Many are expecting the true “peak” of two-time MVP Stephen Curry to manifest itself as a now-mature 31-year-old point guard, as the Golden State Warriors will largely depend on his abilities to contend in the West.
The need is perhaps the most vital part of what would be invoking Curry’s ultimate effort, now that Kevin Durant departed for the Brooklyn Nets and Klay Thompson is on the mend until the All-Star break. Analysts are expecting a repeat of his 2015-16 season, in which he became the first player to win the Most Valuable Player award unanimously.
Numbers, and most importantly, his age suggest differently.
Part of Curry’s ultimate success as the undisputed MVP of the league that season was the sheer brilliance in his numbers, not only taking part on the 50-40-90 club, but upping the ante even more, joining Steve Nash as the only members of the 50-45-90 club. Couple the rousing efficiency with an NBA-leading 30.1 points per game, 2.14 steals per game (also best in the league), and a record-breaking 73-9 win-loss regular season record — and you have yourself an undeniable choice for MVP.
Head coach Steve Kerr argued that Curry is at the peak of his his career “because it’s the perfect time physically and mentally where everything’s come together,” according to ESPN’s Nick Friedell — arguing that his experience will play a large part as to how he will approach this season.
“He’s in his prime age-wise, strength and conditioning-wise and defensively he’s seen everything that’s come his way. Teams have played him every possible way that you could think of, and he’s had years now to work on counters. So he’s kind of in his sweet spot right now, and he has been the last couple years. And hopefully that continues for the next few years. But he’s an amazing player.”
Asked of what he’s seen in particular that makes him believe Curry is in the midst of a special season, Kerr didn’t point to anything special.
“Just the usual,” Kerr said after Sunday’s practice. “I’m not looking for anything different than what he’s done for five years, but what he’s done is pretty special: two MVP’s and a perennial top-five player. He’s had an incredible camp. To me, he’s at his peak physically, mentally. He’s seen every defense that people have thrown at him now during his career, and he’s ready to have a great year.”
Curry’s challenge will come with doing all of this without his longtime backcourt partner Thompson and also with a supporting cast that is brand new to him after several years of core continuity.
Numbers-wise, expect Curry’s shot attempts to elevate beyond 20 shots per game, but the biggest change will come with his frequency at the foul line. The 6-foot-3 point man has never averaged more than six trips to the foul line per game — that will change this season. The Warriors will be just as depending of his uncanny ability to finish efficiently at the rim as they are of his 3-point prowess.
Speaking of threes — no Thompson or Durant would often call for a Harden-esque 14 3-point attempts per game, but that’s simply not the way Curry plays. He already averaged a career-high 11.7 attempts from beyond the arc last season, but there isn’t much room to go beyond that. As many shots as Curry will have available, he will also be facing double- and triple-teams that wouldn’t show up before due to the two aforementioned stars being around to punish those who dared to take the ball out of his hands.
Handling the ball more would usually also results in more assists and turnovers, but bank on the latter being the more pronounced difference. Curry has had a steady decline in his assist numbers since averaging 8.5 per game in 2013-14, and those numbers won’t come up when dishing the ball to a less-lethal outside shooter in D’Angelo Russell or a cast of players that signed for the veteran’s minimum.
If anything, Curry will be taxed with taking more risks and average more turnovers as a result of starting to connect with his teammates, but even after he does, he’s not going to rack up the dimes a whole lot unless Russell and others can take advantage of his gravity.
Make no mistake — Curry will get buckets and likely lead the league in scoring, but his MVP chances will largely hinge on getting this frail Warriors roster into playoff contention, while letting his elite shooting numbers do the rest of the talking.