This is not built on hate. Let’s begin right there.
Stephen Curry’s brilliance is mind-boggling. His 51 points and 10 three-pointers last night left even the most seasoned NBA connoisseurs scratching their heads for the umpteenth time over the past year and a half. His scoring binge was akin to being caught in a Frazier-Ali exchange of vicious blows: 20 for 27 from the field, 10 for 15 from deep and a banked-in, half-court buzzer beater as some icing on the cake.
No one has ever scored 50 or more points while only making one free throw. He continues to boggle the mind with his offensive brilliance.
He’s the first player to top the 50-point plateau three times in the same season since the first incarnation of Cleveland Cav LeBron and the Heat’s D Wade did it seven years ago. The last Warrior to bang out 50 on three separate occasions in the same season was Hall of Famer Rick Barry.
In the last 16 years, only the great Allen Iverson, the miraculous Kobe Bryant and the mentally bankrupt Gilbert Arenas have posted three or more 50-point explosions in the same season. Oh, and by the way, to give you some perspective, Kobe actually did it in three separate seasons.
When you look at the 51 he gave the Wizards and the 53 he gave the Pelicans earlier this year, last night’s outburst in the 130-114 win against Orlando – which gives Golden State, 52-5, the best record ever for any team 57 games into the season – would make the casual fan yell that he’s never seen anything like it, and that Steph is by far the best player in the league.
But as insane as Curry has been playing over these last two seasons, he still hasn’t cracked the rotation of the Top 3 players in the NBA right now.
(Photo Credit: zimbio.com)
Please do not confuse me with the curmudgeonly Oscar Robertson, who said that dumb coaching and poor defense are the reasons why Steph is so good. I’m not calling him overrated, nor am I diminishing a guy who is looking like the best shooter ever in the history of the game, both off the dribble and off the catch-and-shoot.
His underappreciated floor game, passing and skills as a facilitator might one day have him in the discussion with Isiah Thomas, Jason Kidd and Gary Payton as the best point guards ever not named Magic Johnson.
But the very best players in the league today impact the game in ways that Curry simply can’t. It’s not a knock on him, simply a fact.
Right now, I’m having a raging internal debate whether Steph or Oklahoma City’s marvelous Russell Westbrook is the fourth best player in the league today. But there is no such question, in my opinion, about the top three. My rankings are as follows:
3. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans – With everyone talking this year about how Detroit’s Andre Drummond is the second coming of Moses Malone, it was easy to forget how incredible the 22-year-old Davis is, and has been, since the minute he played his first NBA minutes.
To remind everyone, The Unibrow delivered the most dominant game of the 2015-2016 season against Drummond and the Pistons with 59 points and 20 rebounds last week. There is no player, I repeat, NO PLAYER, that has the upward mobility and skills upside that Davis has.
The players at the top of this list better maximize their time on the mountaintop, because it is only a matter of time until Davis, who could run the league like Bill Russell and Kareem once did on both sides of the floor, returns the game to the domain of the big man.
When that happens, it will be a paradigm shift of epic proportions. And it’s coming, just wait.
2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder – If you’re one of those folks that think Curry has supplanted KD on this list, you’re a reactionary who probably doesn’t understand the game as much as you think you do. Steph averages 30 points per game, Durant is clocking 28.
This is the first year that Curry has averaged more than 30, Durant has done it twice, including his insane MVP year two seasons ago when he averaged 32!!!
Believe it or not, KD and Steph are around the same age, but Durant is a 7-footer who can do any and everything offensively.
He’s equally comfortable splashing from deep and posting up. And despite spending so much time on the perimeter, he grabs eight rebounds per game. He also hands out close to five assists on a nightly basis.
KD’s explosiveness off the dribble is rarely talked about and his value to OKC’s championship hopes, despite his incredible teammate Russell Westbrook, cannot be overstated.
1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers – If you need to read this to understand that LeBron is still, by leaps and bounds, the best player on the planet, please stop calling yourself a basketball fan and follow another sport.
This really needs no explanation, but I’ll offer one in the form of a video breakdown.
Simply study last year’s NBA Finals, where Curry played with an all-time great team, and LeBron, minus All-Stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, singlehandedly took a team of Cambodian cab drivers and made the championship series competitive.
His performance, staggering in terms of his pure ability to carry a team of bums, lacked any true precedent and was historical in its level of brilliance as he averaged 36 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists per game.
If you really believe that Andre Iguodola was the MVP of that series, you probably believe that Donald Trump would make a great President. It’s beyond dumb.
People forget that Golden State possessed the leagues No. 1 defense last year and here’s what LeBron gave them while playing alongside Mr. Rourke and Tatoo, and Mork and Mindy:
Game 1 – 44 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists
Game 2 – 39 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists
Game 3 – 40 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists
Game 4 – 20 points, 12 rebounds and 8 assists
Game 5 – 40 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists
Game 6 – 32 points, 18 rebounds and 9 assists
Maaaaaaan, listen! Steph is better than good. But LeBron is better than great.
The fact that he’s beginning to look physically mortal while averaging a career-low 35.8 minutes per game will deceive you if you don’t know what you’re really seeing.
James’s status as the world’s best player has not approached debatable status quite yet. No player in the world gets the most out of teammates that would easily struggle in the D-League.
And, oh, he also happens to be one of the best and most versatile passers and defenders ever.
Yes, Curry has made a three-pointer in more consecutive games than anyone ever. Yes, he’s scored 40 or more ten times this year. Yes, launching from 28 feet to 50 feet, he’s made 35 of his 52 attempts this season. Yes, he makes scoring look easier than Michael Jordan did. We can go on and on illuminating his greatness.
But if you’re starting a team on the foundation of one guy right now, I’m picking LeBron, KD and Anthony Davis, and quite possibly Russell Westbrook ahead of him.