Oscar Robertson was absolutely right and flat-out wrong

By now you’ve probably heard that Oscar Robertson, one of the all-time great players, was critical of Stephen Curry’s game and the way basketball is played these days.

Robertson said, in essence, that one of the reasons Curry shoots so well and scores so many points is because defenses in the NBA have no idea how to guard him, that coaches don’t know what they’re doing.

It turned out to be bad timing for Robertson — though Curry certainly had something to do with that — because the Warriors guard went out and scored 46 points in a 121-118 win over the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Saturday. Curry went 12-for-16 from 3-point range.

Here’s the whole thing: “Curry has shot well because of what’s going on in basketball today. In basketball today, it’s almost like if you can dunk or make a 3-point shot, you’re the greatest things since sliced bread. … There have been some great shooters in the past, but here again, when I played … if you shot outside and hit it, the next time I’m going to be up on top of you. I’m going to pressure you with three-quarters, half-court defense. But now they don’t do that. These coaches do not understand the game of basketball as far as I’m concerned.”

When I really think about this quote, I think Robertson was far less critical of Curry than he was about the game itself right now. I thought Robertson got it half right. …

Robertson has a point when he talks about failed coaching in today’s game. I’m not sure there is a great defensive mind out there when it comes to defending the 3-point shot. In general, I think 3-point shooting and 3-point offense is light years ahead of where the game is defensively.

For a long period of time there seemed to be a group of old-school coaches or even simply traditional coaches that didn’t pay credence to the 3-point shot as it was coming more and more into being. They didn’t pay it the respect it deserved. They discouraged their team from taking it and they never really bothered with how to defend it. They never dreamed the 3-pointer could be the foundation of a team’s philosophy – and be able to win with it.

We went through a long period of time where “Get out to the 3-point shooter” was the extent of the defensive philosophy against the 3. In fact, I’m sure that’s still as far as some coaches go to defend it. To that extent, Robertson has a point.

Where Robertson short-changed Curry though was the part about “being on top of you” the possession after making a 3-pointer. That’s simply not fair to Curry as a basketball player. Robertson either believes or makes it seem that the majority of Curry’s 3-pointers are uncontested – or that he’s just sitting perched behind the line waiting for the ball to come to him.

We know that’s not true. Even if 3-point defense is behind 3-point shooting and 3-point offense, you can’t possibly be watching the Warriors these days and not acknowledge Curry hits many contested 3-pointers. There are plenty of times where Curry is being defended, and even focused on, where he can still get his shot off.

Curry doesn’t just catch and shoot. He doesn’t just come off screens. He doesn’t just find an open area in transition. The guy does all of that, but he can also beat you 1-on-1 now, either beyond the line or inside it.

I understand the older generation not liking the way the game is played now, the propensity of 3-point shooting, etc. But you can’t hold it against Stephen Curry because this happens to be the game he’s dominating.

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About Steinmetz

Matt Steinmetz is a veteran San Francisco Bay Area sports journalist. He covered the Golden State Warriors for Bay Area News Group for more than a decade before becoming a television analyst with Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Steinmetz currently co-hosts the "Warriors WrapUp" show and "NBA This Week" on 95.7-FM The Game, the franchise's flagship station, in San Francisco. He also co-hosts the Sal and Steiny podcast.
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9 Responses to Oscar Robertson was absolutely right and flat-out wrong

  1. Anonymous says:

    What it seems like a lot of these old-timers are doing (perhaps unintentionally) by disparaging the current style of play or coaching strategy is diminishing the accomplishments of the players–in this case, Steph Curry. I doubt the Big O would have taken well to being told in his day, that players of a former era were tougher defensively, or were better coached. No player wants to hear that, especially from someone who played the game at such a high level. This is why people so easily interpret the message as being rooted in jealousy.

    I don’t know why it’s so hard for some of these dudes to just appreciate the ability and skill level it takes to do what Curry and his teammates are doing nightly. Slighting these players by knocking the way the game is coached and played today is still disrespect, whether it was intentional or not. I know for sure if I was a player, it would piss me the hell off either way.

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  2. Wilt scored 100 points with only two pointers steph 51 with 3s.oh yea sure there stronger and bigger today show me one real good center today who can bench 600 pounds.

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  3. There was no 3 pointers in the 60s it doesn’t matter if you can shoot half courts if it’s only worth two points

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  4. Mike says:

    You cannot compare the two because of the eras that they played in. It would be like saying wow, if they only had the three-point shot in Pete Maravich era. It would be like Bob Gibson saying that Babe Ruth would have never had that many home runs that he pitched against him. You just cannot compare because of the improvements in facilities, the training, the knowledge of injury and recovery and also the improvement in and some of the equipment. You just cannot compare eras.

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  5. Mike says:

    You cannot compare the two because of the eras that they played in. It would be like Bob Gibson saying that Babe Ruth would have never had that many home runs that he pitched against him. You just cannot compare because of the improvements in facilities, the training, the knowledge of injury and recovery and also the improvement in and some of the equipment. You just cannot compare eras.

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  6. themmboys says:

    I have total respect for Bog O. He had few peers in his era that had his skill level. In today’s game, he would find plenty of players who could guard him. But if Big O played in the NBA today and had access to the training facilities available to today’s players, he would adjust and still be a HOF’er. But I doubt he would have the quickness to stay with Curry. But neither would Curry have the size and strength to guard Oscar. All basketball eras are relative. You can’t compare them. You can only speculate. That’s what Oscar was doing….although a bit misguided. I’ll give Oscar the benefit of the doubt because he deserves it and has earned the respect. But if I were him, I’d give more thought to the subject and reframe a different response.

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  7. Back in the 60’s and 70’s it was a scoring leagune. NOBODY covered the perimeter. Only time you got guarded was in the paint when your expected to get hammered. But NOBODY guarded anyone on the perimeter. It was a shooter’s league with light coverage. LOOK at the old videos and see for yourself how terrible the defense was. Also, drugs and alcohal was prevalent in Oscar;s era. Bill Walton was on acid for Gods’s sake. Different era for sure. Sure Curry would have been the NBA logo back in the day. Most of the players were skinny poles with poor motor skills compared to today’s players. Competition was weak when Oscar played.

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  8. Anonymous says:

    Back in the 60’s and 70’s it was a scoring leagune. NOBODY covered the perimeter. Only time you got guarded was in the paint when your expected to get hammered. But NOBODY guarded anyone on the perimeter. It was a shooter’s league with light coverage. LOOK at the old videos and see for yourself how terrible the defense was. Also, drugs and alcohal was prevalent in Oscar;s era. Bill Walton was on acid for Gods’s sake. Different era for sure. Sure Curry would have been the NBA logo back in the day. Most of the players were skinny poles with poor motor skills compared to today’s players. Competition was weak when Oscar played.

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  9. Agree teams are trying to defend Steph with everything but the kitchen sink. Just look at all of his 3’s last night and the majority of them were clearly contested shots by many different OKC players. The bizarre sequence was the last shot. How can you let Steph walk up into that shot? Initially I was thinking does he have enough time to pass to Klay or HB on the wings for a layup? Then bang! bang!

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