SI.com will periodically panel its basketball experts during the 2015 NBA playoffs and ask them a pressing question about the league. Today's topic...which player is more fun to watch in person: the Cavaliers' LeBron James or the Warriors' Stephen Curry?
Lee Jenkins: LeBron James
Steph Curry is certainly the most entertaining player to behold before games. During one warm-up session this season, an opposing GM stopped on the court and stared at Curry as he unleashed his flamboyant arsenal of pull-up jumpers. “The guy is an artist,” the GM said. If you appreciate artistry, the choice is Curry, and if you prefer physicality, it’s LeBron James. Never has basketball seen a force of nature quite like James, a combination of size, speed and smarts, put together in a post-modern package. The sight of him taking two steps back, before charging headlong into a weary defense, has defined the past decade. Curry may very well become the kind of player you tell your grandchildren about watching. James already is.
Ben Golliver: Stephen Curry
If I had to pick the "Best Player on the Planet" or start a franchise with a single player, I would give the nod to James. without hesitation. But if I had to pay for a ticket or introduce someone to the sport of basketball, I'd lean towards Curry right now.
This is really a vote of preference for Golden State's current style and Curry's fit within it. There's nothing particularly revolutionary about constantly moving the ball and bodies on offense, but the Warriors do it just about as well as anyone in recent memory. Curry is the maestro, of course, and he is electrifying in so many different ways. One play, he might whip a one-handed pass to empty space, only to have a shooter sprint into the catch and knock down a shot. The next, he's coming off a screen at full speed, only to loft up a pillow-soft floater. It goes on and on. Maybe he's stepping back behind a screen to put up a 30-footer with ease. Maybe he's playing possum on the wing, only to sprint to the corner to knock down a catch-and-shoot triple. Maybe he's keeping his dribble alive for the entire length of the baseline, waiting for a tiny window to open before he squeezes a pass into one of his bigs for a dunk. You just never know.
While Curry currently has the variety and unpredictability corners on lock, James has become just a bit too deliberate and unsurprising for my tastes during the playoffs. This really isn't his fault: injuries have stripped him of a number of key teammates, and he's being asked to play huge minutes, run Cleveland's offense, and play-make possession after possession. To be clear up front, no one in the game throws a better crosscourt pass or presents a more fearsome challenge when he turns the corner and heads for the rim. That said, there are just too many plays where James goes it alone, or where James settles for a jumper that hasn't been falling, or where James purposefully milks the clock down with no particular purpose. James' approach this postseason has still been effective -- the Cavaliers are in the Finals, after all -- but it hasn't been nearly as efficient (from a PER or True Shooting % perspective) or free-flowing as what we saw during his last two or three seasons in Miami.
Chris Mannix: Stephen Curry
It's an interesting question. James is the most compelling, emotion-provoking player in the NBA. Like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, you love rooting against him and celebrate when you beat him. Curry's different. He's like watching real life game of NBA Jam. When he goes off you marvel and, frankly, don't mind if he does. If James beat my team, I'd be disappointed. If Curry did, I wouldn't be happy but I probably would enjoy watching him do it.
Michael Rosenberg: Stephen Curry
I hate choosing, but I'll go with Curry for three reasons. One is that we've all seen LeBron dominate for a decade now, so we know what to expect, and we have also seen other athletes of his caliber, like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. Another is that James's greatest asset is his sheer power, which is awe-inspiring but not necessarily "fun" to watch. And the third reason is that, in person, you realize how wispy Curry really is. It's just a joy to watch him use his quick hands, quick mind, quick release, and ability to shoot well even when his feet aren't perfectly set.
Rob Mahoney: Stephen Curry
Watching LeBron, the individual, is about as good as it gets for basketball nerds. On this current, injured Cavs team, though, the offense he runs can grow a bit stale. It’s fun in its own way to watch James puzzle out overloading defenders and make perfect cross-court passes. It just doesn’t quite measure up against the viewing experience of Curry’s blinding green light. That Curry has the freedom to take almost any shot he deems appropriate embues his play with a certain drama. That he actually stands to make those shots—from well beyond the three-point line, with hands in his face, etc.—brings the payoff.
Curry brings just as much spectacle to his ball handling, forged by a healthy mix of flash and function. His dance with a live dribble is a show in itself. That it enables the rest of his sparkling game gives Curry’s aesthetic game an amazing flow: From crossover to behind-the-back counter to half-drive to smart pass out of pressure to curl into a lightning-quick catch-and-shoot three-pointer. His scoring explosions could come at any time and only facilitate a pretty remarkable passing game. What’s not to like?
Of course, the beauty of these Finals is that you’ll never have to choose. We’ll see plenty of Curry and James at the height of their powers. Picking between the experiences of watching them, even as a hypothetical, is a hell of a luxury for basketball fans who will soon be treated to both.
Matt Dollinger: Stephen Curry
My answer would have been LeBron before the season began, but Curry has now assumed the throne as the league's most breathtaking players. It's why he won the All-Star vote this year and why he became the runaway MVP choice. Watching Curry in person is like watching a renowned musician improvise on stage. It's not just his shooting that captivates our imaginations, it's his ball-handling, which is second-to-none in the NBA and seems to register just as many highlights these days. While LeBron plays a game that's above our heads, Curry plays one at eye level we can at least relate to. None of us has ever attempted a (serious) dunk from the free-throw line like LeBron, but we've tried the off-balance jumpers that Curry hoists with frequency. The only difference is ours miss rim and his catch nothing but net. Curry has the skillset most basketball players aspire to gain. He can drain jumpers from anywhere on the floor, split countless defenders and get into the zone with the same ease we get into our couches. Watching Curry up close is a sight to behold—unfortunately, mimicking him isn't easy.
DeAntae Prince: LeBron James
For the last few years when I lived in Charlotte, N.C., it often felt like the center of the basketball universe. Not only was Michael Jordan the owner of the local NBA franchise, but both Stephen Curry and LeBron James often played their best basketball in town. Both players had built-in incentive to play well in the city, as James longed for a good showing in front of Jordan and Curry hoped to perform well for his hometown friends and family.
Very few players have the ability to outperform Curry when he gets going beyond the arc. Unfortunately for Curry in this conversation, James is one of them. Both players display an insane amount of skill and know-how on the basketball court, but James has the added benefit of being an athletic freak, and he applies that gift to both ends of the floor. It’s impressive to watch James dominate on offense with an array of dunks and passes that only he can complete. Still, his ability to shut down players 1-4 on the other end makes him that much more fun to watch.