I'll admit it: I wanted
Not because I like the way he plays (though I do), or because of fond memories of his dad (though his release was as quick and pure as they come), or even because -- full disclosure -- I grew up a Warriors fan.
Rather, I wanted him to play well because I don't want to forget the Stephen Curry I knew, if that makes sense. Let me put it this way: What's your opinion of
If you don't follow the NBA too closely, maybe you've been spared watching these players stripped of the magical powers they possessed in college. But I can tell you from firsthand knowledge, there is nothing magical about watching 13th man Morrison -- who seemed so Bird-like at Gonzaga -- running through 45 minutes of one-on-one drills prior to every Lakers playoff game, as he did last spring. Matched up against the likes of
Of course, it's not Morrison's fault (or Redick's) that fans may be disappointed, at least not entirely. Our expectations for them simply outweighed their talents. But it doesn't make it any easier to watch them go from iconic players who embodied the best parts of the college game -- the passion, the precision, fundamentals over style -- to average NBA players.
But Curry will be different, right? Sure, he may be undersized (like Redick and Langdon) and lack great athleticism (like, uh, Redick and Langdon and Morrison). And yeah, he may be playing in a backcourt with another undersized guard (
So, with all that in mind, I headed to Oracle Arena last night for the Warriors season opener against the Houston Rockets. And with the enormous caveat that this was one game, and against a team with a pair of similarly slight point guards, here are some first impressions from Curry's 14-point, 7-assist, 4-steal performance in the Warriors' 108-107 loss:
Afterward, I asked
This may be damning him with faint praise, but he's already the best playmaker on the Warriors. He found seams, passed off the dribble and moved the ball quickly and crisply. Young point guards are often prone to over-dribbling but Curry was mostly efficient with the ball. Twice, he tried to do too much -- the second time, attempting an ill-advised look-away lob to
Before the game, I spoke with
Well, Curry did look to the bench a lot, but mainly to get play calls (he told me afterward that Nelson prepares 3-4 sets he thinks will work against a team, and then calls out which one he wants Curry to run. "By midseason, hopefully I'll see what he sees," Curry said, "And I can make those calls myself"). And yeah, he spoke with Jackson, but only to talk strategy during free throws (tellingly, Jackson came up in the locker room afterward while I was talking to Curry and gave him a big hug and said, "See you tomorrow -- alright boy," which may or may not have been theater for the benefit of the media but was still progress). And he wasn't afraid to call his own number; on one of the biggest possessions of the game, down seven with 1:55 left, Curry went one-on-one on the left side and hit a jumper on the move to cut it to five. It was a ballsy shot, especially considering he was 4-of-9 from the field at the time.
As good as Curry looked at times, the Warriors looked just as bad. No ball movement, horrific passes when there was ball movement (especially when
First off, he's not a lights-out shooter to begin with, a misconception that might linger. On this team, that's
At one point Curry crossed over
Finally, and perhaps most important:
Nellie started Curry and didn't take him out until deep in the second quarter (after Jackson). He played him in crunch time, let him handle on big possessions. For the game, Curry played 35 minutes; on the Warriors, only Ellis played more.
And that says a lot. Because while he looked tentative at times, and got lost on the floor for stretches, and had the look of a defensive liability in the post, Curry still had the opportunity to take over the game late, which he could do for the simple reason that he was in the game. Know how many minutes Redick played in his first game? Three (he scored two points). Langdon played two (and scored two). Sure, Morrison played 31 (14 points on 5-of-13 shooting), and continued to play big minutes, but he never did much with them.
In this case, Curry has obviously earned Nelson's trust. When asked about his rookie before the game, Nellie began beaming like a proud grandfather, then talked about how he "doesn't make a mistake second time," and "he's more ready than most rookies I've had." When I asked how much bigger Nelson would like Curry to get -- he's listed at 185 but that's dubious -- Nellie answered that "he's just fine," and that "I like skinny players."
In other words, this is Curry's team, for the time being. And I, for one, will be watching.