It’s a good thing the NBA doesn’t score its games like the Olympics determine diving competitions or else the Timberwolves and every other team around would really be in trouble when Golden State and Stephen Curry’s big-top traveling show comes to their town.
As it is, the Warriors arrive at Target Center on Thursday night as the league’s only remaining undefeated team (9-0), beating their opponents by an average of nearly 18 points per game so far.
That’s without their reigning league MVP and ringmaster getting bonus points for degree of difficulty achieved during nightly displays that are part new-age, statistical-analytics efficiency gone off the charts and part old-school artistry perhaps never created before.
“Well, we already know the Warriors’ point differential,” said TNT analyst Brent Barry, who will work the Wolves' only scheduled TNT appearance this season with Marv Albert on Thursday. “We don’t need to make it any worse.”
An NBA sensation whom Minnesota fans might recall once could have been a Timberwolf, Curry has delivered a season start unseen in a league defined through the generations by its great scorers. He averaged 39.3 points in the season’s opening week, scored 28 points in the third quarter alone during a game a Halloween-night game, and scored at least 30 points in five of his first six games.
He’s a next-generation type of player, who delivers a shooting guard’s touch and mentality with a point guard’s size and handle. A shooter by practice, nature and perhaps birthright who mastered the art of dribbling, Curry also leads the league in scoring with a 31.9 point average, by the way.
“Chris Mullin was the best pure shooter I ever played with, Reggie Miller was the best clutch shooter, and the one that was the best of all of them was the guy coaching us on the sidelines, Larry Bird,” said Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg, a 10-year NBA player who made a career shooting the ball with three teams, including Bird’s Indiana Pacers. “But what Steph is doing, it’s crazy. It absolutely is. It’s not only the shots, but the degree of difficulty of the shots he makes. It’s unbelievable.”
A shooter for his time
The son of Dell Curry, an NBA shooter who played 16 seasons himself, Stephen has followed his first MVP season with a start that has dumbfounded players current and former as well as coaches around the league.
Wolves guard Zach LaVine calls Curry’s shooting touch “ridiculous.” Charlotte coach Steve Clifford uses the same word when discussing Curry’s balance and quick release. Atlanta’s Mike Muscala prefers “absurd.” Like Hoiberg, Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell calls Curry’s skills beyond belief while veteran shooter Kevin Martin marvels at a shooter so confident that he sometimes doesn’t look to confirm a shot is good.
“I watch all my shots,” Martin said. “He’s shooting and walking back down the court. It’s crazy what he’s doing.”
Stephen Curry’s own father chooses “spectacular” to describe the play of his son and the Warriors themselves as both have steamrolled the competition so far.
“I don’t know how many words can be used,” said Barry, who, like Curry, comes from a lineage of shooters. “It’s remarkable what he can do.”
Each generation has had its own fabulous shooters, a long list that includes Bird, Miller, Mullin, Ray Allen, Michael Jordan, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Dale Ellis, Drazen Petrovic all the way through Jerry West, Brent Barry’s father, Rick, to Bill Sharman as well as Hall of Famer Paul Arizin, a Philadelphia forward from the 1950s who pioneered the jump shot.
Some excelled shooting standing still from an open space. Others distinguished themselves coming off screens, off the dribble or by catching the ball and shooting seemingly in one motion. Still others made their livings shooting from midrange or finishing at the rim.
Some of them did so before league rules changes left guards particularly free to work without fear of being touched or encumbered. Almost all of them did so before the game morphed from being played inside-out to where now, because of statistical analytics’ increasing reach, the three-point shot is king.
“There always have been these shooters who have been singular in what they do,” Barry said. “But the combination of all those things coming together in one player is what Steph represents, and it’s also the way the game now is played. It really is lightning in a bottle. It’s a lot of fun to watch, that’s for sure.”
The best there’s ever been?
Like Barry, Curry grew up around the game, raised by a shooter who provided an insider’s insight and perhaps some genes, too. Barry cites the dedication required to succeed in the NBA — “It’s not like I woke up and it was there,” he said — while acknowledging the “great” influence and environment such a father’s guidance can have on a son.
Dell Curry sees his shooting stroke and competitiveness — “That’s about it” — in his son but does not recognize the magician’s skill with which Stephen stupefies defenders and entertains audiences through sleight-of-hand dribbling skills. He perfected those skills from years of dedicated work in the driveway and gyms, including against a wall outfitted with flashing lights in front of which he correspondingly executes dribbling moves while tapping lights with his other hand.
Drafted by Golden State seventh overall in 2009 after the Wolves took point guards Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn immediately before him, Curry says such work helps him to slow down the game in his head.
“I couldn’t do all the things he does,” said Dell Curry, an analyst on Charlotte Hornets broadcasts. “I had a three-dribble limit to my game, and it probably should have been a two-dribble limit. He can do all that and he can shoot it, too, so many different ways. I think he shoots a lot of one-legged runners because he was the smallest guy on every team he played on and he learned to shoot in the paint over the big guys.”
Dell Curry played against shooters such as Bird, Miller and Allen, and although he admits he’s biased, he nods his head when asked if he thinks his son, at only age 27, already is the best shooter that’s ever been.
“I think so,” Dell Curry said, “because he scores in so many ways.”
Mitchell doesn’t seem about to argue.
“If he keeps at this clip, he will be without a doubt the greatest shooter ever to play in the NBA,” Mitchell said, “and you’re talking about Jerry West and all those guys who could really shoot it. Is he there yet? Yeah, he’s there.”
As he will do Thursday for TNT, Barry just wants to watch the show.
“Well, we’ve got time still to watch it all unfold,” Barry said. “I’ll take 10 more years of what we’ve seen the last seven.”