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Dublin: 8 °C Sunday 20 October, 2019

Three years after one of the greatest seasons in NBA history, Steph Curry has somehow gotten even better

Through nine games, Stephen Curry is on pace to shatter his record campaign.

Image: USA TODAY Sports

IN THE 2015-16 SEASON, Stephen Curry rose to new heights with one of the greatest individual seasons in NBA history, for a Golden State Warriors team that had the best regular season in NBA history in going 73-9.

Curry averaged 30 points per game on 52% shooting, 44% from three, with 5 rebounds and nearly 7 assists per game, taking home his second straight MVP award and the first-ever unanimous MVP.

Curry stamped in a new era of basketball, changing the way both offenses and defenses around the league behaved with his unrivaled marksmanship.

And yet, somehow, in the first nine games of the 2018-19 season, Curry is on pace to shatter that campaign.

Curry is averaging 33 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists per game while shooting a hair under 55% from the field and 53% from three. Those numbers exceed his start to the 2015-16 season when he came blazing out of the gates and made the NBA world gasp a collective, “Whoa.”

Curry’s star has dulled (if only slightly) the last two seasons, as he gave up the ball more to Kevin Durant while the Warriors adjusted to their newest star. Last year, Curry showed hints of his 2015-16 self, but also had one of his more injury-riddled seasons, playing just 51 games of a possible 82.

Now Curry seems to be sending a message.

Perhaps the NBA world should have taken notice this year when the Warriors spoke candidly about how Curry and Durant were both left out of preseason MVP talk. Head coach Steve Kerr said Curry was aware of such chatter, while Durant said the award seems to be for up-and-comers, rather than the league’s most consistent and established dominant forces. Curry is proving he’s still the player from the 2015-16 season.

This season, Curry seems to have a better grasp on where he stands with the 8-1 Warriors. Three years ago, he was the central focus of the offense, the clear No. 1 option, even on a team that prioritized getting everyone involved. The past two years were a feeling-out process where it was rare to see Curry and Durant dominate at the same time while the team played in its trademark, unselfish way.

This year, there are both tangible and intangible ways to tell Curry is more in control. His shot attempts are up, which is notable for a player sharing the ball with a player like Durant. Curry’s efficiency is also through the roof, suggesting he’s found ways to benefit from the weapons that surround him — i.e., he’s picking his spots better and thinking less than he might have the last two years.

His efficient field goal percentage (which accounts for three-pointers vs. two-pointers) is a ridiculous 70.1%, a number typically reserved for big men who only hover near the basket.

The intangible qualities are harder to pinpoint. Curry’s game has an overall mastery to it that seems slightly different than in years past.

Curry rose to prominence because of an outrageous shot selection that made the entire sport of basketball reconsider what should happen in an offensive possession. Curry’s list of greatest hits is long, but some of these attempts are audacious, even by his standards.

Preseason predictions that left Curry and Durant out of the conversation were not slights; it’s just hard to imagine voters choosing one of the two players when they have each other. In some ways, they almost cancel each other out.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Golden State Warriors Steph Curry has been in remarkable form this season - an ominous sign for the teams trying to catch the Warriors. Source: USA TODAY Sports

What makes Curry’s start to the season even more impressive is that it has hardly been a one-person show. After Curry dropped 51 points on the Washington Wizards, Kevin Durant took over the next game, scoring 41 points, with 25 in the fourth quarter. Two games later, Klay Thompson scored 52 points and hit a record-breaking (Curry’s record, mind you) 14 three-pointers in three quarters.

On Wednesday, the Warriors took down the New Orleans Pelicans, with Curry scoring 37 points on a tidy 12-of-20 shooting, 7-of-11 from downtown. People hardly batted an eye, and such has been the Warriors’ theatrics of late.

As ESPN’s Brian Windhorst noted, the list of players in NBA history to win two MVPs and three championships is slim and Curry is on it. The list of players to win three MVPs and four championships is even smaller, and Curry has a good shot at it this year if his pace continues.

Steve Nash told Windhorst that talks about Curry’s place among the league’s all-time best players should already be underway.

“I hate to break it to you, but he’s already an all-time great,” Nash said. “He’s the ultimate one-off. He’s the evolution of basketball. It evolved before our eyes.”

This season, Curry has somehow seemed to raise his ceiling, and if it continues, he’ll somehow raise the ceiling on a team that has been dominating the league for years. If Curry and the Warriors keep this up, talk about possible challengers to the reigning champions may as well be shelved.

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