SLAM Top 50: Stephen Curry, No. 4

It’s easy now, thanks to Kevin Durant’s MVP Finals performance, to forget that the player who transformed the Warriors into the dominant outfit they are today was, in fact, Stephen Curry. The dude has literally changed the way the game is played, and the way the rest of the League goes about building teams. As we’ve seen with the Thunder this summer, fit is no longer a concern. It can’t be. The only way to keep up with the Warriors is to amass as much talent as possible and hope that it all somehow gels.

That’s all because of Steph.

He’s the one that rendered the League’s previous pick-and-roll defenses useless, that forced teams to become obsessed with finding players capable of switching assignments on screens, lest they fall victim to one of Curry’s silky bombs. Look at PJ Tucker. He went from out of the League to $32 million man within five seasons.

That’s what Curry’s done. He’s forced teams to change the way they think and play. (Big men? What are we supposed to do with them?) Keep up or be left behind.

And even if Durant is bigger, stronger and, probably, more talented, it’s still Curry that makes the Warriors’ offense—meaning the greatest offense the sport of basketball has ever seen—go. His shooting pulls defenders out near half court, stretching the floor vertically, where he’s then able to burn then with his wizardly handle (which would probably get more love if not for that magical stroke) and get to the rim, where he’s, perhaps to your surprise, one of the top finishers in the League (he scored on 63 percent of his shot attempts there last season, placing him in the 94th percentile, according to data from Cleaning The Glass).

It’s a mix of skills that over the past three years has proved literally impossible to guard (the Warriors outscored its opponents by a league-high 1,015 points last season with him on the floor).

But there’s more to Steph’s brilliance than just his ability to dribble and shoot like no one we’ve ever seen. His willingness to cede the spotlight to Durant—to not only accept the addition, but also pitch for it—is a display of selflessness we’re not used to seeing from NBA stars. It’s not that most are selfish; it’s just that, understandably, it’s hard to watch someone else absorb the spotlight that you helped create. It’s why Pat Riley says winning the second championship is harder than the first. “The Disease of Me,” he calls it. It was based on the idea, which he witnessed first hand, that teams who win championships ultimately stop winning because all involved become too focused on themselves.

That the Warriors have managed to avoid this pitfall for three years now is nearly unprecedented in NBA history. It’d be like if Kobe and Shaq never fought.

That all starts with Curry, from the way he plays the game to how he acts before and after them. It’s the trait of a truly great leader, which, in a sport like basketball, is the kind of thing that can elevate a team.

But elevating his team is what Steph does. It’s why watching him is such a treat, and why he is, and will always be, an all-time great.

Previous Rankings:
2016: No. 2
2015: No. 4
2014: No. 5
2013: No. 10

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2017-18—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.

No. 50 – Dion Waiters
No. 49 – Ben Simmons 
No. 48 – Brook Lopez
No. 47 — Harrison Barnes
No. 46 — Jrue Holiday
No. 45 — Lonzo Ball
No. 44 — Myles Turner
No. 43 — Goran Dragic
No. 42 — Andre Drummond
No. 41 — Al Horford
No. 40 — LaMarcus Aldridge
No. 39 — Kevin Love
No. 38 — Paul Millsap
No. 37 — Hassan Whiteside
No. 36 — Andrew Wiggins
No. 35 — Marc Gasol
No. 34 – DeAndre Jordan
No. 33 — Bradley Beal
No. 32 — Kemba Walker
No. 31 — CJ McCollum
No. 30 — Devin Booker
No. 29 — Nikola Jokic
No. 28 — Joel Embiid
No. 27 — Mike Conley 
No. 26 — Kyle Lowry
No. 25 — Rudy Gobert

No. 24 — Gordon Hayward
No. 23 — Kristaps Porzingis
No. 22 — Carmelo Anthony
No. 21 — DeMar DeRozan
No. 20 — Blake Griffin
No. 19 — Draymond Green
No. 18 — Chris Paul
No. 17 — Klay Thompson
No. 16 — Jimmy Butler
No. 15 — Isaiah Thomas
No. 14 — Karl-Anthony Towns
No. 13 — Damian Lillard
No. 12 — DeMarcus Cousins
No. 11 — Kyrie Irving
No. 10 — John Wall
No. 9 — Paul George

No. 8 — Anthony Davis
No. 7 — Giannis Antetokounmpo
No. 6 — James Harden
No. 5 — Kawhi Leonard