NBA Draft: Buddy Hield, or anyone else, is not the next Steph Curry
There has only been one Steph Curry in the almost 70-year history of the NBA.
No, there will not be another Stephen Curry in the 2016 NBA Draft.
Or the 2017 NBA Draft. Or likely in 2018, or 2019, or 2020, or maybe ever.
Let's just dispense of that thought before we even start.
Curry is a unicorn, a mythical, seemingly inhuman being who was placed on this earth to hit jump shots from previously impossible distances at formerly unreachable percentages. Though paradigms are shifting and basketball as a whole is becoming a more perimeter-oriented game, if we haven't seen anything like Curry in the almost 70 years the NBA has been around, it's hard to buy into the idea of another one just popping up any time soon.
Yet, it won't stop people from making the Curry comparisons when discussing the 2016 NBA Draft. They say "so-and-so can be the next Curry." Or, "that's what Curry was dismissed for when he entered the draft and look at him now!"
It's not just the general population doing it, either. Look at Oscar Robertson comparing Buddy Hield to Curry (favorably, I might add!). Or check out John Calipari invoking the Curry name when discussing his former player, Jamal Murray. Now, these two aren't the most sterling sources. Calipari is obviously biased having coached Murray, and Robertson has thrown enough egg on his face this season when discussing the Warriors that it's hard to see where the chicken ends and the skin on his face begins. But these people are newsmakers, and when they say something it becomes a story. And when it becomes a story, it begins to spread like wildfire to fans who hope the best for the players their team may pick in the upcoming draft.
Obviously, Curry is on the tip of everyone's tongue right now as he vies for his second consecutive NBA championship on the heels of his second consecutive MVP. But it's unfair to bring him into the equation with any current NBA Draft prospect just simply due to the incongruous nature of his once-in-a-gernation, if not once-in-a-lifetime skill set, not to mention his background and work ethic. There are a couple of immutable truths about Curry's past that make him incomparable to any other player.
1. Curry is not the everyman that people want to make him out to be
This idea clearly came from his days at Davidson, where people were shocked to see this skinny kid dominating the competition with his smooth shooting stroke and lack of conscience from deep. We've heard a million times how he doesn't look like your typical NBA superstar, which makes him more relatable. Plus, he genuinely seems like an approachable and personable athlete in a time where superstars seem to be so different from the rest of the crowd. But here's the thing about that: is the son of a former NBA player really all that much of an everyman?
Shooting a basketball is part genetics and part hard work. We'll get to the hard work portion in the next section, but having the genes of one of the best shooters in NBA history isn't exactly a regular place to start. Obviously the talent Curry was given has played a big role, as there is something innate about the way he shoots and plays. Steve Kerr talked about this at length in an article from the Wall Street Journal back in 2014.
"He happens to have maybe the best hand-eye coordination of anyone in the world," said Warriors coach Steve Kerr, the NBA's all-time leader in career three-point percentage.
But the NBA isn't full of Curry clones-at least not yet-because Curry's shot is also innate. "To try to shoot like Steph may make sense from a technical standpoint," Kerr said, "but it's kind of like saying I'd like to jump like Scottie Pippen."
But being the son of an NBA player helps in other ways, too. Particularly, being so immersed in the NBA game from a young age helps to grow your basketball sense in a way that, frankly, many don't get the opportunity to do. That sense shows not only in the way he runs off screens or subtly gravitates to open space, and certainly in the way he shoots the basketball, but also in the way that he creatively sees the floor seemingly unlike anyone else in the league.
This wasn't something that he developed at the NBA level, either. His innate ability to stretch the floor and create looks for teammates has been unparalleled even since his days under Bob McKillop at Davidson. According to sports-reference.com, Curry was the only NCAA player over the last 22 years to average 28 points and five assists while making at least 100 3s at a rate of 38 percent or better.
Even if not everyone bought into it all translating to the NBA at the time -- and there were legitimate reasons for concern -- he was an outlier in terms of possessing that combination of skills at a high level. The ability to make plays through his passing keeps defenses honest in terms of doubling him, and the ability to hit shots from 30 feet away, often off the dribble, stretches defenses, which in turn creates highly unique passing lanes, to the point that it makes him basically impossible to defend, both on and off the ball.
This isn't to discredit Curry for any of his talents. Everyone in the NBA is hugely talented. But going from merely talented to what Curry has become takes real basketball grooming, which is something Curry got started on a lot earlier than most every other player in the NBA and certainly in this upcoming draft.
Take, for instance, Hield, who nearly broke Curry's NCAA record for 3s made in a season this year. Yes, Hield might be the best pure shooter at the college level since Curry, but he is not nearly the passer or playmaker that Curry is, and his ball-handling skill is on more on par with a Jodie Meeks-type. That's a big leap from Meeks to Curry, and thinking Hield, or anyone else for that matter, will make such a leap and become a truly dominant all-around force is probably unrealistic. Curry has simply fooled us. He's made the impossible seem almost expected.
2. Curry's development at the NBA level is also an outlier
The concerns about Curry coming into the league were quite real, whether people want to gloss over those while Monday morning quarterbacking or not. Back then, he didn't have a lightning quick first step, was a relatively average ball-handler for a point guard, and struggled to finish around the rim due to his lack of bulk. Plus, he really didn't defend anyone at the college level -- although that may have had a lot to do with his massive role offensively. Basically, he was a highly skilled but relatively inexperienced point guard who could really shoot it and was highly creative with terrific court vision, but he had conspicuous potential downfalls.
When he hit the NBA though, things kicked into high gear in large part due to an off-the-charts work ethic. Obviously NBA players are expected to work hard once they reach the NBA, but Curry has set a new standard for adding things to your game. It's often said by scouts that one of the hardest things to improve once you get to the NBA is your ability to handle the ball, so again, expecting someone in this year's draft to take a skill like that to such an appreciably higher level, just because Curry did it, is basically courting failure.
Though not a part of this year's draft, there are a couple kids at the prep level that are showing some Curry flashes. In terms of creativity and basketball IQ -- the toughest skills to replicate -- the closet thing to Curry might be Washington commit Markelle Fultz. But Fultz isn't nearly the shooter. UCLA commit Lonzo Ball also has that same creativity and sense -- I mean, look at some of these passes and finishes around the rim -- and has similarly funky shooting mechanics that are made to quickly release the ball. But given that he shot 36 percent from 3 in high school this season and is a bit streaky at this stage due to the relative flatness of the shot's arc, it's unlikely he'll ever develop the devastating accuracy that Curry uses to connect from distance.
In getting back to this year's crop, Murray, to be fair, is a nice player and is quite a bit younger than Curry, but he hasn't shown anywhere near the creativity of Curry in terms of court vision or quickness -- even if he does have many of the same stop-start, hesitation dribbling talent that Curry did coming out of Davidson.
Somehow, Curry went from being a solid ball-handler to one of the three best in the NBA along with Kyrie Irving and Chris Paul. We've all seen the pregame dribbling routines, and his ball handling highlights circulate social media nearly as much as his 30-footers. Curry's handle largely comes from that preternatural hand-eye coordination that Kerr discussed above, but again, the work ethic is world class not just for the physical commitment, but the creativity and intelligence he applies to his training sessions.
Despite a lack of length and being relatively skinny for an NBA point guard, Curry became the best finisher around the rim for a guard by adding versatility and creativity to his lay-ups. He built up muscle mass and became a bit quicker. He became at the very least an average defender at the NBA level against even elite point guards.
While Curry obviously had all of this somewhere inside, he maximized his ability in a way that so few players do. For every Curry or Damian Lillard who make the leap to superstardom due to marked improvement, there are 10 Randy Foyes, Dion Waiters, Brandon Knights, Victor Oladipos, Kemba Walkers, Evan Turners, Ricky Rubios, Jerryd Baylesses, D.J. Augustins, Ben Gordons or Devin Harrises who develop into nice NBA players, but never become the superstars every guard selected in the lottery is expected to become.
It's unrealistic for an NBA franchise to expect players they select to not only accentuate their strengths, but also markedly improve their weaknesses and become NBA legends in the process. Improvement is one thing, but historic dominance is another. There is only one Stephen Curry. To expect anyone from this draft or any other to be anything similar to him seems foolish at best, and at worst, hugely unfair to the prospects being discussed in the same breath.
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