Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
If there was any doubt left about Stephen Curry’s legacy (fair or not), the 2022 NBA Finals has put that to rest.
After scoring 34 points in the Golden State Warriors championship-securing 103-90 win on Thursday, Curry was given the trophy he watched Andre Iguodala and Kevin Durant receive in 2015, 2017 and 2018.
Golden State Warriors @warriors
STEPHEN CURRY IS FINALS MVP pic.twitter.com/zgS7zMbfhu
After the Game 6 win, he’s in truly rarified air.
On top of his four titles, Curry has two regular season MVPs, two scoring titles and a Finals MVP. Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan are the only other players in league history to match or exceed all three benchmarks.
His legacy is now impossible to nitpick. Really, it should’ve been before this series, but that didn’t stop some from trying.
Prior to the Finals, Fadeaway World pointed out, “Stephen Curry Lost 8 Of His Last 9 NBA Finals Games Without Kevin Durant.” At the beginning of this season, Skip Bayless, a longtime champion of this argument, tweeted, “No way Steph has his last two championship rings without Kevin Durant.”
Seven months earlier, Durant himself entered the fray:
And he added to the debate a couple weeks ago.
In a soundbite from Draymond Green posted on Twitter, the Warriors’ point forward said, “Steph Curry got double-teamed probably seven times the amount that KD did in a given series.”
After someone tagged Durant, he responded:
Kevin Durant @KDTrey5
From my view of it, this is 100% false… https://t.co/of6pFJUfvi
Now several years into this era of sports and social media culture, we should be used to this. There wasn’t much reason to measure Curry up to Durant. He didn’t need another championship to secure his place in NBA history.
But we need stuff to talk about. And talk and talk and talk about.
To many, it didn’t matter that while Durant was in Golden State, the Warriors were plus-10.9 points per 100 possessions when Curry played without KD (compared to plus-3.1 when Durant played without Curry).
It didn’t matter that he was already the undisputed greatest shooter of all time, with a seemingly impossible-to-catch combination of volume and efficiency from three.
It didn’t matter that he’s the league’s only unanimous MVP.
One more boogeyman had to be concocted and defeated by Curry. And now that that boogeyman is left in the wake of another shooting barrage, the legacy talk has to be more “Curry vs. the rest of NBA” than “Curry vs. Durant.”
After this run, it might be harder to argue for keeping him out of the top 10.
He now has as many championships as LeBron James and Shaquille O’Neal (and is only one shy of Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan).
On top of the individual accolades listed at the top of this piece, his basic playoff numbers of 26.6 points, 6.2 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 4.2 threes are unmatched. Even if you drop the three-point qualifier, the list only includes Curry, Luka Doncic, LeBron James and Jerry West.
And those numbers don’t even begin to fully illustrate Curry’s impact.
Since the start of the 2014-15 season, Curry is plus-5,690 in 20,648 regular and postseason minutes. Draymond is second on that list with an individual plus-minus of plus-4,710, nearly 1,000 points behind Curry, who missed all but five games of the 2019-20 season.
When Curry is on the floor, he truly bends it. The most obvious examples of that are his way-beyond-the-line threes that force defenders to pay attention the moment he passes halfcourt.
Golden State Warriors @warriors
But it goes beyond that. Curry is an all-time off-ball mover, and his perpetual motion routinely scrambles defenses. He’ll cut, set screens, give the ball up to get it back and generally play within a system better than most of his peers. That movement makes him incredibly difficult to follow for 24 seconds, and the second someone slips up, entire defenses scramble.
When that happens, and multiple guys sprint to find him, Curry’s teammates are left with wide-open looks. It’s been happening for years, and this championship proves the league still hasn’t figured him out.
Hardwood Paroxysm @HPbasketball
LeBron impacts the game through his skillset, but nobody makes a defense panic and screw up like Curry does. And that doesn’t work if he’s not willing to play off-ball like so many of his peers won’t. https://t.co/b77LitYtQM
The best demonstration of that impact may be evolution of Andrew Wiggins.
In five-plus seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wiggins had a well-below-average 47.6 effective field-goal percentage. With the Warriors, he’s at 54.1.
Certainly Wiggins’ commitment to better shot selection deserves some credit, but that doesn’t fully explain the leap. Curry’s gravity doesn’t just attract defenders. It lifts teammates.
If he continues to do that with a young core that now includes Wiggins, Jordan Poole, Jonathan Kuminga and James Wiseman, Curry and his Warriors will still be the standard, seven years after his first title.
During this run to his fourth, he had to knock off two-time MVP Nikola Jokic and rising stars Ja Morant, Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum.
Whether it’s league history or the next wave of NBA talent, Curry just keeps beating everything in his path.