It’s hard to believe given his current lofty status in the game, but there was a time not so long ago when one might have considered diminutive dervish Stephen Curry to be the most unlikely of NBA superstars.
Those who looked closer, however, might have ascertained that Curry has a certain special quality that can’t be measured in inches or pounds. When all is said and done, he will no doubt be viewed as one of the best shooters in NBA history, and that might be a conservative assessment. It’s no wonder the Warriors have elevated to become one of the best teams in the NBA, with Curry a worthy MVP candidate.
Mentored by his father, noted NBA sharpshooter Dell, Steph grew up around the game. (A picture of a very young Steph at the Cedric Ceballos dunk contest is a unique time capsule.) Amazing in retrospect, he was summarily ignored by major conference colleges. Even Virginia Tech, where Dell starred, offered the wispy senior guard only a walk-on spot.
It was just a matter of months before it became apparent that Curry had been widely slept on. The rest of Division 1’s collective loss was Davidson’s gain, as Steph almost immediately began tormenting opposing defenses upon his arrival at the tiny North Carolina institution.
Curry proved a quick study. In his first game as a freshman, he negated his 15 points with 13 turnovers, but coach Bob McKillop stuck with him. In his second game, he put up 32 points, nine rebounds and four assists against Michigan.
“I was a double-double machine back then,” Curry joked to Sports Illustrated about his miscue-ridden debut. “But that was probably the best thing Coach did for me, to stick with me and give me more confidence.”
Curry’s statistics and various accomplishments were tremendous in themselves, but what made them all the more impressive were the circumstances under which he accomplished them. Playing for a team that hadn’t won an NCAA tournament game in nearly 40 years, Curry was the absolute focal point of every opponent. He shrugged that off en route to shattering multiple three-point records, while proving himself extremely effective at weaving his way to the basket a la Allen Iverson.
As a freshman, his 21.5 points per game ranked second only to Kevin Durant among first-year players, not bad company. He also broke the NCAA freshman record for three-pointers, though Davidson fell as a 13-seed to Maryland in the first round of the tournament.
Curry’s sophomore season, however, was the stuff legends are made of. He averaged more than 25 points, broke the NCAA record for three-pointers in a season and then willed Davidson on an incredible NCAA run that included wins over conference champions Davidson, Georgetown and Wisconsin. On the precipice of the Final Four, the Wildcats fell to eventual champion Kansas by just two points.
One might have expected Curry to ride the wave to the NBA, but he decided to stay in school to work on his point guard skills. Despite a stellar regular season, Davidson was upset in their conference tournament and was relegated to the postseason NIT.
For his part, Curry — who would be named First-Team All-American — not only led the nation in scoring with more than 28 points per game, but doubled his assist average, accomplishing exactly what he returned to do. As such, his college career is a testament to the potential windfall awaiting a player who properly develops his skills in college before making the jump to the pros, an increasingly foreign concept.
Curry was drafted seventh by the Warriors in 2009 and though it took him about a month to hit his stride, it was no looking back at that point. He notched his first 30-point game in January, and his first triple-double in February. In all, he exceeded 30 points eight times as a rookie, the final one a 42-point flourish on the final game of the season. He was hardly a gunner, maxing out at 15 assists. Curry finished second to Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans in the Rookie of the Year voting; it seems silly in retrospect, but Evans did in fact have a very good first season.
After winning a gold medal with Team USA at the World Championships, Curry continued to build in his second season, impressively shooting more than 93 percent from the free throw line. With his help, the Warriors won 36 games, a 10-game improvement. Both the player and team were mostly derailed by Curry’s injury woes, however: Throughout the lockout-shortened 2010-11 season, he continually reinjured his surgically repaired right ankle, leading to another operation.
But he was back in business for his fourth season. The Warriors would skyrocket to a 47-35 record and the sixth seed in the playoffs, while Curry broke Ray Allen’s NBA record for three-pointers in a season. He flourished to the tune of 22.9 points and 6.9 assists, including a carer-high 54 points against the Knicks. Golden State won its first playoff series against Denver, but fell to the Spurs in six games despite Curry’s heroics. (He scored 44 points in Game 1, a double-overtime loss.)
Curry’s ascent was not finished. In 2013-14, Curry averaged a career-high 24 points and 8.5 assists, while the Warriors improved to 51 wins. He was an All-Star for the first time — what took everyone so long? — but saw his Warriors lose a tough seven-game series to Chris Paul and the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs.
All of this was setting up Curry’s finest hour to date, the 2014-15 season, in which he and his teammates reached new levels of achievement and popularity. The Warriors entered the All-Star Break with the best record in the sport, powered by Curry and fellow “Splash Brother” Klay Thompson.
With the Warriors poised to make a serious run at an NBA championship, Curry — who is on the short list of legit 2015 MVP candidates — has the blend of elite game and accessible persona that has launched him to superstardom in a number of ways. For one, he was the No. 1 All-Star vote-getter in the entire league. Plus, his first signature sneaker — the Curry One — was released by Under Armour, who had made him the focal point of their entire division.
Is it a coincidence that UA’s revenues skyrocketed from $299 million to $431 million between 2013 and ’14? Not to pro basketball director of sports marketing Kris Stone, who told Bleacher Report: “It’s been about 50, 100 times more than we could’ve expected. Things like this happen maybe once in a lifetime for a brand. His shoes are flying off the shelves right now.”
The way things are going for Curry, this could end up being an incredible year. But regardless of how things end up, Steph is proof positive that good guys sometimes finish far from last, and that you can’t read a book by its cover.