Here’s an article idea for you: (Jonny) Flynn arguably had the better rookie season than (Steph) Curry. 23.4 pts/100 possessions for Flynn, 23.1 pts/100 possessions for Curry with Flynn shooting 5.8 free throws/100 possessions vs. Curry’s 2.9.
Then Flynn got a hip injury. Curry got one too a year later. Of course their recoveries couldn’t be any more different. Is is fair to blame the Wolves for Flynn’s downfall? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s not at all certain that Curry would be Curry if he’d gone to the Wolves. And maybe Flynn would be the All-Star the Wolves missed out on.
I’m at a point in my life where I like things that challenge conventional wisdom, as absurd as they might sound. Like the trivia question: Who has more career points — Brandon Roy or Randy Foye? (It’s Foye, by more than 1,000).
So I dutifully headed to Basketball Reference to fact check the first part of the e-mail. And indeed, Flynn did beat Curry in those two categories. However, they were pretty neatly cherrypicked from a litany of stats that showed Curry was the better player — he was more efficient, played better defense, shot the three better, rebounded better and had more assists.
So no, Curry was still the better rookie. But at least statistically, it wasn’t a gaping difference — if the gap between their careers would ultimately become the top teeth and bottom teeth of a crocodile with its mouth wide open, the rookie season was just a croc’s mouth while it sipped a cup of tea.
The ability to overcome injury does tell a decent part of the story of the career arc from there. Flynn had major hip surgery in late July of 2010. The Timberwolves sent out a news release labeling the surgery “successful” and offered this quote from former personnel boss David Kahn, the man responsible for drafting Flynn instead of Curry: “We expect Jonny to make a full recovery from this procedure.”
But he was never the same. He played sparingly and ineffectively in his second season, even spending time in the D-League. By the summer between his second and third years, Flynn had been traded to Houston. He played just 29 more games in his NBA career.
Curry, meanwhile, overcame chronic ankle problems that threatened to derail his career. He played just 26 games in his third year, 2011-12 before conquering his weakness and transforming from a good player to a great player to an MVP to one of the all-time greats (really, that’s what he is right now).
All the while, the gap between Flynn and Curry grew. If both had stayed healthy the gap would still be large but it’s hard to say how large. If Flynn had been luckier with his health, I don’t know if we’d even be talking about him in an All-Star context — i.e. his ceiling wasn’t as high as Curry’s — but again we’ll never really know.
The point of all this? It’s not another trip down the road of regret. What’s happened has happened for the Wolves and Warriors.
Within the over-reach of e-mailer Dan’s initial analysis about their rookie years and how things might have played out differently, though, is this notion: few would have guessed those two career arcs would diverge to the degree they did, and even fewer would have imagined it after one full season in the NBA.