Stephen Curry is a two-time MVP, but with Kevin Durant joining Golden State, he might not be the best player on his team anymore.
Stephen Curry is my favorite NBA player of all time.
His consecutive NBA MVP trophies are 100% deserved. He had the best season of any player last year, and an all-time offensive season. That doesn’t make him the best player in the league, though. It’s tighter now, but LeBron James is still first.
Kevin Durant is second. Durant is a Hall of Fame level shooter, an elite drive and finish player, and an excellent passer all dumped into an absolutely absurd physical frame. Kevin Durant, in a vacuum, is a better and more well-rounded basketball player than Stephen Curry is.
Kevin Durant is also now a Golden State Warrior.
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The rise of Curry’s star has been meteoric over the last three years. He went from a craft, precocious shooter on a second-round-exit team to a monster carving up defenses and crushing hope in the space of roughly four seasons. He even managed to put on a villain mask last year, by beating the hell out of every team on the block and pegging guys in the face with mouthguards.
He’s the face of the most hated team in the NBA. He is not, however, their best player anymore.
First, let’s draw a line between “most important player” and “best player”. Curry is still the most important Warrior. He makes their system possible, he’s the media, sales, and PR face of the franchise, and he’s a homegrown superstar, their first in over two decades (and one of the few that they managed not to trade). Importance is about team legacy as well as skill. When I say best, we’re talking straight up ball skill and on-court threat. Nothing else.
On the importance list, Durant’s number three or four depending on your opinion of Andre Iguodala.
There are a few reasons Durant rates as “best”. He’s a top-3 pure shooter in the league. One of the most impressive things about Curry is the difficulty of his shots; a lot of them are pull-ups. Curry and Durant take almost the exact same number of pull-up shots per game (8.8 vs. 8.3) and make them at a virtually identical clip, a hair over 44%. In shooting efficiency metrics, Curry has a better effective field goal percentage over the course of last season, 63.0% over 57.3%.
In specific categories, however, there is only one category where Curry is significantly better: catch and shoot.
Kevin Durant is better in the paint, better from the elbow, better in drives, and better in the post.
Curry remains the superior passer. He wins assists last year, 6.7 to 5.0 per game. What about the Thunder’s crappy secondary shooters, though? That costs Durant raw assists, right? Curry wins in potential assists too, 12.3 to 9.8. However, they are similarly decisive passers. Curry has more volume, but Durant wins out in ratio of passes for assists, 13.4% to 11.8%.
We can chalk some of that up to Curry’s penchant for “hockey assists” (he wins there, 2.5 to 0.9), but still, the number is there.
These are the only two categories where Curry can win over Durant clearly. The problem is, the gap isn’t really all that big, and the areas where Durant wins are decisive. Durant is a much, much better defender. A better rebounder overall, though Curry is a very solid glass man for his position.
Plus, Durant is pretty much freaking seven feet tall with an even longer wingspan.
For the first time since being handed the reigns of the Warriors following the Monta Ellis trade, Stephen Curry is about to be the second best player on his team. Is he ready for that?
There’s really no good answer at this point. Critics will point to the fact that the Finals weren’t a good look for him. He looked more out of sync, angrier, even pettier than he really ever has. He’s also probably the cockiest player in the league now, not that it’s undeserved. However, by professional athlete standards, he remains a pretty humble and selfless person.
The 73-win Warriors are a famously unselfish team full of guys who buy into checking their egos at the door. Curry reportedly told Durant that all he cares about is winning rings during the pitch meetings via text message, and I’m be inclined to believe him. However, he’s a megastar whose team just picked up another monster. If he has any ego at all, and all players do, it will affect him in some way.
If there’s a superstar in the league equipped to handle being supplanted on his own team, it’s Curry. He’s a human being, so we don’t 100% know what’s going to happen, especially if this team hits an unexpected skid early on. The first two months of the 2016-17 season will teach us more about Stephen Curry the Superstar than any amount of Riley-fueled post game conferences or terrible Under Armour commercials ever did.
All that’s left to do is wait and see.