You Can’t Turn Steph Curry Into James Harden

Photo: Harry How (Getty)

Stephen Curry is one of the leading conduits of migraine headaches in modern American sports. That is to say, his name is invoked when migraines are inspired, which is correlation rather than causation.

Monday, for example, he was an innocent bystander when Michael Jordan said on the Today show that Curry wasn’t a Hall of Famer. This immediately caused the internet to vomit upon itself even though (a) Jordan was pretty clearly joking and (b) is technically correct in that one is not a Hall of Famer until elected to the Hall of Fame. Jordan may not be much for team creation (see Hornets, Charlotte, Freefall) but he knows the difference between the present and the future.

Tuesday, though, and more to the point, his head coach Steve Kerr downgraded Curry’s running mate Klay Thompson to “unlikely to play this season” after amateur doctors across the land with neither knowledge nor access had projected his return at around the all-star break. This exacerbated the running analysis that Curry’s already-high usage rate should spike beyond Hardenesque levels for him to win the Most Valuable Player award in an otherwise difficult year for the company. Some even postulate that a ball-dominant Curry makes them better, which is wrong for reasons that those of you stupid enough to continue will see below.

(Here is the point at which someone must surely say soon that Jordan makes the most sense of anyone on the subject of Steph. Everything else on the subject is either confusing, wrongheaded or flies in the face of everything that made Curry Curry.)

Thompson’s adjusted recovery timeline makes the Warriors significantly worse, since the optimistic view of their season assumed Thompson’s full return in time for a late-season return to full Warrior-hood. In other words, they’re likely to be worse, both individually and collectively. Bet the under on the 48.5 win total, based on: the time it will take D’Angelo Russell to acclimate himself as Curry’s new Thompson; Draymond Green’s ability to guard multiple people at once rather than merely alternately; Kevon Looney’s amiable work ethic vs. his physical limitations; and Willie Cauley-Stein’s eventual return to whatever the Willie Cauley-Steins of the world do.

As for Curry, though, the speculation that his usage rate could skyrocket and that he would therefore be more likely to put together a dazzling individual season of numbers flies in the face of the fact that removing quality teammates typically makes one worse rather than better. Defending Curry as teams are likely to defend him will probably help Russell’s numbers, but nobody is clamoring for that one way or another.

But even if Curry’s numbers did spike as some people expect, that would make him less appealing as a player because a ball-centric Curry is antithetical to the Curry that resides atop Jordan’s Not-A-Hall-Of-Famer-Yet list. Curry lives in a ball-movement universe and made his reputation not as a stand-alone consumer of the shot clock but as the most electric moving part in a gearbox full of them. The NBA is clearly getting away from the one-option-fits-all ball that once made Carmelo Anthony a thing, and Curry was a prime example of the game’s aesthetic advancement. And now people think he should regress for the glory of his own stat line because winning an MVP and missing the playoffs is somehow an equitable trade?

No. Curry is ... well, was the heart of one of the great ensemble shows in sports history, and even wanting him to be something else (which is to say something worse) is either the heartfelt plea of a fan of another team or the yowling of an idiot. He shares with his teammates and his teammates share with him for a loftier goal, or there’s no real point to the exercise. Thompson is the key to that ball movement because he needs the ball in his hands less than any other person in the sport; he holds the NBA record for shots made before touching the ball, that’s how quick his release is. Without him, the meh washes over you like room-temperature high tide—you don’t notice you’re drowning until this seaweed plugs your nostrils.

Put another way, Stephen Curry as James Harden is simply not worth the minimal benefit of being a slightly more appealing MVP candidate.

But if you don’t believe that, remember that no city throws a parade for an MVP winner, and without the possibility of drinking straight from the bottle on a raucous city street while the cops do nothing except smile, sports may as well be insurance adjusting.

Ray Ratto only watches the NBA to see how many experts can be wrong simultaneously about anything.