The congratulatory messages flooded the Golden State Warriors’ group text with the speed and frequency usually reserved for Stephen Curry’s shooting outbursts.
Warriors players expressed giddiness over Andrew Wiggins landing his first appearance as an All-Star starter. They noted the journey Wiggins took as a No. 1 pick on the young and rebuilding Minnesota Timberwolves (2014-20) toward a dependable scorer and defender with the Warriors (2020-22). Nearly 30 minutes passed, though, before anyone in the group chat even acknowledged Curry earning his eighth starting stint for Sunday’s All-Star Game in Cleveland (8 p.m ET, TNT).
“It was hilarious,” Curry told NBA.com. “With our team culture, I wouldn’t expect anything less that we would be that excited about Wiggs and overshadow me. So, there was nothing to it, really.”
Because Curry enjoyed the oversight, the Warriors’ coaching staff poked more fun at their star player. After the NBA announced its All-Star starters, the Warriors spent their pregame meeting watching a video montage for Wiggins that included highlights, music and congratulatory messages. The video concluded with a short, off-hand mention of Curry’s latest All-Star nod. As Warriors assistant coach Bruce Fraser acknowledged, “For Steph, I hate to say it, but I think it’s old hat.”
“We all got a great kick out of the formality that is Steph Curry being named a starter in the All-Star Game,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Maybe that’s when you know you’ve made it — when nobody even bothers to congratulate you on that kind of achievement.”
Yet the Warriors remain well aware they wouldn’t be what they are if not for Curry, winning three NBA championships in five straight Finals appearances as he shattered shooting records and elevated teammates.
The Warriors (42-16) play the Denver Nuggets (32-25) on Wednesday night (10 ET, NBA League Pass) with the Western Conference’s second-best record primarily because Curry is ninth in the NBA in points per game (25.8) and first in 3-pointers made (250). The Warriors were also impressed with how Curry corrected a stretch of poor shooting performances, while also contributing as a playmaker and defender.
“He’s back in the race,” Fraser said. “It’s every race: championship, MVP, scoring title. He’s in there, and he’s back in the mix.”
Eventually, the Warriors did express appreciation for their star point guard.
Long-time teammate Draymond Green detailed recently how he unintentionally omitted praise for Curry on the group chat before veteran teammate Andre Iguodala alerted everyone.
“Hey Steph, congratulations. Don’t let these MF’s act like what you’re doing is not elite,” Iguodala wrote in the group text. Green responded, “Wow, my fault No. 30; I truly apologize, brother. Congratulations.”
Green then apologized again to Curry in person. Curry confirmed Green’s recollection as “verbatim,” but insisted he took no offense.
The reason? Curry remains comfortable with his resume. Curry also enjoys the Warriors’ team-oriented culture that often includes playful ribbing. So why would Curry need to receive another compliment? He already knows his value. After a recent morning shootaround at CalTech in Los Angeles, students crowded around the windows a floor above the practice gym so they could see Curry complete a shooting workout. Curry attracts the same attention at both home and away games.
Cal Tech students crowding around the windows to see Steph Curry shoot pic.twitter.com/YJc3nDw4HY
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) February 14, 2022
Just like how his teammates initially reacted with a yawn to Curry’s All-Star selection, so did Curry. Moments after his shooting routine, Curry offered more self criticism than praise about his season thus far.
“I want to play better and be a little bit more efficient,” Curry said. “But everything else, in terms of the game and the impact, I’m proud of what I’ve been able to do this year. I want to keep it going.”
Curry still savoring his ‘unreal’ historic moment
No doubt, Curry remains most proud of surpassing Ray Allen as the NBA’s career leader in 3-pointers made (3,082 and counting entering Wednesday’s game).
Almost two months after eclipsing Allen for the record against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, Curry’s memory remains fresh on everything that happened before, during and after the milestone. As Curry said, “You can write a whole book on just that night.”
You sure can. The day started with the Warriors arriving in New York City early in the morning after mechanical issues on the team plane prevented them from departing immediately after their game in Indiana. But Curry said he hardly felt any fatigue when he arrived at MSG. He shared the crowd’s excitement over only needing to make two more shots to eclipse Allen.
“They honored the moment extremely well,” Curry said of the scene at MSG. “It was unreal. I didn’t have any expectations there and they delivered. The first six possessions, everybody was standing up waiting for me to shoot the ball. That’s hilarious because I wasn’t going to force it. But I could feel the anxiousness around there. Everyone was making sure they had their phones up to film the moment.”
Those moments finally happened in the first quarter both when Curry tied (10:56) and broke the record (7:33). The game then stopped so Curry’s coaches, teammates, opponents and fans could honor him with an onslaught of hugs, high fives and cheers. Curry later embraced his dad (Dell) and mother (Sonya) as well as the NBA’s leaders behind him on the all-time 3-point list, Allen and Reggie Miller.
“He’s back in the race. It’s every race: championship, MVP, scoring title. He’s in there, and he’s back in the mix.”
— Warriors assistant coach Bruce Fraser, on Stephen Curry
Afterwards, Curry dined at a steakhouse with his business partners at SC, 30. Inc. as well as his personal trainer, Brandon Payne.
“Just honestly thinking of all of the time and the summers that went into that, all of the shots that went into that and the non-stop progression of challenging him over the past 12-plus years,” Payne told NBA.com. “It’s just how far we’ve come on that journey and how we’ve grown in our work, how I’ve grown as a trainer and how he’s grown as a player. It’s been a long journey.”
How Curry found his way out of his slump
The record also cemented the end of a week that Curry considered “long” and “emotionally draining.” After all, Curry opened the 2021-22 season hardly thinking about the upcoming milestone. So much that Payne said “leading up to training camp, we literally never had a conversation about that record.”
Inevitably, conversation about the record heated up among media and fans once Curry edged within striking distance. During that time, Fraser observed that the pursuit “probably got him out of sorts a little bit.”
“I think he started chasing the record a little bit and started taking some crazy shots,” Fraser said. “When he was chasing that title, it threw him off the way he normally plays. He wasn’t making shots for the team. He was trying to make shots semi for himself.”
Warriors fans hoped Curry could make history at a home game. But Curry shot poorly against Portland (8-of-19 from the field; 6-of-17 from deep) before the Warriors’ four-game trip. Curry then also fell short of setting the record amid tough shooting nights in Philadelphia (6-of-20 overall; 3-of-14 on 3s) and Indiana (8-of-20 overall; 5-of-15 on 3s).
When you go through a period like that, there’s nothing to explain it. It’s just, you ride it out and not let it change the way you see the game.”
— Warriors guard Stephen Curry, on his shooting slump
Payne observed that Curry “was pushing things a little bit” against Portland partly because he needed to set an NBA record for most 3-pointers in a game (16) just to make history at home. But Payne praised the Sixers’ defense more than critiquing Curry for his shot selection.
But how did Curry view it? He always remains confident that he will make any shot he takes. During his pursuit to make history, though, was Curry pressing?
“Yes and no,” Curry said. “I was getting up shots with a lot of attempts, maybe two or three a game where it was forced. But the rest of it was just because I was missing. You can create whatever narrative around the outcome.”
More narratives were written after Curry experienced an abnormal shooting month in January, hitting just 38.5% from the field and 32.9% from 3-point range.
That marked a major drop from Curry’s season averages from the field (42.5%) and from deep (38.1%). Those numbers are drastically lower than what he recorded during his MVP seasons in 2014-15 (48.7% overall; 44.3% on 3-pointers) and in 2015-16 (50.4% overall; 45.4% on 3-pointers). Curry also faced a decline from what he recorded last season as an MVP candidate (48.2% overall; 42.1% on 3-pointers).
“The bar you set is really high. I’m talking about myself,” Curry said. “When you go through a period like that, there’s nothing to explain it. It’s just, you ride it out and not let it change the way you see the game.”
Still, Curry made some subtle tweaks.
In a conversation that he said lasted no more than 10 minutes, Payne said he gave Curry “little reminders” about having proper weight on each foot, keeping the core tight and paying attention to his landing area. Following the Warriors’ practice on Jan. 26, Curry also huddled up with Fraser with an extensive talk and shooting workout. Both parties concluded he lacked enough power in his shot because he often landed on his toes instead of the base of his feet.
“He’s the one that recognized he wasn’t on the ball of his foot as he should’ve been,” Fraser said. “He was losing power through his whole body by where the position of his feet landed. Once he corrected that, he started really making shots.”
Still, Curry stressed that tweak is “nothing really to hype up there.” Instead, he offered a simple solution on what it will take to shoot more consistently after the All-Star break.
“Just shoot,” Curry said. “There’s no key. It’s always a matter of perspective with never losing confidence and do what you know how to do.”
Moments later, former NBA sharpshooter and current NBA TV analyst Dennis Scott politely interrupted Curry’s interview so he could ask a question.
“Shooters shoot,” Scott said. “So, why do people panic so quickly when you have a couple of bad games and you show you’re human?”
“Because I’m not allowed to,” Curry said, laughing.
“You’re not allowed to be human, right?” Scott said. “So, it drives me crazy as a shooter. ‘What’s wrong with Steph? He’s human!’ We’ve all had a week.”
Curry nodded affirmatively as the two shared a bond that only shooters could truly understand.
“There is a moment,” Curry said. “Maybe the 15 [shots] before, you can start to see a little bit of a pattern. The rest of it is lazy because you don’t really watch the game.”
Finding a new groove as a playmaker
The Warriors also mostly downplayed Curry’s inconsistent shooting numbers. Not only do the Warriors expect Curry to shoot better because of his resume, they also observed that Curry positively impacted the Warriors’ offense even when he didn’t make shots.
Curry has averaged 6.3 assists this season, a slight uptick from last season’s output (5.8). He also has recorded at least 10 assists in 10 games.
“That’s all necessity to make sure we’re still vibing and flowing,” Curry said.
That has become necessary because the Warriors have nursed key absences to their other two key playmakers. Green has stayed sidelined for the past 20 games because of a lower back injury. Iguodala has missed the last four games because of a tight lower back.
“What’s been most impressive this year is how he’s been able to run the team really efficiently with Draymond out and Andre out,” Kerr said. “Normally those guys are point forwards that take a lot of the playmaking and game managing burden off of Steph so he can focus on scoring. With those guys out so much this year, he’s really had to play more of a point-guard role. He’s doing a really good job with taking care of the ball and making good decisions.”
How has that changed Curry’s approach as a playmaker?
“He’s more conscious of what’s needed, which is to make sure we’re doing the right things to win the game,” Kerr said. “If he doesn’t have those responsibilities, it frees him up to kind of go nuts and launch. It’s a little tougher for him to do that because he’s got to be responsible for managing the team a lot more.”
Curry still has had his shooting outbursts. He’s had a 50-point performance as well as five 40-point plus outings. Unlike last season, though, the Warriors’ offense has not solely hinged on how well Curry shoots and creates for himself on or off the ball.
Klay Thompson returned last month after being sidelined for the past 2 1/2 seasons with injuries to his left ACL (2019-20) and right Achilles tendon (2020-21). The Warriors have trusted Wiggins as a dependable wing scorer. And the Warriors have liked Jordan Poole’s consistency as both a playmaker and off-the-ball scorer.
“He’s gotten better. He has more pieces around him, too,” Fraser said of Curry. “Our bench has allowed Steph to trust in him more. So, his playmaking has been pretty good.”
Steph finding new footing on defense, too
The Warriors would say the same thing about Curry’s defense.
“He’s been great defensively all year,” Kerr said of Curry. “I hope people are recognizing it. Everyone obviously locks in on his offensive brilliance as they should. For whatever reason, he has a reputation for being a poor defender. I don’t see that at all. I think he’s a really good defender.”
Of course, Curry’s value will always hinge on his shooting and playmaking. But the Warriors have also attributed their championship success toward leading the league in various defensive categories. This season, the Warriors have the NBA’s top defensive rating (104.4) for reasons beyond having Green. Although their defense has subsided during Green’s absence, Curry’s presence has at least mitigated the team’s defensive issues.
Curry ranks 82nd out of 592 NBA players in defensive rating (101.7), only five spots behind Green (101.5). Among NBA guards, Curry ranks 17th in defensive rebounds per game (4.8). That has happened because Curry has bulked up his 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame while improving his fundamentals and decision-making in recent seasons.
“I got stronger so you can handle physicality a little bit better,” Curry said. “If guys want to roll you into the post or defending a drive, you take that first hit and don’t get knocked off balance. Then you don’t foul unnecessarily because youlre not reacting. You always stay in control. I’ve always tried to see the floor well and be one step ahead and see the passing lanes. But when you can add the on-ball presence, that helps.”
To prepare for that assignment, Curry devoted part of his offseason regimen toward strength and conditioning. The Warriors observed that Curry often spends extra time in the weight room after practices. And following a recent morning shootaround workout, Curry devoted an extra 10 minutes toward completing resistance band exercises.
“Embracing the opportunity to get rid of some narratives,” Curry said. “But it’s all about just the responsibility with doing my job. There’s nothing really else other than that.”
After saying those words, Curry approached a handful of CalTech students that waited outside of the school gym. Curry patiently signed autographs for those fans, while they expressed appreciation for both his gesture and play.
Steph Curry giving his signature for Cal Tech students pic.twitter.com/FirQtMqZUO
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) February 14, 2022
The Warriors may have inadvertently forgotten to give Curry his proper due after landing on the All-Star team yet again. But that has hardly compromised Curry’s enthusiasm to stay grounded with his sense of humor, his self criticism and approachable nature.
Once he returns from All-Star weekend, Curry hopes to spend the second half of the NBA season giving the Warriors a reason to celebrate him for more important reasons than receiving an individual honor.
“Just trying to stay on that level where I’m playing at a high level,” Curry said, “and winning at a high level.”
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