Mark Jackson delivered on his promise, albeit a year behind schedule. No one is complaining.
As the 2011-12 season winded down, the Warriors’ playoff drought seemed destined to continue in perpetuity and Jackson looked like a blustering blowhard, headed for a quick exit from his first coaching gig.
Lofty ambitions seemed incapable of solving the primary problem: The team lacked a megastar, a marquee name, a nucleus to build a playoff team around.
Basketball is a team sport, and the best of the best play together like the Miles Davis Quintet. But if you want to make a splash in the NBA, you need a stud, a LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant.
A lot of variables played a hand in the Warriors’ second playoff berth in 19 years: good coaching, improved defense and unexpected depth. But if there is one ingredient that pushed the team over the hump, it’s the sudden emergence of the Warriors’ first, truly elite player since Chris Mullin, and it isn’t their All-Star, David Lee.
It’s the guy who got snubbed, the NBA’s top 3-point shooter, the kid who blew the roof off Madison Square Garden in February: Stephen Curry.
This isn’t to say Curry should be shoved into the same conversation as James, Bryant and Durant. But if he can keep his right ankle glued together, he should be one of the league’s most lethal backcourt threats for years to come.
At this point, Curry is undoubtedly the NBA’s best pure shooter. He’s currently second in 3-point efficiency (minimum 150 attempts), hitting 44.9 percent of his shots from downtown on an astonishing 555 attempts, while being the only player among the top 20 with more than 400 tries. If Curry hits 20 3-balls in the Warriors’ last four games, hardly an impossibility, he’ll tie Ray Allen’s 2005-06 league record of 269 treys in one season. In his fourth season, Curry is already second on the Warriors’ all-time list for most career 3-pointers (621), trailing only Mullin.
But Curry isn’t a guy who just stands in the corner waiting for open looks on kick-outs from his teammates. He’s the floor commander, the quarterback, the point guard, and he’s vying to become the first player to average six assists and three 3-pointers per game in one season. Curry is also one of four players — alongside James, Bryant and Russell Westbrook — who are averaging at least 22 points, six assists and four rebounds per game.
But if Curry has an Achilles’ heel, it’s his defense.
He’s relatively small (6-foot-3, 185 pounds) and tends to be exploited by the Westbrooks and Derrick Roses of the world. If the Warriors are going to be more than a one-and-done team down the road, he’ll need to find a way to be disruptive as the NBA continues to become a point guard league.
Curry’s rise this season is a key reason why the Warriors are out of no-man’s land and in the playoffs. Jackson deserves tons of credit, too, but he should probably take his point guard out to lunch one of these days.
Paul Gackle is a columnist for The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.