The most underrated Avenger is Bruce Banner. Audiences across the country cheer on the Hulk as he shows off his 1,000-foot vertical jump and crushes enemies with his unfathomable power. But those same fans sit in silence or go to the bathroom when the gentle Dr. Banner spends three quarters of the film using his intelligence, charisma, and leadership to solve the problems of the universe.
The Stephen Curry we saw in 2015-16 was the Hulk – a creature that consistently performs incomprehensible feats that made us question the basic laws of physics and physiology. When people say that Curry broke the game of basketball, that 2015-16 season, in which he achieved the first unanimous MVP in NBA history, comes to mind.
But when Kevin Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors in 2016, Curry willingly and gracefully transformed back into Bruce Banner, renouncing his nightly display of madness for the betterment of the team, and it led to two championships in three seasons. Sure, the Hulk still came out from time to time, but Curry knew he had to change his approach to be an all-time great team.
The ultimate superhero would, of course, be a combination of both. Someone with the physical capabilities of the Hulk who simultaneously possesses Banner’s mental acuity, judgment and balance. That mix is exactly what Curry has shown during this strange 2020-2021 season, and it makes him even more formidable than he was five years ago.
“It probably looks a lot like a quarterback when he reaches his 10th or 12th year. He’s just seen every report and understands the game at a very high level,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr of Curry. “Every year Steph sees something new and learns a little bit more. I just think he’s hit an all-time high in terms of his knowledge of what’s in store for him because a lot has been thrown at him over the past 12 years.” “
With Durant in Brooklyn and Klay Thompson for the second consecutive season due to injury, Curry has been forced to adapt to every complicated, unprecedented defense that other teams can come up with. Some may expect his scoring average to be as high as it is given the lack of weapons in the current Warriors roster, but it’s safe to say that few expected Curry’s efficiency to match that of his legendary 2015-16 -campaign.
Curry is the only player in NBA history to average 30 points per game on 50-40-90 splits for an entire season, and he could do it again this year. If you ditch the first five games of the season starting on January 3, when Draymond Green was fully reintroduced into the lineup, Curry scores an average of 30.7 points on 51-45-92 splits, which is just as good as otherworldly as his 2015-16 show.
Green has been vital to Curry’s success over the course of his career, but he’s even more important this season due to the team’s lack of traditional playmakers.
“Over the years we’ve built a crazy chemistry among us,” Green said of playing with Curry. “I kind of know where he is, always on the ground. He knows when I have the ball to just keep cutting and moving and I’ll find it.”
Dumping the ball to Green to create a 4v3 situation has long been Golden State’s remedy for sending two defenders against Curry, but this season we’ve seen Curry create another counter. He throws cross-court passes to shooters, often with one hand off the dribble, and puts them right on the money. His average points per possession on falling is not as high as during the 2015-16 season, according to Synergy Sports Technology, but that’s to be expected when Thompson isn’t on the field. As you can see, many of Curry’s excellent strides this season have resulted in wide-open threes that just didn’t get in.
Curry didn’t make these passes five years ago, in part because of the way the game has evolved. Those teammates who were rolling or cutting in 2016 are now seeing behind the 3-point line, and Curry has adjusted accordingly.
“If I’m the same player I was four years ago, I lose,” said Curry. “Of course I don’t think that’s the case, but you have to find different ways to keep getting better and use those experiences and repetitions to your advantage. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
It’s not that Curry couldn’t have made these passes before, but his familiarity with the defense now, as a 32-year-old, has allowed him to take those kinds of risks. Kerr said Curry’s confidence is “unprecedentedly high this season,” which is saying a lot for a player who has regularly launched 35-footers for the past decade.
That confidence was epitomized in the Warriors’ recent 120-112 victory over the Miami Heat on national TV. Curry went 2-for-15 of the 3-point range with less than three minutes to go in the fourth quarter. From then on, when the Warriors cleared a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to force overtime, Curry went 3-for-5 from the 3-point range, including the dagger with 16 seconds left in the game. Curry’s celebration certainly supports Kerr’s assessment of a man who plays with the utmost confidence.
Prior to this season, Curry had tried 19 or more 3-pointers in a match four times in his entire career. He’s done it three times now in February alone.
“It’s a bit surreal in a way,” said Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins of playing with Curry. “The things he does, even with two or three defenders on his own, how he still gets a shot and makes, the space he creates. It doesn’t matter who guards him, it’s just a joy to watch. watching on TV and it is something else to really live this. “
Curry and Kerr have both talked about how Curry’s improved physical condition has contributed to his incredible season. Kerr said Curry is “stronger than he has ever been” and that he can see that development in his burst and finishing abilities. Curry averaged 1,247 points per possession in 2015-16, which is the 81st percentile in the league according to Synergy. This season he is in the 85th percentile with 1,347 points per possession. OKC’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the only guard in the league who has been more efficient in the basket with just as many tries.
After trying to guard Curry for the first time, you will often see young players in the post-game locker room shaking their heads in disbelief at his seemingly tireless continuous movement. Curry’s elite conditioning allows him to wreck the ball, creating both shots for himself and easy buckets for teammates.
“He’s just as good as a pull-up jump shooter as anyone in this league, whether in transition or out pick and roll. And he’s just as comfortable getting off the ball early, playing on the baseline. and get off screens. similar to Ray Allen, who made a career out of it, “said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra of Curry.” Either way is equally dangerous, and he can read the game about when either skills. He is arguably just as adept at dribbling, catching – with or without the ball – as any player in the history of the game. ”
Spoelstra calls ‘reading the game’, and it has become a cliché to say that things slow down for players as their careers progress. Brooklyn Nets coach Steve Nash, a two-time MVP point guard in his own right, said his game took to another level mentally as a 30-year-old with the Phoenix Suns, which makes sense. According to a 2014 paper on age and scientific genius, “most of the major scientific contributions are not the product of precocious youth, but rather disproportionately often in middle age.” An NBA’s early 1930s are almost exactly the “middle age” of his basketball career, and both Curry and Nash can be conclusively described as geniuses on the court.
“Steph is one of the greatest gifts of our game. He is so unique in his accuracy, agility and the efficient nature of his scoring from an incredibly uneven number of shots and types of shots. It’s unprecedented,” said Nash. “He loves the game, he loves competitions and loves to train. He trains to be great. So it is no surprise that he has had as good a year as ever and he continues to develop and improve.”
Nash said he felt a “great sense of control” during his MVP seasons The Suns, and that perfectly describes what we see from Curry every night. When you combine his physical maturation with his increased basketball IQ and confidence, you get a basketball superhero resembling the Hulk and Bruce Banner finally learning to live together. It’s not just on the field, either. Kerr said Curry appears to have a sense of balance in his life between basketball, his family and charity work, which has clearly translated into his MVP caliber season.
“Steph has all his ducks lined up, and I think that matters. I think that helps him a lot in his performance, ”Kerr said. “He just comes every day fresh and ready to go and excited about the challenge, so he’s in a great place. It’s something you can’t take for granted. I think that’s something he understands too. all day to day like [former Dodgers broadcaster] Vin Scully once said, and so you just have to embrace your circumstances when things are sorted out. And Steph does that. “
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