by Branden J. Peters / @brandenlsk

The latest SLAM cover subject, Stephen Curry, has Russell Westbrook’s bum knee to thank for being voted a top-10 NBA player for the first time in his short career. Originally SLAM writers had him ranked 11th. Not a big jump, but a big deal nonetheless. No one is walking around bragging about being top-11 anything, right?

The mark of the truly great is showing up in the Playoffs. Curry increased career-best points and assists averages in the Playoffs to 23.4 and 8.1, respectively, in what was for many, his coming out party. There is no reason he shouldn’t continue tearing up the League for the foreseeable future.

The Warriors, and especially Curry, will not sneak up on any teams this season. They aren’t quite the hunted, but no one wants to be on the other end of another 54-point outburst. Curry should be ready for the challenge—the summer of 2013 was the first time since 2010 that he’s been healthy in the offseason. No ankle surgery means more time to work on his game.

Despite what seems to be constant injury scares, Curry has become a star for two reasons: his ocean wet jumper and the ascendance of his Golden State Warriors squad from perennial lottery team to legit challengers in the West. He’s arguably the first bonafide star the Warriors have had on the roster since the Run-TMC days (Monta Ellis does not count), yet most hoops fans east of the Mississippi have no idea just how good he really is. Chalk it up to 10:30 p.m. EST start times or basketball narcolepsy, but either way, his overall game is hella slept on.

First off, his handle is one of the sickest in the League (ask Gary Neal). It is not lightening quick, but it’s tricky and elusive. Plus the fact that he can rise up and hit off the dribble from just about anywhere beyond half court keeps defenders on their toes and makes his yo-yo-like handle extremely effective.

Secondly, Curry’s passing skills are vastly underrated. He had a career high last season with nearly 7 assists per game (6.9 assists per game is nothing to sneeze at, especially considering that he regularly played the off-guard when he and Jarrett Jack were on the floor together). Add to that, Curry’s ability to maintain his dribble and spot the open man keeps his teammates working to get open. This makes him a dangerous passer, particularly when plays break down.

The best shooter in the NBA does need to improve on the other end of the floor. For the first 25-30 games of the ’12-13 season, Curry’s D was pretty good. As the season wore on, it dwindled dramatically, possibly due to fatigue. He played over 38 minutes per game last season. Those minutes will most likely decrease as coach Mark Jackson tries to preserve his ankles. Adding Andre Iguodala also gives the team an extra ball-handler, which is more reason Curry should be fresher as the season goes on.

Curry has something else no other Warriors player has had in recent memory. He’s got that killer in him. That thing you can’t teach. That thing that y’all said LeBron didn’t have until he won back-to-back Championships. Curry is fiercely competitive. The look on his face and body language on the court screams “I hate to lose!”

Though they possess talent at every position and have a deep bench, the Warriors are going only as far as Stephen Curry takes them. The team leader has a new shoe contract, his kid brother in tow (ain’t nepotism beautiful) and the basketball world watching. It’s up to him to prove that last year’s semifinals run was no fluke. If he’s able to stay healthy, his inclusion in the top-5 PG discussion won’t be arguable, it’ll be a given.

Where should Stephen Curry rank in the SLAM Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2013
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Monta Ellis Mavs SG 5
49 Luol Deng Bulls SF 10
48 Ricky Rubio TWolves PG 14
47 Greg Monroe Pistons PF 12
46 Kawhi Leonard Spurs SF 9
45 Mike Conley Grizzlies PG 13
44 Al Jefferson Bobcats C 9
43 David Lee Warriors PF 11
42 Jrue Holiday Pelicans PG 12
41 Anthony Davis Pelicans PF 10
40 Joe Johnson Nets SG 4
39 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 9
38 Kevin Garnett Nets PF 8
37 Rudy Gay Raptors SF 8
36 Paul Pierce Nets SF 7
35 Ty Lawson Nuggets PG 11
34 Pau Gasol Lakers PF 7
33 Al Horford Hawks C 8
32 Andre Iguodala Warriors SF 6
31 Brook Lopez Nets C 7
30 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 6
29 DeMarcus Cousins Kings C 6
28 Damian Lillard Blazers PG 10
27 Josh Smith Hawks SF 5
26 Joakim Noah Bulls C 5
25 Roy Hibbert Pacers C 4
24 John Wall Wizards PG 9
23 Chris Bosh Heat C 3
22 Tim Duncan Spurs PF 5
21 Dirk Nowitzki Mavs PF 4
20 LaMarcus Aldridge Blazers PF 3
19 Rajon Rondo Celtics PG 8
18 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 2
17 Blake Griffin Clippers PF 2
16 Deron Williams Nets PG 7
15 Kevin Love TWolves PF 1
14 Dwyane Wade Heat SG 3
13 Paul George Pacers SF 4
12 Russell Westbrook Thunder PG 6
11 Tony Parker Spurs PG 5
10 Stephen Curry Warriors PG 4

Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’13-14—to players’ team, the League and the game.