x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Golden State’s Stephen Curry establishing self among NBA’s best

The Warriors point guard has raised his game from very good to great and fulfilled the elite promise he showed in last year's play-offs, writes Jonathan Raymond.

Stephen Curry was taken by Golden State with the seventh pick in the 2009 draft. Erik S Lesser / EPA
Stephen Curry was taken by Golden State with the seventh pick in the 2009 draft. Erik S Lesser / EPA

In a two-minute stretch in the third quarter of the Golden State Warriors’ showcase victory over the Miami Heat last week, Stephen Curry caught fire like seemingly only he can.

Making his first three shots to open the quarter, Curry first lofted one over LeBron James from an angle that nearly had him behind the backboard. Then he came down the court and smoothly dropped a long three-pointer, which he made look a lot easier than it should have been with the lengthy Shane Battier lunging at him.

For his coup de grace, the 25 year old literally shot from the hip, hoisting a three-point attempt from an almost recklessly awkward angle and – of course – draining it, all with Dwyane Wade hounding him in his face.

Such are the talents of Stephen Curry.

Noting Curry’s rise as an NBA must-see attraction, ESPN columnist Bill Simmons described “the single most-exciting sports-related text you can send or receive right now” as: “Turn on the game, Steph Curry is heating up.”

It is almost as much fun watching Twitter explode while Curry plays as it is actually watching him play.

A notion that began during last season’s play-offs, with Curry carrying Golden State over Denver and putting a scare into San Antonio, has become accepted fact this season: he is one of the best players in the NBA.

The slender, 6ft 3ins (1.91m) point guard has been a very good player, aside from an injury-hampered 2011/12 season, since stepping into the league out of little Davidson College in 2009. Now he has established himself as great.

In addition to a shooting touch that reveals an almost preposterous natural feel for the force and angle needed to throw a 22-ounce (623-gram) ball into a 10-foot (3-metre) high net, Curry also has become the kind of playmaker that had some analysts envisioning a Steve Nash-like future for him before the 2009 NBA draft.

After Sunday’s games, Curry is second in the league in assists to Chris Paul, at 9.6 per game. In scoring, he ranks ninth with 23 points per game.

If he can maintain his place on the assist leader board and climb the scoring charts, he would become the first player to finish in the top five in both categories since Nate “Tiny” Archibald finished fourth in scoring and second in assists for the 1975/76 Kansas City Kings.

By most advanced basketball metrics, Curry has been one of the 10 best players in the NBA during the first half of the season and he seems certain to be only the second Warrior to play in the all-star game since 1997.

Golden State, after a 112-96 victory over Washington on Sunday, are in the middle of a nine-game winning streak, their best since 1975.

On Thursday, Curry told Marcus Thompson of the San Jose Mercury News that questions in the past over his ability to play point guard have made him “salty”.

Watch him go back and forth between making impossible shots and channelling his inner Nash as a distributor, and most will concede those questions have been answered. Behind him, Golden State might do more than just scare a few teams in the play-offs this time around.

jraymond@thenational.ae