Is Steph Curry the best basketball player in the world today?

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column-rick olivaresONE of the many comments made post-Golden State’s 89-83 win over Cleveland on Christmas Day was, “There goes the theory that the Cavaliers lost in last year’s National Basketball Association [NBA] Finals because they missed Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.”

Another was, “Steph Curry has eclipsed LeBron James as the world’s best player.”

Let’s tackle the first.

It’s hard to compare a regular season game and a finals series because of the circumstances and what is at stake. No one wins a championship with a good 60 percent of the season yet to be played. 

However, what that game counts for is home court advantage in the playoffs, bragging rights, and a mental edge in head-to-head matchups. And further to the point, injuries, as are breaks are part of the game. 

The Cavs’ Irving was only in his third game back and, couple that with the combined atrocious shooting with Kevin Love, they pretty much left LeBron James to his own devices in the end game. But, to be fair, James missed three crucial free throws and four shots at point blank range while making two baskets; both dunks.

Steph Curry, likewise, made two baskets (from four attempts in the fourth period) with both crucial layups to see off the Warriors’ win.

Obviously, the Warriors are a better team than the Cavaliers. The word “team” is the optimal difference. Cleveland was built around one man, LeBron James, who was surrounded by other players to complement his game. That changed in his second stint in Ohio when he joined Irving who was then the team’s star. Hoping that lightning would strike like it did in Miami, Love was enticed to come over. Then they started adding pieces.

Golden State, on the other hand, was rebuilt somewhat differently. They built two very good “teams.” Their front court and coaching staff and the players. In 2012 when they brought onboard Bob Myers initially as assistant general manager then promoted to general manager a year later. Myers was a former player agent who joined the Warriors’ front office and brought a different outlook from organization people. His shrewdness allowed the team to draft not the best players, but ones who could fill roles on a team. They brought in Jerry West who has immensely helped the team and this past season. There was the coaching staff that began with Steve Kerr who played under two coaches who espoused a team-first policy in Phil Jackson and Greg Popovich. They brought in Alvin Gentry who was with Mike D’Antoni during the Phoenix Suns’ seven-seconds-or-less days and that explains their high-scoring ways. There’s also Ron Adams who was also responsible for turning Boston into a good defensive team. They also brought in young guns in Luke Walton who has been acting as interim coach with Kerr out because of surgery and most recently, they hired Steve Nash to help out.

Talk about great basketball minds.

Team-wise, they selected the unsexy picks in Steph Curry, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green. They brought in players who didn’t seem to make an impact, as their best years were said to be behind in Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa. They brought in stars from their previous teams to play lesser roles. The stats of Andrew Bogut and Andre Igoudala have gone down with their time in Golden State the trade off is they are part of a championship machine.

They have a plethora of players—Curry, Klay Thompson, Igoudala, Livingston and Green—who can play multiple positions, and several players who are very good ball handlers and who make very good decisions with the ball.

Sure, it is hard to beat a team when many players can light it up. They are tops in offense and are ranked 18th on team defense. They pretty much overwhelm foes with superior firepower. 

That sure is a pretty good team on both sides of the court there.

And then there’s Curry.

In a video where the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) reads from a draft scouting report that described his explosiveness and athleticism as “below standard.”

Added the report, “He needs to considerably improve as a ball-handler. He will have limited success at the next level. Do not rely on him to run your team. Stephen must develop as a point guard in order to make it in the league.”

Well…last NBA season, Curry was named MVP, a berth on the All-NBA First Team, an All-Star and Three-Point Champion (in contrast, James was named to the All-Star and All-NBA First Team). He capped it all with an NBA championship. This season, he has led his team to a 28-1 record. The Warriors look too strong to repeat as champions, while Curry looks to bag his second consecutive MVP award. Furthermore, he is leading the league in scoring (increasing his output by 9.2 points from his career numbers). Curry is also shooting at a career-best .512 accuracy rate this season, while leading the league in touches with 98 touches a game. He also has two International Basketball Federation World Cup gold medals and looks to add an Olympic gold medal to his trophy chest in the 2016 Rio Olympics.  

If this season wasn’t the Kobe Bryant farewell tour, Curry would lead the All-Star Game fan balloting (Mamba is so far the leading vote getter with 719,235 to the 510,202 of the latter) with James a far third with 357,937.

It doesn’t take any stretch of the imagination that even without an Olympic gold medal around his neck, Steph Curry is the best player in the game today.