Basketball fans like to talk about elite players, although the definition is somewhat fungible. LeBron, obviously, is elite. Kevin Durant, too. Beyond that, it can become a lot of speculation. Some people call Kobe is elite (and point to the number of rings he has as evidence) while others look at Derek Rose and the way his personality drives everything the Bulls do on offense, and call him elite.
But as much as fans argue about exactly where the cutoff line is, one thing is clear: it's almost impossible to win a title without an elite player. The best of the best provide so much value on the court that it's almost impossible to overcome that with depth.
Here is a list of the top ten volume scorers in the NBA going into Wednesday's games.
But of course scoring isn't just about how many points you score - it's about how many shots you take to get there. No way of measuring this is perfect, but True Shooting percentage, which accounts for a player's ability to get to the line as well as the value of three points shots, is probably the best.
Of the players on that list, only six have a better TS% than Stephen Curry. It's really pretty straightforward: Top 9 in volume, high efficiency, Curry is easily one of the top 10 scorers in the NBA. No asterisks.
This shouldn't, actually, be a surprise. Curry has always been a great scorer, although it was hard to see sometimes given how much Monta Ellis dominated the ball. He can create his own shot, using the threat of his jumper to create space to drive. Although he's not great at getting to the rim, his jumper is so good that opponents' attempts to stifle it create driving opportunities.
He's turning the ball over less, too, despite doing more. His passing is as good as ever, perhaps even better. Despite a slow start, there was nothing flukey at all about his four 10-assist games in a row. Heck, at this point, per-game totals almost certainly under-value how well he's playing because of his slow start to the season.
Defensively, Curry is much improved - and that's not an attempt at damning with faint praise. While he still gets beaten off the dribble by quicker PGs, Curry has become excellent at playing the pick-and-roll, using his high hoops IQ to anticipate where attacking players are likely to be. He's reaching less on defense. Instead, he's proven adept this year at using his quick hands to abuse bigger players when he's forced to switch on pick and rolls. Several times this season opponents have had what appeared to be a mismatch, with a big against Curry in the low post, and Curry's quick hands have turned the tide in the Warriors favor.
And more than that, there's the subjective thing. It's not just the swagger, so much as it's the way the whole team tends to raise their game to his level. It's not a coincidence that Klay found his groove once Curry found his. When Curry is driving and moving and making things happen, Lee's cuts are sharper, and he doesn't waste time with the ball in his hands, back to the basket 18 feet away. When Curry is playing well, the Warriors play well. It's that simple.
Heck, even the team's biggest weakness - the way they struggle to hold leads down the stretch - is related to Curry. He's not at his best in a half-court game, and s Curry goes, so go the Warriors.
Curry isn't a real MVP candidate, not yet. LeBron still deserves that. Kobe might - forget trips to Germany, he seems to have found the fountain of youth. (Kobe is, no exaggeration, having by far the best offensive statistical season of his career. That shouldn't be possible). Carmelo, playing power forward, is finally the offensive player he's always seemed to think he was.
But the Warriors search for an elite (super-delux-anti-ankle-jinx-knock-on-wood) offensive player is over. They have him. His contract extension is looking like a steal. (After the Charlotte game, does anyone doubt that he'd get a max offer from them on the first day of free agency this coming season?)