- Two Of A Kind -

Low-key dudes, sons of former NBA players and quite possibly the best shooting backcourt ever, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson now have the same goal in mind—a title.
Say what you want about Mark Jackson, but the former Golden State Warriors’ coach’s 2013 assertion that Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were “the greatest shooting backcourt tandem in the history of the game” sounds a lot less debatable today. In fact, it can now be argued that he didn’t go far enough in touting the duo’s potential, stars of the NBA’s top regular-season team.

Of course, it’s not just Thompson and Curry that have made the Dubs, owners of the best record in the L, so formidable. The team’s chemistry, balance, unselfishness and style of play are a thing of beauty, as they routinely make life miserable for visitors to raucous Oracle Arena. On the road, their games feel like the Globetrotters are in town for an exhibition affair.

But without minimizing the contributions of others—former All-Stars Andre Iguodala and David Lee sacrificing by coming off the bench for emerging youngsters Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green, center Andrew Bogut quietly functioning as the squad’s hub on both ends of the floor, underrated backups like Mo Speights, Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa forming the second unit, a first-year head coach building on the foundation created by the departed Jackson—it’s obvious that the aptly-named “Splash Brothers” (coined by Warriors’ employee Brian Witt) are the major reasons GS has risen to new heights, including the franchise’s first Pacific Division title since 1976, behind one of the most cohesive backcourts since Frazier and Monroe, Thomas and Dumars and anyone else you can think of.

While Curry’s blend of flashy ballhandling, playmaking and long-distance shooting, and Thompson’s size for his position, defensive potential and similarly accurate outside marksmanship have been evident for some time now, the seeds of the two All-Star Game starters’ improvement and thusly, Golden State’s rise, may have been sown last summer during their Gold-medal-winning USA Basketball tour at the FIBA World Cup.

“They have great respect for each other, they’re very different people. I think they bonded well this summer. This past summer was very important for them. Not to say they hadn’t before, but I think this summer was particularly important,” explains Ron Adams, a Warriors assistant who’s regarded around the NBA as one of its foremost defensive minds. “I think, though, they’re more reflective of our team in general. Yes, they have great chemistry, but so does the team.

“You have your two best players on the team, who everyone likes and everyone roots for, and they’re the right kind of people, so I know in that way, it’s affected it. But conversely, I think the total team ethos has helped them,” continues Adams, who actually coached Curry’s sweet-shooting father, Dell, and against Thompson’s father, Mychal, a former No. 1 overall Draft pick. “If they make a mistake or they take a bad shot, nobody’s hanging their head. Very unusual team in that regard. They just support and they believe in those two guys and those guys believe in the rest of their teammates.”

Thompson and Curry both possess low-key personalities, perhaps borne out of the humility that comes from being the sons of former pros. But unlike the notoriously reticent Thompson, Curry, the leading All-Star vote-getter, has a more outgoing demeanor and his fan-friendly game, relatively average 6-3 (listed) size, personable branding and baby-faced appearance belie his competitive nature and a career spent trying to prove doubters wrong.

“It depends on who you’re talking about. People who knew me believed in me a lot. That’s family, coaches, teammates, ever since middle school. They always saw something in me and wanted me to keep going. But when it comes to people assessing my game from the outside, I definitely had more belief than the majority of the people and that’s what fuels me to keep going,” says Curry, concisely summing up his thought process during his journey from lightly recruited prep prospect to Tournament darling at Davidson and finally, legitimate NBA star. “[There wasn’t] any doubt, but just how real the moment was just kinda built up every single year. You obviously have a dream and work every year, but at a certain point, which was my freshman year, that kinda transitioned into it being real and it was a decision, per se—I didn’t think I made a quick one, to leave school—but at that point, you realize you’re right on the brink of realizing a dream and that motivates you more. So, I never doubted or never sold myself short on that dream, but after playing in the Tournament as a freshman, that’s when I started to visualize what it would take to make that jump.”

That mentality has led to the most overlooked aspect of Curry’s growth as a player, his much-maligned defense. Sure, his usual gaudy offensive stats (23.6 points and 7.7 assists per, 48.2, 43.8 and a League-leading 91.4 percent from the field, three-point line and charity stripe, respectively) are still intact, but he’s also averaging 2.0 steals per game. Beyond that, Curry, while he’s no Gary Payton, is somewhat similar to his team, which ranks at or near the top in most defensive categories, as he fares much better on that end of the floor than expected, partly due to Kerr deploying him against the League’s best point guards, a task previously handed to Thompson most of the time.

Chimes in Kerr, who also suffered (or benefited) from a boy-next-door complex that muffled his talent as a Championship-winning player with the Bulls and a young Tim Duncan in San Antonio: “Steph doesn’t say much. He leads by example. The guys, they absolutely follow him. But he’s more in the Tim Duncan mold. Come to work every day, show ’em how it’s done, but doesn’t have to say much.”

Thompson, as noted, has even less to say than Curry, who is at least more outwardly flamboyant on the court. Defense wasn’t seen as a hole in his game, but like Curry, playing for the national team under the watchful eye of USA assistant Tom Thibodeau, he was also challenged to ramp up his intensity. The 6-7 sharpshooter clamped down on opposing international wing scorers, backing up his agent Bill Duffy’s assertion that he was the “best two-way shooting guard” in the game. Golden State seemed to agree, giving him a max extension prior to the season, but there was an added bonus, as Thompson’s development also included diversifying his offensive game. Instead of simply being content with the label of elite spot-up shooter, the Washington State product shed his frustrating bouts of unassertiveness to become an aggressive slasher, utilize his better-than-advertised athleticism to finish more effectively at the rim and even function as a secondary ballhandler and playmaker, resulting in career-high numbers.

“I want to be a complete player and out there, I’m not trying to press. I’m trying to let the game come to me and that comes with having great shot selection, being patient and if I do that, I can be a really great player in this league,” explains Thompson, who's averaging over 21 ppg and nearly 3 apg, while putting up percentages of 45.8 from the field, 42.8 from three and 87.7 from the line. “I think it comes with natural progression in this league and learning new things and being more comfortable out there. It’s my fourth year and I’m just trying to grow every game.”

Adds the professorial Adams: “Well, I think Klay is a little bit of a late bloomer. He’s a young player but just coming into his own. So, I think the confidence aspect has played a big part in his growth this year, and I think the summer [which Thompson spent playing alongside Curry on the Gold medal-winning USA Basketball team at the FIBA World Cup] was very important to him in again, solidifying—to him—that he belonged amongst the high-level players in the League.

“Steph doesn’t say much. He leads by example. The guys, they absolutely follow him. Come to work every day, show ’em how it’s done.”—Kerr

“He plays both sides of the ball, and for a 2-guard, he’s very good on the ball. He does a lot of other good stuff, too. But his defensive game, too, has a lot of growth in it, so that’s exciting. If he sets his mind to it, I think he can be one of the best, if not the best, rebounding 2-guards in the League, and that’s something I would like to see happen for him,” the coach goes on to say. “You’re talking about a guy who really likes to play. He puts the work in and I think also, he was a little nervous after he signed that contract and even before it, and there was a little bit of a time period where I think he was just sorting things out. But he’s got a really good skill—an internal skill, an emotional skill—of not letting too many things bother him, and that’s what you want out of a shooter. If he misses a shot or something happens, he can bounce back and do stuff.

“I think that aspect of his game has grown and he’s beginning to welcome the challenge of being a great player. I think Steph is a bit ahead of him in that regard because he’s older. But I think Klay is seeing that and embracing it.”

Now, none of the above completely explains the Dubs’ dominance (only two home losses at press time, a 19-game winning streak early in the season), but the behind-the-scenes work Thompson and Curry put in and their shared team-first ideals lend substance to the style that has made them must-see TV and increased title expectations. But when you have a 27-year-old PG capable of making defenders look silly off the dribble, with his court vision and by being able to drop 51 on a moment’s notice, playing with a 24-year-old shooting guard with the ability to score 37 in a single quarter, 52 overall for the game, and his J might rank second in the L to his aforementioned teammate—by virtue of Curry topping Thompson in the final round of the All-Star Weekend Three-Point Contest—sometimes it’s best to not overthink things, watch history unfold and just let it flow.

You know, like water.

Photos via Getty Images

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