Lowe: How Steph Curry is unlike other all-time NBA greats

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Wednesday night’s Houston RocketsGolden State Warriors game (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) is a reminder of all the interesting storylines the NBA lost when Aron Baynes fell on Stephen Curry‘s left hand — including what promised to be a season-long question of whether Curry could or would play more like Houston’s supernova James Harden.

That storyline had layers. It would factor into Golden State’s ability to hang in the playoff race until a potential Klay Thompson return. It would tell us something about Steve Kerr as a coach. And however it unfolded, it would drive a lot of commentary about Curry’s place in NBA history.

Instead, Golden State’s season is over. In the long run, that is probably good. The founding fathers of this dynasty — Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green — could use a respite. The Warriors will keep the top-20-protected pick they owe the Brooklyn Nets via the bizarre Kevin Durant/D’Angelo Russell double sign-and-trade, and it could land toward the top of the draft.

They won’t get a Tim Duncan there. The eerie parallels with the 1996-97 Spurs are faulty in that sense. There are no Tim Duncans. Duncan is one of the 10 greatest players of all time. He was a superstar the minute he ambled into the league wearing jorts. (Duncan finished fifth in MVP voting as a rookie. Even for a 21-year-old rookie — old by today’s standards — that is a joke.)

But Golden State should have a chance to find someone who might contribute right away as a role player. Ironically, one of the justifications the Warriors offered for the Russell deal was that it presented their best and maybe only method of nabbing a player who was both young (Russell is 23) and ready today to help their veteran core.

They never imagined picking high enough in any of the next few drafts to find such a player, so they jumped at Russell. They sacrificed a lot to get him: Andre Iguodala, two draft picks, subjecting themselves to a cumbersome hard cap. It may prove a bad bet, but none of the alternatives available once Durant bolted — including just letting Durant walk — appeared to present any pathway to a player who might help Curry, Thompson, and Green as they age. Suddenly, this draft may provide one.

Count me among those who don’t see Golden State’s window as closed. Yes, the West is loaded. The Los Angeles teams look scary, and it’s unclear whom the Warriors will throw at LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, and Paul George with Iguodala elsewhere and Green aging.

But the Curry/Green/Thompson trio is really good. They blitzed opponents when Durant was injured until last season’s Finals, and they might have won that series had Thompson remained healthy.

Thompson and Green are both 29, and Curry is 31; they should all have at least two more years of elite play left. Russell will either fit, or the Warriors will trade him for parts that do. Eric Paschall is good. The rest of their young players get this season to grow. The hard cap lifts. That pick is coming. They may not nab a player who can extend that championship window into the way-post-prime golden years of Curry, Thompson, and Green — as Kawhi Leonard once did for Duncan — but they might find someone good enough to prop it open a few more years.

In the meantime, we are robbed of seeing Curry try to recapture his pre-Durant magic. It was obvious early the Warriors would need that version of Curry, or perhaps something even more Harden-esque, to stay in the playoff race.

Some of the game’s old heads, the caretakers of its history, were itching to demand that from Curry. You are a two-time MVP. Put the team on your back. LeBron and Michael would.

Curry doesn’t look like LeBron and Michael. That is part of the challenge of contextualizing him in NBA history. He can’t physically bend the game to his will. When we think of superstars “putting the team on their back,” we think of post behemoths drawing double-teams down low or 6-foot-7 wings doing the same from the triple-threat position. This is essentially what Max Kellerman was talking about on my podcast when he argued Curry could only ascend to a certain historic place in a sport that “self-selects for height.”

But Harden has warped the geometry of one-on-one play. He isolates from Curry’s territory — beyond the top of the arc — which is why there was clamor for Curry to play like Harden.

Kerr has always resisted entrusting too much ballhandling to one player. Even in 2015-16, his unanimous MVP season, Curry ran only 32 pick-and-rolls per 100 possessions — 70th in the league, per Second Spectrum. He attempted 160 step-back jumpers; Harden launched almost 700 last season, per Second Spectrum. Curry averaged only 4.3 isolation plays per 100 possessions in 2015-16, a minuscule number for a player of his stature; Harden approached 30 last season.

Curry is 6-3 and weighs about 185 pounds, and Kerr has long worried Curry could not handle the pounding of running every possession. “It’s a lot harder when you are 185,” Kerr told ESPN this week. “I’m not sure Steph is built for that.”

Curry also isn’t as fast as Harden going north-south, or as explosive around the rim. Even the 2016 version of Curry — the clip below is from that season — would pass out of drives where Harden might plow to the rim:

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