Stephen Curry has been one of, if not, the most influential athletes of the past decade. He revolutionized the game of basketball. Defending three point shooters used to start right at the three point line, however, with sharpshooters like Curry now in full force, that’s no longer the case.
There really is no debate that it should be either Curry or James. As the article points out, nine of the last ten NBA Finals have featured Curry or James, with four Finals featuring both players. In addition, five out of ten NBA MVP’s went to one of these two players.
As expected, James and Curry are very close statistically speaking over the past decade. Here are the per game averages from both men:
Curry: 24.3 points, 6.7 assists, 1.7 steals, 47.8% field goal percentage, 43.6% three point percentage, 58.7% effective field goal percentage
James: 26.6 points, 7.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 53.2% field goal percentage, 35.6% three point percentage, 57.2% effective field goal percentage
Both men have also won three NBA Championships in the last ten years. However, Curry does have a three to one advantage over James in the Finals. As far as All-Star selections go, James has not missed the game once this decade. Curry, however, did not get the nod until 2014, but he hasn’t missed out on one since.
The two have led the league in a slew of statistical categories as well. Both guys have been at the top in player efficiency rating, field goals made, and win shares. James has led those three categories numerous times, while Curry led those just once in his 2015-2016 unanimous MVP season.
If you go through the awards and honors portion of each’s Basketball Reference page, James is clearly the more decorated athlete this decade. Curry really did not establish himself as a superstar until 2014, and some would even argue 2015. Of course, we all knew who James was at the start of the decade.
The NY Times article recognizes this as well. They give the nod to Curry, however, for an aforementioned point: he revolutionized the game.
It’s worth noting that Curry’s success actually stems from LeBron’s Miami Heat teams. Those Heat teams ushered in the pace and space era that now rules the NBA. Three point shooting and fast play-styles now dominate the NBA along with “small ball” lineups. Curry now flourishes in that type of system.
Still, Curry has taken it to a new level. Consistently putting shots up from 25 feet or more would always be considered poor shot selection, even for some of the best three point shooters. But not for Curry.
The game is not ONLY three point shooting, however. Defenses can adjust, become more physical, and run you off the three point line. That’s where the athleticism of James helps him maintain dominance. Being able to put his head down and get a bucket over any defender of any size is part of what makes him arguably the greatest player of all-time.
Curry is no slouch in the paint in his own right. He is usually towards the top of the league in terms of finishing percentage at the rim, finding angles to make tough layups.
Without throwing an excess of numbers around, both players have flourished and failed in clutch moments. James’ 2011 Finals performance against the Mavericks is still criticized today. Curry was fantastic in his first championship series in 2015, but failed to knock down shots late against the Cavs in Game 7 of 2016. Both guys have a plethora of regular season game-winners as well as clutch postseason moments.
I’d have to disagree with the NY Times article and give my player of the decade honors to James. The level of dominance he has sustained is something we haven’t seen in the modern NBA. Yes, Curry has changed the game in so many ways and has set himself apart from any sharpshooter before. After all, four of the five total three point shots made in a season records belong to Steph.
Regardless of LeBron being the more decorated athlete this decade, stats are not everything. Hoop heads around the world will all agree on that. Still, LeBron has been the most dominant player in the league this past decade. I think the NY Times got it wrong with this one.
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