Games that define player capability and possess understated basketball genius often go unnoticed within the marathon of a long season. On Thursday night, Stephen Curry had one of these games, soon to be forgotten by everyone but Warriors’ fans, but directly correlated to a future hope. It was a near flawless game, a unique performance characterized by a thoroughly unselfish 36-point output and a variety of dominance. In this ideal near-perfection of basketball, meaning reigns undeniably, quietly, and hidden, never sought after but easily found upon careful examination.
For much of the season, the ankles of Stephen Curry have been a far more noticeable media staple point than his developing game. Curry, now in his third year league, has faced frequent ankle injury troubles during the last two years, highlighted by the significant injury that led him to miss an eight-game stretch in January. Before his injury, this season was viewed as an important one for Curry. The Warriors are a talented team, if dysfunctional and inherently flawed, but quickly fall into innate mediocrity without Curry. He’s the closest thing the team has to a young franchise star, and seemed poised to make the leap that fellow young, talented guards have made (Ty Lawson and James Harden, among others). Injury woes struck, but Thursday night’s game served as a reminder of why Curry belongs near the forefront of that group when healthy.
Curry’s game is one defined by a certain conciseness and poise. He often reaches a screen, collects as if to pull for three (a dangerous proposition for opposing defenses) and then quickly veers and strikes through the heart of the defense. If the defense tries to adapt to Curry’s two-fold scoring ability, he’s easily able to rattle off consecutive threes or assists with little trouble. The parts of Curry’s game that remain a work in progress – skirting double teams, defensive mechanics, capitalizing consistently on transition possessions – were remiss from action Thursday night, while the strengths were presented with alacrity.
Against the Nuggets, everything that makes Curry’s offensive game so thoroughly enticing was on full display. His shot was falling, he created space with ease, and he reached the rim with little trouble. Above all, he was managing to score at a terrific pace without forcing bad shots, a rare phenomenon. There were no obvious “heat check” shots to enumerate; instead, Curry found the open man without hesitation when unable to create for himself. Instead of forcing himself into a trap of forced shot attempts, Curry simply ran the offense and remained within his role. He finished with seven points and seven rebounds to go along with 36 points on 13-17 shooting, providing exclamation points on a performance that screamed, “Exclamation point!”
Maybe what Thursday night’s game revealed (in terms of long-term significance) lies in the number of skills Curry proved he’s capable of providing on any given night. This was a performance that seemed natural before all else, despite its outstanding qualities. Curry’s tools often appear so seamless on the court that one expects he could fit seamlessly into any backcourt in the league within an instant. Curry is far more than just a three-point shooter, equipped with an offensive game that can rest on several productive laurels before reaching ineffectiveness. He’s having the most efficient season of his career in limited time, shooting 50.8% from the field and 42.9% from three while averaging a career high in assists (6.8 APG, to accompany a sterling 23.3 PER). Curry’s ability to function as a natural scorer as well as an all-around difference maker bodes well in respect to his chances of developing into the star that the Warriors so desperately need.
Thursday night’s game was just a moment in a series of moments that form the 2011-2012 NBA season, but it’s important that its contents not be lost in the fray of a frantic schedule. Stephen Curry, illuminated in all of his emerging and quiet brilliance, is not someone to ignore.