to the corners and/or making “KG goaltending” from deep permissible. The purpose in doing so would be to diversify the types of shots taken (not just the behind the arc and in the paint) and allow the Andre Roberson’s of the world to maintain a place in the league.
Sure, LeBron enacted the player empowerment movement with The Decision, but it never led to cries to abolish free agency. Steph’s actions on the court are making us rethink how the game is played.
It’s fitting that Curry will meet Kawhi Leonard—a descendent of LeBron and MJ—in the NBA Finals after dispatching James three times in four tries. The wheel spins on, evolution produces a bigger dinosaur. And maybe "The Claw" finally takes Curry down.
Or maybe, 50 years from now, when the NBA is populated entirely with the shooters he’s empowered, the game will far more closely resemble the one he birthed than the one LeBron inherited. The 3-point line is Steph Curry’s legacy, and he transcended the game James was born to run in order to build the one that now exists.
For more on Steph, stream the new series ‘Stephen vs. The Game’ now exclusively on Facebook Watch.