Warriors: Is Stephen Curry Really the 13th best player of all-time?

Warriors, Stephen Curry (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Warriors, Stephen Curry (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

ESPN recently released a list of the top 74 players in NBA history to commemorate the association’s 74th season. Golden State Warriors legend Stephen Curry was ranked 13th on the list. Was this ranking too generous for a player still in the midst of his Hall of Fame career?

Chef Curry appears to be in the kitchen once again.

He might not be sinking threes on the court or hoisting another Larry O’Brien Trophy, given to the NBA’s champion at the conclusion of the season, as has been somewhat routine since 2014.

But make no mistake, Golden State Warriors great Stephen Curry continues to make waves, even if this particular case isn’t his own doing.

Chalk this one up to ESPN, who this week released a thought-provoking list of the NBA’s 74 greatest players ever in honor of the association’s 74th season.

For a sports world craving any sort of content they can get their hands on during the coronavirus pandemic, you can only imagine the intense debates being stirred up in households and among sports talk show hosts nationwide.

One ranking that might come as a shock to NBA fans both young and old — Stephen Curry is apparently the 13th best player in league history.

League history. Let that one sink in.

Let’s just get this out of way — Curry is definitely heading to Springfield, MA for a future date with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, probably a first-ballot date at that. No one is denying the 32-year-old’s greatness and his monumental impact on the modern game.

No one is denying his career 23.5 points per game, his career 43.5 percent 3-point shooting percentage, the highest mark of all time, or his three championships and two MVPs. He is, without hesitation, the greatest shooter of all time.

All of these accolades and titles are his to keep.

However, we have to draw a metaphorical line to establish a boundary between a player still in the midst of a legendary career and the ones who have come before him, the ones who rightfully deserve their place in basketball history.

Curry is just one of multiple current players to be ranked on this list. LeBron James, for example, is ranked as the second-best player ever on the list.

However, that ranking appears to be justified because of the consensus opinion that he would be on a top-10 list whether he retired now or in five years. He is arguably this generation’s Michael Jordan for the impact he has made on the game and the world around him.

Of course, no one is or ever will be Michael Jordan on the court, just to be clear.

Looking at other current names honored on ESPN’s list, former Warrior Kevin Durant is ranked at 14, Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokoumpo are ranked at 25 and 27 respectively. James Harden and Chris Paul cracked the top 40. Anthony Davis is 45th. Even Damian Lillard made the cut at 72.

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It’s certainly possible that recency bias played into these rankings. After all, there are a stunning number of current players on the list, all of whom definitely have their place in the game right now.

But in all-time circles? To earn that level of recognition with your career ongoing, you have to truly be in another stratosphere, like LeBron.

Stephen Curry has forever changed the game, with the three-point revolution that has come about this decade mostly his doing (though don’t forget about backcourt-mate Klay Thompson).

If this were a list of most transformative players in NBA history, the veteran point guard would be a slam dunk for top-10 placement. That’s not what is being evaluated here, though.

With that same logic, Boston Celtics’ great Bill Russell would be the greatest player ever if it were based purely on winning. Again, not what’s at stake here.

Let’s look at some names who Curry was ranked ahead of on this list, such as “Dr. J” Julius Erving (ranked 15th), Philadelphia 76ers’ great. “Dr. J” was a defining player of his era, whose all-around game was better than Steph’s, including in points per game (24.2 to 23.5).

Sure, Curry has more championships with the Warriors and has a better three-point shooting percentage, but the game was different in Erving’s time.

Threes just weren’t a prominent feature of the game in the early 1980s when Erving and teammate Moses Malone (ranked 18th), also ranked behind Curry, were dominating league circles. Erving and Malone were also premier defenders, Curry is definitely not considered a defensive specialist.

The Warriors’ star point guard is also ranked ahead of Jerry West, known as “The Logo,” who placed 16th on the list.

One would assume that the player whose silhouette was made the logo of the sport, as well as one of the best to ever play the position of point guard (conveniently Curry’s position) would deserve to be ranked higher.

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Before Curry revolutionized the point guard position, there was Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas, and before them, there was Jerry West. Enough said.

What about Karl Malone, who is the NBA’s second-leading scorer of all time? Or Dirk Nowitzki, perhaps the greatest European player ever.

Or Scottie Pippen, who has more championships than Curry for those who like to evaluate players based on winning. What about Allen Iverson or Patrick Ewing, both dominant in their respective eras? All of these players are ranked below Curry.

Is it really fair to anoint Curry as being better than some of the all-time greats at this point?

Consider that the players ahead of the Warriors’ franchise great on the list are some of the holiest names in the game (Larry BirdWilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and Tim Duncan).

Are we really ready to elevate Stephen Curry into that class of NBA great right now?

When it’s all said and done, we might very well be ready to do just that. Lists like these are ultimately arbitrary and are meant to provoke debates or takes from sportswriters and analysts.

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At the end of the day, Stephen Curry is definitely headed on a trajectory to earn that 13th best or better ranking of all time.

Has he secured it yet? I wouldn’t quite go that far.