The Golden State Warriors play the Dallas Mavericks this evening, a game you probably won’t stay up for if you live east of the Salt Lake City line. It’s just another in a seemingly endless series of regular season games you will little note or long remember, save this: Stephen Curry will play, and odds and recent form say that he won’t be that much fun to watch.
This is of course heretical blasphemy, as well as blasphemous heresy. Curry has built his entire career on being a metronome of delight—indeed, on bringing more joy to an average evening’s basketball than any other player. Only now, in January and indeed since the Warriors passed the 20-game mark in November, he has become an almost Westbrookian example of missed shots in high volume. To see him pull up from a modest 33 feet or so, once a happy occasion, is now nearly cringeworthy, and to see his chucks become other people’s rebounds 70 percent of the time is for Curry fans a deeply deflating experience.
The Warriors in general have had to try to keep pace with the soaring Phoenix Suns with a tenacious defense because its once vaunted army of shooters have now been dramatically suboptimal for a full third of the season. Since starting 18-2, when their offensive rating was third in the league, they have been worse than all teams other than Oklahoma City, Detroit, and Orlando. I think we all know what those three have in common, and it’s not good pizza.
But because your eyes go to the shiny object in the middle, you land on Curry and see that the numbers are, if anything, worse than those of his compatriots. It is as if after carrying an entire team last April and June and then chasing the marginally interesting Ray Allen record for most threes made in a career, Curry’s tank has hit E—one of the few things he has hit in that stretch.
In January, he has made less than 30 percent of his threes, his worst month ever with a representative number of games played, and 34 percent since Game 21. His regular shooting percentage in that stretch is a grossly mundane 34 percent and for the season he is hitting a career low 41.6 percent, or six percentage points lower than last year. He is Mike Trout hitting .237, Connor McDavid going 35 games without a goal, or Aaron Rodgers being held to 10 points in a home playoff game.
And that’s the point here. These numbers are dry unless held up against the body of Curry’s work, and his ability to bring aesthetic joy has become more of a muddy slog. Trying to deduce why this is happening is just inebriate guesswork, since the Warriors have dealt with the topic by largely saying, Yeah, but he’s Stephen Curry, and that’s a hard card to beat in this reputational Uno game. He may be nursing an injury, he might be troubled off the court, he might be too bulky, he might have expended too much energy chasing Allen or lost his way when he had to shoot 25 times a game to keep the Warriors in the play-in round a year ago. He might be turning (gasp!) old. Hell, he might just be broken (sees angry villagers with torches and scythes coming up the path).
But the anticipation of watching him shoot is now morphing into trepidation for Warrior fans and basketball fans in general. This is a long time for Stephen Curry not to be Stephen Curry and not have a damned good reason for it, and up until now he hasn’t needed one. But as this hyperslump continues, the fun of the Curry experience continues to recede.
Can all this results-based misery go away and he returns to his normal state of athletic being? I mean, that’s the way to bet and all. He is, after all, Stephen Curry, and you’d likely go broke betting against him too much longer. But he’s been Not Stephen Curry for a pretty extended period of time now, and even if you have too much personal dignity and self-respect to worry about someone who will make $260 million in the next five years even if he goes 0-for-the-contract, you can’t watch tonight’s game with what passes for untrammeled glee. For the first time since he was trying to wrestle minutes from Monta Ellis, Stephen Curry has to prove he’s worth your post-midnight attention.