You can’t be the greatest player of all-time if you only play on one end.
Stephen Curry is the greatest shooter I, you, and everyone else has ever seen. He’s NBA Jam in human form. He treats an NBA court like the Pop-a-Shot at Dave & Buster’s.
But he’s not the greatest player ever.
Most people know this and recognize this and admit this. And most people don’t care. Fans love watching offensive wizardry, especially from someone that appears to be the same size as their teenage son.
After all, defensive intensity isn’t interesting. Try watching those Knicks-Heat games from the ’90s. Defense is not entertaining. But it is vital, not just for championships, but for individual legacies. To be considered one of the greatest players ever, you need to be able to do it at both ends and Curry has never been a good defensive player.
In fairness, he’s never had to be. Until now.
Steph Curry’s (and Klay Thompson’s) offensive abilities cover up many of Golden State’s deficiencies, the biggest being his defense. While Thompson is a decent defender, Steph is below average. He can’t stay ahead of most players, often gets lost on defense, and is generally uninterested in that side of the ball.
None of that matters when you’re ripping out your opponents’ hearts by dropping treys from all over the court and dribbling through them like they’re the chair that Yi Jianlian posted up. If Steph gives up 20 and scores 40, no one cares about his D.
But now Hurricane Russell Westbrook has touched down in these 2016 Playoffs and he has taken it to Curry, to the point that Steph looks either horrible or hurt.
The common sense solution is that Steve Kerr needs to hide Curry on defense. He can’t guard Westbrook and all he’s doing is expending his energy so he has nothing left on offense, so why not put Klay or Andre Iguodala or someone else on him?
It’s a sound strategy and one that Kerr should have employed before now.
But it also proves that, in spite of our current culture in which everything happening now is the greatest or worst or most important ever, Curry is not one of the best players in history.
You can’t be considered one of the greatest players to ever step foot on the court if you need to be hidden on defense. People clown Kevin Love for his defensive deficiencies, and rightfully so, but Steph’s inability to check anyone with even a modicum of speed or strength is a problem.
Allow me to be that old guy that brings up the past: Michael Jordan, the man now best known for a crying meme and horrific wardrobe, is considered by most to be the greatest player ever not just because of his offensive greatness, but also because of his defensive prowess. He dominated on both ends of the floor. In 1988, Jordan won the MVP and the scoring title, just like Curry this year. However, he also won the Defensive Player of the Year award.
He was the best on offense and defense.
Good luck finding anyone voting for Steph for DPOY.
The Warriors could win the next three games and take the series back from Oklahoma City. They could win another title. They could win two more titles. Steph could score 4,000 points in a quarter.
His status as the greatest shooter in history is unassailable and will remain so.
But unless he starts being anything more than a sieve on the defensive end, he’ll never be considered one of the greats.
Christopher Pierznik’s eight books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.