Gary Payton is the latest to join the ship of graying fools to decry Steph Curry’s unanimous MVP decision—basing their arguments on strange emotions and warped recollections of history.
It started this week with Bernie Lincicome’s column in the Chicago Tribune (yes, the Trib still exists and Lincicome’s bubble pic looks like he’s in pre-op for his colonoscopy). Lincicome, as he’s prepping for his five-minute segment on Bill Swerski’s Superfans, makes all the arguments you’d expect from a columnist who’s trying to figure out how to do the twitters from his Commodore PET as his Rolodex has fallen permanently open to Kasey’s Tavern.
He opens by calling himself the “designated Stephen Curry doubter” which both frames and negates the ensuing argument. An argument that can be described as shaky and weak, maybe. Fragile at best and downright confounding at worst. Most of the piece reads as if he doodled some thoughts on a cocktail napkin during his fifth scotch and soda and magically fed it into a fax-like machine that spits a column out using google translate.
In other words, he went there. Yes, he brought up Vince Carter.
But before we get to that, two disclaimers on this end:
- This isn’t an agist rant. Two of today’s most keen observers of sport (and, frankly, the keenest of all time) are Roger Angell and Vin Scully. Both are older than the Magna Carta but they manage to draw from the vast greatness they’ve been lucky enough to witness and are able to use it to mete where today’s best players and otherworldly performances stand. Sometimes, the old timers win out—but more often than not Angell and Scully recognize that as sport has changed, athletes have evolved too. In rare cases an athlete in his prime can be physically and mentally so good they are literally changing how the game is taught and played—while they play it. Great commentators and writers recognize that’s something special—at any age.
- This isn’t a homer rant. As someone who’s partial to the Warriors and exposed to more Warriors games, naturally, I’m going to be a Curry apologist, just as Lincicome is going to be a gilded-age Bulls apologist. Fine. That’s why one must rely heavily on statistics to make his case. Lincicome seems to have last looked at statistics favorably about the time he started to garnish his rib eye with crushed Lipitor.
K, now that that’s out of the way—let’s start with Lincicome’s opener about Curry. Get ready to be angry: “Curry is a nice little shooter who couldn’t defend an inflatable air dancer.”
This is as condescending as your neighbor who remains busy waxing his ‘97 Porsche in the driveway every weekend calling your new Tesla a “nice little commuter car.” A statement so patently patronizing it doesn’t really deserve reply. Nor, at this point, should any reader feel obligated to read on.
So let’s stop right there shall we? Here are a few fact-based reasons Curry, the “nice little shooter,” put together a sweet ‘16 season that is redoubtable.
- His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is the highest of all time. Curry finished at 31.5. Also finishing in the mid-31 range were Wilt in ‘63, MJ in ‘88 and LeBron in ‘09. Small margins, yes, but Curry still equaled or bested the great’s greatest seasons. Now to put that efficiency rating in the context of minutes, there have been 17 total games (regular season and playoffs) since 1983 in which a player has scored at least 50 points in 36 minutes or fewer. Curry has three of those games—all of them happened this season.
- Speaking of time on the court, Curry played fewer than five minutes in the fourth quarter in 2016. These stats—which by all accounts seem padded—were actually all hard-earned; points came when it counted.
- Nine teams made fewer threes than Curry in 2016.
- Curry’s team won the most regular-season games in N.B.A. history.
- This New York Times chart putting Curry’s season in context. (Spoiler alert: Stephen Curry, who finished the regular season with a record 402 3-pointers. The record is an outlier that defies most comparisons, but here is one: It is the equivalent of hitting 103 home runs in a Major League Baseball season. Over the past 30 years, the number of 3-point field goals has trended steadily upward. If we project that trend into the future, 402 becomes a perfectly natural number of 3-point field goals for an N.B.A. player to make. In the mid-2030s.)
So Curry’s not only evolving the game as he plays it. He also happens to be playing a generation ahead.
Who. The. Fuck. Does. That?
I can tell you who doesn’t: This Lincicome guy
The fading scribe goes on to ignore, you know, all the evidence in favor of his emotions. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine he’s deigned to watch Curry or the Warriors or anyone in the league actually play a single game this year. He warbles on with with the same kind of crossed-arm, furrowed brow condescension as a TV dad in the ’80s when his daughter is picked up by, you know, some punk with an earring: “Young Curry is what basketball has come to, but we must consider soberly what it means to be a unanimous MVP.”
No, I will not get off your lawn bro.
Then, to legitimize his noxious half-bakedednedss (<-yes, that’s a word), he swerves all sweaty-palmed like a sales guy post after-work drinks towards a DUI checkpoint to talk of how Jerry West is the logo and deserved a unanimous MVP nod and then about how Dr. J. and Kobe only got one MVP each and how Steve Nash also got two and how Jordan, Chamberlain and LBJ all deserved a shot at a unanimous vote. But you know, he still doesn’t give any reasons why other than using the same logic that got him into a Buick instead of an Acura during his last car purchase back in ‘02—it just felt right.
And Curry doesn’t.
Oh, and then this: “It could be as simple as a lack of challengers, a lull in the level of competition, a league caught in limbo between a parade that is passing and a surprise that is coming.”
Wait a minute. Lack of challengers? Lull in the level of competition? Last I checked Sir Kobe and the King were still playing during the emerging Curry era. Strange.
Then he closes with this, the most specious of all arguments: “What makes Curry so unanimously valuable is fashion mostly. Curry is the flavor of the moment, an interim fascination, like Allen Iverson was, or Vince Carter, or Patrick Ewing. And we are unanimous in that.”
Yeah dude. Did I mention, fuck you?
Sadly, Lincicome isn’t alone. Gary Payton yesterday joined Charles Barkley and the King himself throwing out missives asking why Curry? Why now? Being careful not to diss on the player, but propping their thinly veiled and ill-formed opinions with the cloak of history.
“You gotta think about who was voting for Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem and all of them during their time,” Payton said. “Why in the heck would they not give all their votes to them guys at that time when they’re doing it?”
Fair play. GP’s got the feels for his contemporaries and his mentors, but then he goes the distance like Ray Kinsella with the LeBron route: “As we say, Stephen Curry was the best player this year, but I’m saying all around—who gives you assists, who gives you rebounding, who gives you points, who does a lot of things for his team to have it?”
Then he mentions the Warriors are capable without Curry:
“If you take LeBron off that team, I don’t think Cleveland is a good team like that. If you take Curry off [the Warriors], uh, right now I don’t know. They probably would win games. They wouldn’t have won 73, but they would win a lot of basketball games.”
Thing is, Curry was playoff absent from the Warriors till game four in a hotly contested second-round playoff match vs. an emerging and surging Trailblazers. I understand why GP might not remember this happened. After all—it was all the way back on May 10.
To refresh: Curry’s final line in the game (at Portland) was 40 points on 16-of-32 shooting from the field, including 5-of-16 from 3-point range, with eight assists and nine rebounds in 37 minutes. His 17 points in overtime are the most ever scored in overtime of any NBA game, regular season or postseason.
…I’m beginning to feel that Curry, underestimated his whole life be it for surname, size, fragility or style of play, likes being the underdog more than he likes hoisting trophies. As long as the pundits keep setting him up, he’ll keep knocking them down.
Curry and his base needn’t worry though—everyone will catch up eventually…probably sometime around the mid-2030s.