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
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Monta EllisMavsSG5
49Luol DengBullsSF10
48Ricky RubioTWolvesPG14
47Greg MonroePistonsPF12
46Kawhi LeonardSpursSF9
45Mike ConleyGrizzliesPG13
44Al JeffersonBobcatsC9
43David LeeWarriorsPF11
42Jrue HolidayPelicansPG12
41Anthony DavisPelicansPF10
40Joe JohnsonNetsSG4
39Serge IbakaThunderPF9
38Kevin GarnettNetsPF8
37Rudy GayRaptorsSF8
36Paul PierceNetsSF7
35Ty LawsonNuggetsPG11
34Pau GasolLakersPF7
33Al HorfordHawksC8
32Andre IguodalaWarriorsSF6
31Brook LopezNetsC7
30Zach RandolphGrizzliesPF6
29DeMarcus CousinsKingsC6
28Damian LillardBlazersPG10
27Josh SmithHawksSF5
26Joakim NoahBullsC5
25Roy HibbertPacersC4
24John WallWizardsPG9
23Chris BoshHeatC3
22Tim DuncanSpursPF5
21Dirk NowitzkiMavsPF4
20LaMarcus AldridgeBlazersPF3
19Rajon RondoCelticsPG8
18Marc GasolGrizzliesC2
17Blake GriffinClippersPF2
16Deron WilliamsNetsPG7
15Kevin LoveTWolvesPF1
14Dwyane WadeHeatSG3
13Paul GeorgePacersSF4
12Russell WestbrookThunderPG6
11Tony ParkerSpursPG5
10Stephen CurryWarriorsPG4

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