Is Stephen Curry a Superstar?


Apr 26, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) celebrates after the Warriors defeated the Denver Nuggets 110-108 in game three of the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports


Yes, Stephen Curry has elevated his game beyond that of a typical long range shooter. Yes, his performance in the playoffs (so far) has been a revelation to those who hadn’t paid attention to the Golden State Warriors after the All Star break[1]. And yes, his berserk third quarter in Game Four (19 points in four minutes and 22 seconds!) will probably go down as one of the greatest moments in the Golden State’s unremarkable playoff history. But Stephen Curry isn’t a superstar — not quite yet.

More than any other professional sports league, the NBA relies on its star players’ public personas to generate interest from casual fans. LeBron James isn’t just the best player in the league; he’s also a compelling, marketable public persona capable of carrying an oddly endearing and eventually annoying “day in the life” commercial. Through a combination of time and effort on the part of his handlers, LeBron has become a brand that works on billboards, magazine covers or SNL. He has a public life that exists beyond basketball, and that’s why he’s a superstar.

Of course, comparing the (potentially) greatest shooter of all time to the (potentially) greatest basketball player of all time isn’t fair. After only four seasons on mostly terrible Golden State squads, Curry hasn’t had a chance to play at a high level in front of a broad audience until this postseason. Had he had the benefit of playing on stronger teams, like fellow 2009 draft picks Blake Griffin and James Harden, he likely would have picked up a deal with Kia or Foot Locker by now.

After only four playoff games, it’s clear that Curry certainly capable of playing like a superstar. Below are the three leading playoff performances by Player Impact Estimate[2]:

Player A: Offensive Rating 113.5; Defensive Rating 92.0; Assist Percentage 32.5 percent; Usage Rate 28.9 percent; Player Impact Estimate 21.2 percent

Player B: OffRtg 110.5; DefRtg 99.1; Ast% 25.8 percent; USG% 31.7 percent; PIE 21.0 percent

Player C: OffRtg 117.5; DefRtg 99.0; Ast% 36.4 percent; USG% 26.3 percent; PIE 20.1 percent

The first two players are LeBron James and Kevin Durant, respectively. The third is Curry.

Curry’s statistical impact on Golden State’s offense highlights just how important his role has been this post season. Unlike other pure shooters like Ryan Anderson or Steve Novak, Curry is more than just a three point specialist. In addition to hitting the pull-up jumper, Curry also acts as the primary ball handler on pick and rolls and is capable of throwing gorgeous passes in transition.

Stephen Curry has been showing off all the above on national TV over the last four games, and with that skill set, it wouldn’t be surprising if he gets stuck with the nebulous label of ‘superstar’ soon.

Then again, maybe he already has.

[1] Pre-All Star break: 21 points and 6.6 assists per game on .434 shooting and .447 on three point attempts.

Post-All Star break: 26 points and 7.4 assists per game on .476 shooting and .461 on three point attempts.

[2] Player Impact Estimate per “The NBA’s PIE (Player Impact Estimate) statistic measures a player’s overall statistical contribution against the total statistics in games they play in. LeBron already leads the league in PIE for the season with a mark of 21.6%. [Kevin Durant is the only other player in the league to top 20% in PIE.]”