The greatness of Steph Curry was once again on full display for the Golden State Warriors.
In their most recent contest, a 113-104 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies that was much closer than the final score suggested, Curry scored 46 points on just 22 field goal attempts along with four rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Already the all-time leader in three-pointers, he hit eight more versus the Grizzlies which means that he only needs six to achieve 3,000 made threes for his career.
Curry was brilliant all night long versus Memphis and his offensive arsenal was on full display. Aside from his typical three-pointers, he was aggressive when attacking the basket and made a couple of nifty lay-ups that highlighted his underrated athleticism.
These kinds of shots were not originally part of his arsenal when he first broke into the league in 2009, what with the limitations of his once lean frame, and his progress here is a testament to the hard work that he has put in. His ability to change directions in a split second and explosiveness off the dribble have further opened up opportunities for him to score.
Curry has shown no signs of slowing down at the age of 33 and he has defied conventional wisdom with his continuous growth as a player, despite his age. This improvement goes beyond himself and, for the nth time, has spread to the rest of his team.
The gravity that the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player possesses while on the court has opened up immense opportunities for his teammates. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green developed into All-Stars by feeding off Curry’s energy and it is difficult to imagine them having the same success that they have had over their careers if they weren’t around Steph.
Former number one overall pick Andrew Wiggins has also revived his career since joining the team in 2020 via a midseason trade. Meanwhile, Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala joined the Warriors as established figures in the league yet found their highest levels of success with Curry. The only players that have clearly struggled to mesh alongside the greatest shooter in league history are high-usage scorers who need the ball in their hands to make an impact such as D’Angelo Russell and Kelly Oubre.
Beyond the more recognizable names though, Curry’s style of play has also grown conducive in bringing out the best from his role player teammates, especially in recent years. While they were winning championships a few years ago, Shaun Livingston and JaVale McGee were two of his many veteran teammates who managed to reinvigorate their careers with Golden State.
Livingston, a 6’7 point guard with a knack for playmaking and tough defense, thrived while playing alongside Curry. His lack of a consistent three-point shot, one of the biggest weaknesses in his game, was essentially negated when the two shared the backcourt.
The presence of Curry allowed Livingston to become the best possible version of himself at that point in his career and the Warriors were repaid handsomely with several memorable playoff moments during their title runs.
The 7’0 McGee was another older reserve whose impact was amplified with Golden State. An enigma for most of his career with an unfortunate penchant for making it to the blooper reel, McGee found redemption with the Warriors. He joined them for their 2017 and 2018 title runs as their reserve center and was a devastating two-way force for the team.
McGee’s length and shot-blocking ability vastly improved their defensive capabilities as a team. On offense, the space that one is afforded when playing alongside Curry, Durant, and Thompson gave McGee more room to operate inside that he ever had in his career, which only enhanced his finishing ability around the rim.
While both Livingston and McGee are no longer on the team, a younger batch of Warriors has taken their place and grown into their own alongside Curry. Kevon Looney, Jordan Poole, Juan Toscano-Anderson, and Damion Lee have found their niche on this team. Otto Porter Jr and Nemanja Bjelica, the streak-shooting veterans whom Golden State acquired in the offseason, have also acquainted themselves nicely.
However, the most interesting among them is Gary Payton II–the son and namesake of the Hall of Fame point guard who played in the NBA for 17 years. Like his father, Payton made it to the league because of his defensive abilities, although his lack of skill on the offensive end has made it difficult for him to make noise in the league since he first joined NBA in the 2016-17 season.
Prior to this season, Payton never averaged more than four points per game in the NBA with the four different franchises that he has suited up for. At 29 years old, it was highly likely that this could have been his last chance in the league. His elite ability to lock down opponents is the only reason why he has managed to stick around for six seasons despite his lack of shooting or even a basic off-the-dribble game.
Now, the Warriors have molded him into a devastating two-way weapon which could have only happened with the presence of Curry. Instead of focusing on his weaknesses, they have capitalized on his strengths.
Head coach Steve Kerr has deployed Payton as a screener in pick-and-roll actions among others, basically running him as a center at times. His underrated athletic ability has allowed him to finish around the rim in a similar manner to that of the much-taller McGee, who was a favorite lob target of theirs during his time with the team.
On offense, he essentially functions as their center and it is Curry’s gravity that opens the door for this opportunity. He has also emerged as a reliable three-point shooter through the first half of this season. A career 30.8% shooter from three, he has made 38.6% of his shots from long range this year.
Even with his newfound role on offense, Payton has continued to play with relentless hustle on the defensive side of the floor. He is averaging a career-best 1.3 steals this season, partly through the extra playing time that he has been afforded. Payton has essentially morphed into a combination of two great role players from the Warriors’ title runs of yesteryear with shades of Livingston on defense and inspiration from McGee on offense.
With several players out due to health and safety protocols, Payton was thrust into the starting line-up for their game versus the Grizzlies–just his second start this year–and he responded with his finest game of the season. Payton put up 22 points and four threes, both season-highs, together with two rebounds and an assist. The last of his triples came with 1:12 left in the contest and extended Golden State’s lead to a more comfortable five points.
If Payton can continue playing at this level, another title may be well on the way for the Warriors. This is by no means an exaggeration as his defense adds another wrinkle to their depth that they previously did not have.
While he has put the work in and their coaching staff has paved the way for his growth, this all circles back to Curry. Without him and his all-time great level of shooting, none of this would have been possible and time after time, he continues to prove that his greatness on the court is a rising tide that lifts all boats on this team. The franchise’s mantra is “Strength in Numbers” and they continue to walk the talk on the court.