Orville Higgins | Veterans envious of Curry?
The basketball world continues to be amazed at the exploits of Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. For the second season running, he was named as the regular-season MVP. He is the 11th person in NBA history to win that award back to back. No one can question Curry's performance this season. He was shooting at more than 90 per cent from the free throw line, 50 per cent from the field, and over 45 per cent from three-point range. Nobody else in NBA history has ever been able to combine those numbers in any one season. To that you can add that he also averaged 30 points for the season. He led the league in scoring, and also led the league in steals.
Curry smashed his own record for three-point shots, from 286 to more than 400. He was also the main man behind the Warriors breaking of the 72-game-per-season winning record. The man was virtually unstoppable. A lot of keen basketball watchers like ESPN'S Skip Bayliss feels that this is the greatest regular season ever by any one player. He reasons that not even Jordan, in his pomp, was anything like this.
To add to all these accolades, he became the first man in history to win the MVP award unanimously. This has provoked reactions from several quarters, including former Houston Rockets great Tracy McGrady. "For him to get this unanimously, it just tells you how watered down our league is. When you think of M.J., Shaq ... I mean, those guys really played against top-notch competition. More superstars, I think, on more teams than it is in our league today."
Clearly, despite Curry's monster season, not everybody is all that impressed. Some, like Ron Harper and even a hall-of-famer like Oscar Robertson, have loudly voiced criticism. Oscar has said that the current defence in the NBA is not all that and that is why Curry can rack up these monumental numbers from the three-point line. He has even questioned the coaching in the NBA now.
"I just don't think coaches today in basketball understand the game of basketball. They don't know anything about defences. They don't know what people are doing on the court."
Charles Barkley, never one to shy away from criticism, agrees with McGrady, but he added more. "The NBA is watered down. I've been saying this for the last two or three years. The NBA is the worst I've ever seen it. I think it has something to do with all these kids we are drafting out of high school ... . Now we are drafting kids after one year of college. It drives me crazy. They have potential, but they have no idea how to play basketball. Tracy has a great point ... ."
Even LeBron James has chimed in. He is arguing whether the term 'MVP' is appropriate. "I think sometimes the word 'valuable' or 'best' player of the year, you can have different results. You know, that's not taking anything from anyone that's ever won the award." It must be pointed out that LeBron himself has won the regular-season occasions and he hasn't voiced these sentiments before.
What he is saying here is that Steph Curry cannot have too many detractors as far as the 'best' player this year was concerned, but was he the 'most valuable'? He has a point. Value can be interpreted as how important you were to your team over the season. It could well be argued that Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron himself, or somebody like a Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder, was more valuable to either team than Curry was to his.
Without Curry, Clay Thompson and company are a pretty formidable bunch, capable of putting up high-quality performances against good opposition in the playoffs. Without Westbrook and James, you just feel their team would struggle far more than Golden State would without Curry.
What should we make of all this? Are the criticisms regarding Curry justified, or is there a healthy dose of envy for what he is achieving? Should we take people like Tracy McGrady and Charles Barkley and Oscar Robertson seriously, or should we dismiss them as old players trying to take the gloss off Curry's career because it somehow makes them pale in comparison?
It's a natural tendency for humans to romanticise the good old days. Is that what is happening from these former NBA greats, or do they have a point? I think I know the answer to these questions, but for now, what say you?
• Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to email@example.com.