While many will argue Stephen Curry has always been a star — he does have career averages of 19.2 points and 6.1 assists a night as one of the greatest shooters any of us have ever seen — ankle issues and a lack of national exposure have kept him from the limelight (and the All-Star Game). But so far through 10 postseason games this spring, Curry now has the Warriors deadlocked with San Antonio at two games a piece in the conference semis while averaging 25 points and 8.3 assists, plus an absurd 3.9 triples a night. He’s making the Leap.
So why compare him to Kyrie Irving? Besides the obvious (two next-level point guards carrying entire organizations on their backs), these guys must be considered two of the most explosive showmen in the NBA. Both are unbelievable ballhandlers and both can fill it up at will. Irving averaged 22.5 points a game this year, and Curry already has a couple of 20-plus point quarters in the playoffs.
So after a few office arguments, we had to ask: who’s better – Irving or Curry? We argue. You decide.
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At the age of 25, Stephen Curry is perhaps the most exciting player in the NBA.
That’s no small feat in a golden age of talent that features LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and what sometimes feels like a thousand other brilliant players. But in the past few weeks we’ve seen Curry explode under a national spotlight, hitting just about every shot conceivable to the mind’s eye — and more than a few that were completely inconceivable. Off balance pull-up threes from the corner, scoop layups with bodies flying all around the rim, near 30-foot bombs that splashed perfectly through the net — all from a player so skinny that he could fit his entire body into one leg of Michael Jordan’s dad jeans.
It defies logic, which is what makes Curry’s rise so captivating. We’ve never seen a player quite like him before, and we don’t really know what to do with ourselves when he looks like the best guy on the court next to Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. Bill Simmons ranked Curry third in his annual trade value column last week, ahead of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Paul and Anthony.
Through it all, another of the league’s brightest young stars has been stuck at home. Kyrie Irving, the league’s Rookie of the Year in 2012 and an Eastern Conference All-Star this past season, had the misfortune of being drafted by the woeful post-LeBron Cleveland Cavaliers and has yet to even sniff the playoff atmosphere that Curry is blossoming under. He has suffered a number of freak injuries and will be forced to adjust to a new coach in Mike Brown when the 2013-14 season rolls around.
And yet, I’d still take Irving for the long haul.
Given that Curry might be my favorite player to watch in all of basketball, I already hate myself for typing the above sentence. But there’s an argument to be made if you’ll hear me out.
First, the raw statistics, which are eerily similar. While Curry is a historically great shooter (45 percent from three-point range on nearly eight attempts per game in 2012-13), Irving is no slouch himself at a healthy 39.4 percent from deep over his career. Overall, both players shot 45 percent from the floor this season while Curry averaged more assists (seven to Irving’s six) and –- somewhat inexplicably -– more rebounds (four to Irving’s 3.7). Curry also edged Irving ever-so-slightly in points per game (22.9 to Irving’s 22.5).
But, as always, context is important when looking at these numbers. While Curry’s scoring game is more or less defined by the three-point shot (more than 40 percent of his shots come from deep, according to NBA.com), Irving uses the threat of his shooting to open up driving lanes on the pick-n-roll. At just 21, he’s already among the league’s best at shaking his primary defender and scoring from either midrange or at the hoop.
That willingness to drive also gets Irving to the free throw line, where he shot 85.5 percent on five attempts per game in 2012-13 –- more than Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Ty Lawson. Curry’s slight build leaves him more vulnerable to contact, and so he drives less often. While Irving took more than a quarter of his attempts from the restricted area this year, and converted on 55 percent of them, Curry took just under 12 percent of his shots from there, according to NBA.com
In other words, they’re both elite scorers who go about their business in different ways. Irving is simply more versatile, and it’s harder to load up on defending any single aspect of his game.
Speaking of defense, well, neither player is particularly impressive. Irving, though, seems to have a higher ceiling in this regard due to his physique. In the right system, and Mike Brown is known for his defensive schemes, Irving has the athletic tools to become at least passable on that end. Curry is so slight that he really can’t do much to stop the more physical guards.
Of course, youth and injuries must also come into the equation. While Irving is 21 with plenty of room to improve (ditto the team surrounding him), Curry is likely near his peak at 25. And while both players have struggled with injuries, Curry’s chronic ankle problems are more concerning than Irving’s series of freak accidents.
Curry is utterly brilliant, and perhaps the better player right now. But he is also working with far superior teammates, and may already be at the height of his powers.
We’ve barely scratched the surface with Irving, which is why I’m siding with him.