Thursday, February 22, 2018
Sports

Outlier, innovator, game-changer. Deal with it.

Stephen Curry and the 53-5 Warriors have no peers right now, which is fun for them but must be increasingly annoying for their famous and insistent band of skeptics.

The frustration is logical, though, in a historic sense:

When the old stalwarts don't get what you're doing ... that's when you know the revolution is well under way.

It works two ways: The criticisms from all-time greats such as Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas highlight the vast gap between then and now and serve to motivate the Warriors to make it even greater.

"It's starting to get a little annoying just because it's kind of unwarranted from across the board," Curry said late last week on the Warriors Plus/Minus" podcast.

"When you hear kind of ... obviously legends and people that respect their era and what they were able to accomplish and what they did for the game kind of come at you, it's kind of, just, weird."

Some of the skepticism is understandable, because Robertson and Thomas and others are great figures in the game and, yes, the rules and standards are different now.

Times change, as they did from the era before Robertson to his era, and from his era to Thomas' era, and so on.

Some of the carping is logical, because this Warriors team has just the one title (so far); some of it is envy for the current limelight; some is general cantankerousness.

But let's underline the true heart of the public doubts about Curry and the Warriors coming from Robertson, Thomas, Stephen Jackson — and even from Clippers coach Doc Rivers and others last offseason:

It's about questioning Curry's true status as a generational figure, because he's a departure from the normal procession of bigger, faster, stronger (Elgin Baylor to Julius Erving to Michael Jordan to LeBron James).

Almost every other NBA quantum leap came in the form of a physical leap forward, and Curry's ascension isn't tied to strength, size or speed. He's a skinny guy who went to Davidson and was supposed to be knocked around by Jackson and Monta Ellis in his first Warriors training camp.

But Curry wasn't. He survived, they were sent away, and now here he is, with one MVP on his mantle and No. 2 coming at the end of this season.

Curry's greatness is about an unprecedented talent level and work ethic — no matter what Robertson says about current defense, there is no consistent way to defend a man who can casually dribble into game-winning 38-footers, as Curry did in Oklahoma City on Saturday.

This is new. This is unfathomable, unless you know Curry, unless you've spent a few years studying how he is altering this sport.

Curry's status is comparable to the way Wayne Gretzky changed hockey, the West Coast offense and Joe Montana reset football and Muhammad Ali made everything before him in boxing seem outdated.

The game is different when Curry plays it — which is hard for past greats to synthesize and decipher. They just didn't see this coming, and they don't see how it happened.

No question, the rules changes of the 1990s were all geared to help the offense, and the past decade or so has seen a larger and larger emphasis on the 3-pointer.

But if Curry is merely a product of bad perimeter defense and rules changes, why isn't anybody else shooting them like he is? Why is he so far ahead of everybody else?

Curry is unprecedented. And he would've been unprecedented 10 years ago, 20 years ago or 30 years ago.

Curry is making a league-leading 5.1 3-pointers per game (and 7.2 per after the All-Star break). Next up are teammate Klay Thompson at 3.2 makes per game, Portland's Damian Lillard at 3.0 and Houston's James Harden at 2.8.

If you extrapolate Thompson, Lillard and Harden to full seasons, none would be in the top seven of all-time 3-point seasons.

So, even in a supposedly 3-happy era, Curry is the only player on pace this season to rack up a top-10 season.

Are teams shooting and making more 3-pointers? Of course they are:

This season, each team is averaging 8.4 made 3-pointers per game at a 35.2 percent rate.

Five seasons ago, each team averaged 6.5 made 3-pointers per game at a 35.8 percent rate.

Twenty seasons ago, each team averaged 5.9 made 3-pointers per game at a 36.7 percent clip.

So ... if defenses are so terrible now, how come teams actually made a better percentage of 3-pointers 20 years ago than they are now?

Answer: Defenses aren't terrible now; the Warriors look so different now because Curry is the advancement. Pretty much singularly.

He's the first iPod when other companies are still working with analog equipment.

Is he in the perfect period to take full advantage of his monumental skills? Yes, he's the leading edge, he's the innovator, he's the breakthrough that not everyone understands or believes ... at first.

— San Jose Mercury News (TNS)

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