There’s a phrase we’ve heard forever about a certain kind of great basketball player: “He makes his teammates better.”
It’s the ultimate compliment you can give a player – that he alone can turn so-so players into effective ones and good players into really good ones. I think we can all agree that Stephen Curry is one of those players.
He is playing so well and he demands so much attention from the opposing team that it is simply impossible to pay as much mind to players not named Curry. And because of that, Curry’s teammates thrive.
That dynamic alone can help create a championship team, which it has here in Golden State. But there is a level beyond this, a level some championship teams don’t even reach, and it’s a place the Warriors may be getting to.
And it’s this: Not only does Curry make his teammates better, but general manager Bob Myers has managed to put teammates around Curry that make Curry better. That’s not always with the case with some of the game’s great players. It’s frequently a one-way street, with the star helping the role players but the role players not doing much for the star.
How much help has LeBron James gotten from his teammates over the years? Sure, he played with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh a little bit in Miami, but what about over the long haul? Did the early Chicago Bulls do anything for Michael Jordan’s career? Hardly.
How about Hakeem Olajuwon? When he led the Rockets to consecutive titles in the mid-1990s his greatness was acknowledged. But how much better did his teammates make him? I’m not saying Olajuwon’s teammates didn’t complement him; they did. But did they really make him better? I don’t think so.
On the flip side, players such as Larry Bird and Magic Johnson benefitted in a big way from incredible teammates. Bird played with three Hall-of-Famers in Dennis Johnson, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. You’re darn right Bird was a better player because of them. Similar for Johnson, who played with maybe the greatest center of all time (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and perhaps greatest finisher on the break of all time (James Worthy). I’d put Tim Duncan and the Spurs in this group with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
Those teams, to my way of thinking, created a stronger legacy for themselves as opposed to the early Bulls or Olajuwon’s Rockets or Kevin Garnett’s Celtics or even LeBron James’ title teams. It’s the difference between great teams and historic teams.
We can debate to what degree a certain star’s teammates helped him, but the main point is to acknowledge that few teams have helped their superstar – and made him even better – than the current Warriors. It’s hard to imagine the Warriors surrounding Curry with a team that supports him any better than this one.
While Curry might not be playing with the kind of individually great players that Bird, Magic and Duncan did, it’s clear he’s reaping the benefits of playing with the perfect roles players – not only offensively, but defensively, too.
Klay Thompson, Curry’s backcourt mate, is a nice fit, all in all. Thompson’s ability to defend both ones and twos has been instrumental in Curry’s success, always allowing Golden State to match up from a position of strength in the backcourt rather than weakness.
And we know how much Thompson being a great shooter in his own right helps the team’s spacing and therefore Curry.
But nobody helps Curry more than his frontline: Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green. Just think about it … Curry is the best shooter the game has ever seen and he has the luxury of playing with the best passing frontcourt in the league and, perhaps, one of the best in history. That’s a gift most great shooters never get. Plus, we haven’t mentioned Andre Iguodala, a wonderful distributor for a small forward.
Bogut and Green also help Curry on the defensive end, allowing him to gamble more because he knows he’s got two solid rim protectors in back of him. Curry’s defense has improved in recent years, we all agree on that. One reason is because Bogut and Green allow him to be more aggressive on the perimeter, and his steals sometimes turn into highlights.
The overall point here is that the symbiosis between Curry and his teammates has the potential of taking the Warriors to an even higher level than they’re at right now. Not all superstars get to play with the perfect team. But right now, that’s a luxury Curry has.
***Don’t forget, Steinmetz also does a cool podcast called the “Sal and Steiny Show” with Bay Area legend Sal Castaneda. Here’s where you can access that show: