LeBron James has held the crown as best player in the NBA for what seems like an eternity. It has been at least a half-dozen years since the conversation has even been up for legitimate debate. LeBron has been to the NBA Finals in five consecutive seasons. Although he has only come away with two championships, in each series it was easy to pick out the best player on the floor. LeBron has won some other notable hardware as well. He has been named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player four times since 2009 and his dominion over the rest of the league has been unparalleled.
Stephen Curry, of the Golden State Warriors, has surpassed LeBron James as the best and most dominant player in the NBA. Steph, as he’s universally known, is a threat to score as soon as he steps onto the court. His shooting ability is unparalleled and his shot-selection is insane. He consistently takes and makes off-balance shots from well beyond the three-point arc. The shots that Steph takes are the type of shots that coaches cringe at, except his coaches can’t get angry because he is a superstar in the NBA and they always seem to go in. He and his team, the Golden State Warriors, are becoming “must-see television” each and every time they step on the court. Curry is currently averaging 31.6 points per game which would be good for a top-twenty single-season scoring in NBA history. He is redefining how fans view the game of basketball. Typically, fans are enamored by the high-flying dunks and highlight-reel blocks. Steph does neither of these. He shoots the ball at a staggering clip. He is currently shooting 45% from three and 94% from the free throw line. He is redefining the term “shooter” and he may be the best we have ever seen.
By the way, his team, the Warriors, is off to one of the best starts in NBA history. Through December 3rd, they stand at 20-0 and have a real chance to make a run at the ’95-’96 Chicago Bulls and their record-setting season. That year the Bulls posted a record of 72-10, which currently is the best record an NBA team has posted in a season. That team was lead by an all-time great named Michael Jordan. Ever heard of him? The ’95-’96 Bulls also had the likes of Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, who are both enshrined in Springfield, Massachusetts at the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Although ESPN’s Power Index gives the Warriors only a 12.9 % chance of besting Jordan’s Bulls, I feel confident predicting the Warriors will surpass 72 wins this season, for a few reasons. First off, as discussed above, Steph Curry is the best player in the league. This is no knock against LeBron. I am one of LeBron’s biggest fans, and just writing this pains me, but objectively, it’s the truth. For the longest time Kobe Bryant was regarded as the best player in the league. Kobe won back to back championships in 2009 and 2010 and was seemingly on top of the basketball world. Then, over the course of a few years, he started showing his age and faced a litany of injuries. At that time, the title of “NBA’s Best Player” was up for grabs. That’s when James took it, ran with it, and did not look back. He had always been in the conversation, but Kobe’s decline left no doubts in the minds of basketball fans that LeBron was the new standard bearer. It has remained that way up until this year. Now the torch, in my mind, has been passed to Curry.
This Warriors team has an added sense of motivation and a desire to prove that their success last year was not a fluke. When Steph Curry beat LeBron James and his injury-riddled Cleveland Cavaliers in last year’s NBA Finals, it was considered an anomaly by some. Many said, “the Warriors just got lucky” or “the Warriors just caught the Cavs at the right time.” Their rationale being that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, both perennial NBA All-Stars, were sidelined with severe injuries. I counted myself in that group. It seems that the Warriors really took those sentiments personally and have come out this year on a mission. They aim to definitively prove that they are the unquestioned best team, and want to send the rest of the NBA a message. When they win 72 games, there will be no denying this team’s greatness.
The emergence of Warriors’ forward Draymond Green this year is another reason the Warriors will exceed 72 wins. He has elevated his game to another level and that has been vital to the team’s success. Green finished second last year in voting for the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award. This year, if he keeps his play at its current level, he will win that award. Green will certainly be an All-Star in the flooded talent pool that is the Western Conference. His vast improvement and ability to run the point from the forward position gives the Warriors an added element that only Curry previously gave them. The Warriors won a championship last year, but this year, in 2015-16, they may even be more potent.
This season, bearing in mind that only 20 games in it is still a small sample-size, the Warriors have come out with something to prove. They feel disrespected after the conversation surround their finals win, and are playing with a chip on their shoulder. They are showing everyone in the basketball universe that they are focused and on a mission. The Warriors are not just beating teams, they’re annihilating teams. Their average margin of victory is more than 15 points, which is twice as large as the second best team in the NBA, the San Antonio Spurs. The Warriors are by all accounts en route to an historic season. They have Steph Curry, the best player in the world, and he and his teammates are on a crash-course toward the record books.