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Vince Thomas

Stephen Curry is second among rookies in scoring (behind Tyreke Evans), at 16 points a game
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Rookie Curry already better than I thought he would be

Posted Mar 9 2010 2:37PM

I think Stephen Curry might become the athletic version of Nas' Illmatic for me. I'm not saying that Curry is going to become one of the greatest athletes in sports history the way Illmatic is, for me, one of the greatest albums of all-time.

I'm saying that it took me until the end of college -- almost 10 years after Illmatic dropped -- for me to finally realize the album deserved its landmark status. It's embarrassing and it actually affects the listening experience. Every time I run the album and hear that raunchy bassline on "The Genesis," or whenever "The World Is Yours" shuffles onto the iPod playlist, there are always moments of guilt and shame, moments where I ask, "What was I thinking?"

Have you seen Steph (yes, he has already snatched that name from Marbury) play basketball lately? The young man is a revelation. As far as rookies go, 2010 has been Curry's year. Teams game-plan for him now.

Last week, the Warriors came to Phillips Arena and Curry turned in a 31 and 11 performance that had the Hawks fans cheering him on and broadcasters leaping out of their chairs.

I gushed about him all game on Twitter. It was my favorite Phillips performance of the year. Privately, though, my little basketball ego was bruised. I had this dude all wrong.

Just like every time I hear "New York State of Mind" and remember dismissively asking a friend, "What's so dope about that?", when Steph's a perennial All-Star 10 years from now, I'll remember the myriad pre-Draft conversations I had with colleagues and friends dissing the young cat and the column I wrote where I predicted Steph would be a Jannero Pargo.

It wasn't trying to clown on him. I was just trying to temper the exuberance that was following "Steph the NCAA star" into the pro game. I was saying, "This guy could be a great instant-offense combo guard off the bench for a contender" the way Pargo was for New Orleans in 2008. In hindsight, it was a diss.

Me being a point guard snob, my thing with Steph was that I didn't think he had the Motts to be an NBA point. So I thought he was going to have to play two-guard, which would have meant nightly matchups against players two to four inches taller and 20 to 40 pounds heavier than him. This is what I wrote back in June:

"Stephen Curry ain't no NBA point guard. I love his feel for the game, love his IQ, love his clutch-gene, but I see more Jason Terry than Steve Nash. This could be trouble. For every Ben Gordon and Jason Terry, the league's history is littered with pint-size guards that couldn't hack it as a 2 guard and didn't have the requisite skill set to be a full time team-orchestrator at the point. Think about dudes like Shawn Respert and Juan Dixon and Melvin Booker and Eddie House and all the other tweeners that are relegated to spot duty or just shooed out of the league altogether."

(Shaking my head in embarrassment.)

Wanna know who's masquerading as a point guard, right now? Tyreke Evans. Curry? He's got it. He's got it all.

He's not a hot head. He sees the game developing two and three steps ahead of everyone else, which is why he's always zipping passes to teammates that barely recognize they're open -- the universal sign that a dude's court vision is ultra-sophisticated. He has a solid grasp of controlling tempo, which you'll see even more of when he finally gets to play in a system other than this chaotic Don Nelson setup.

(Note: Curry mentioned this before the Hawks game when I asked him what makes playing pro point guard difficult and he said, "It's tougher to manage the game, because there are so many runs in NBA games, especially playing the style we do." Before you read into that, though, let me state that there is no beef. Nelson called Steph "the perfect rookie," and he loves "to see him every morning when I come to practice -- there isn't anything negative about the guy.")

He has a flair for the dramatic and never seems flustered when pressured. And his teammates not only like him, they respect him. Already. If/when the Warriors move Monta Ellis, you will see this deference really kick in.

And we haven't even talked about all the inventive ways the young dude drops buckets. Because his handle is so sick and he's a threat from 25-feet on in, Steph is a lot quicker with the rock than you'd expect (think Steve Nash). By the time he finishes with all his head fakes and shoulder fakes (he looks like a robot on fast-forward), Steph is by his puzzled defender into the lane, dropping a floater. And his release is as quick as his dad's (Dell Curry) was. All he needs is a nanosecond of space to flick treys. Swish.

"Basketball IQ is something you gotta have," said Curry, when I asked him about having a veteran's game at such a young age. "Growing up around the game, in NBA locker rooms, watching the game at eye-level, you pick up on a lot of things."

There's a slew of talent in the NBA, but not all of the talented guys are red-blooded, "to the core" ball players. Steph's a ball player. He plays it well. He plays it with style and drama and panache. He plays it better than any other rookie. That's why he's my Rookie of the Year, right now.

Man, it was embarrassing to write that last sentence. Not even a year ago, I was comparing Steph to Juan Dixon. Sorry, Steph. I owe you an apology.

Now can someone get me some floss so I can get all this crow from between my teeth.

Vincent Thomas writes "The Commish" column for SLAM Magazine and is a contributing commentator for ESPN. You can e-mail him here or follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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