Steph Curry’s two-year run of shooting brilliance and the unprecedented success of his Golden State Warriors team has elevated him into the various “greatest ever” conversations, which are the driving force behind 90 percent of basketball discussions throughout the world.
Curry represents a “new” NBA. It’s a style of play that some older heads aren’t too fond of.
Oscar Robertson was an all-around assassin on both ends of the floor during his Hall of Fame career in which he became the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double for a season. However, the basketball landscape has changed since the pre-three-point-line days of the '60s and '70s, when Robertson played for the Cincinnati Royals and Milwaukee Bucks.
Curry is the prized offspring of that dramatic evolution, but contrary to popular opinion, Robertson's not that impressed with what Chef Curry has been cooking up and maintains that the aerial ace wouldn’t have the same success in his era.
"[Curry] has shot well because of what's going on in basketball today,” said "The Big O", who appeared on ESPN's Mike & Mike Show on Thursday.
“In basketball today, it's almost like if you can dunk or make a three-point shot, you're the greatest thing since sliced bread...there have been some great shooters in the past...but here again, when I played...if you shot outside and hit it, the next time I'm going to be up on top of you. I'm going to pressure you with three-quarters, half-court defense. But now they don't do that."
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Robertson went in, ripping today’s NBA defensive strategies. He believes stopping Curry is simple—just go out there and guard him farther from the basket.
"If I've got a guy who's great shooting the ball outside, don't you want to extend your defense out a little bit?" Robertson said.
Sounds simple enough, but when he played, Robertson was considered a huge guard at 6-5 and he had height and skill advantages defending and scoring against smaller players.
While probably true, his assertions might sound a bit out of touch to younger folks. If Robertson initially captured anyone’s serious ear, the way he followed up with a blanket attack on the intelligence of today’s NBA coaches shifted the conversation into old-man-rant territory.
"I just don't think coaches today in basketball understand the game of basketball,” Robertson insisted. “They don't know anything about defenses. They don't know what people are doing on the court. They talk about analytical basketball and stuff like this...These coaches do not understand the game of basketball, as far as I'm concerned."
Robertson’s comments kicked off a war of opinions on social media sites and sports radio and TV shows across the country. Curry is the cat’s meow right now and of course the younger generation and prognosticators think “The Big O” is nuts and hating a bit on the young bomber. To top it off, Curry dropped 51 points that evening.
However, Hall of Fame point guard Isiah Thomas, a representative of the '80s golden-era, says there is some validity to Oscar’s statement beyond just being a “hater” or trying to protect the players of his era. He did, however, give Curry’s magnificence some props, calling him one of the greatest shooters the game has ever witnessed. He's also on record as having called Curry the "best point guard in the NBA" on several occasions.
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Thomas appeared via telephone on Mike & Mike this morning and Greenberg flat out asked him if Curry would be as effective if he played during the late '80s and early '90s.
“The game has changed, “ Thomas said. “You can’t really apply the rules of my era to this one. We have to appreciate what Steph is doing under the rules he’s playing under and he’s the best player under the circumstances.”
Like Oscar, Thomas did rip current NBA defenses and coaching.
“This is the worst perimeter defense I’ve ever seen in the NBA,” said Thomas...“Coaches let guys guard people way off the ball.”
Thomas added that the success of small-ball can be attributed to the rules changes that have totally eliminated the effectiveness of the bigs.
“The way the rules are now,” Thomas said, “it severely hampers the big man. The rules really favor smalls right now. We’ve basically eliminated the center position. The pendulum has swung too far against the big player. Bigs are now forced to play like the small guys and stand on the wing and shoot threes. It’s the way offenses and defenses are designed now.”
Thomas says Curry is benefiting from all of this and that’s just facts. It’s not a knock on Steph.
“It’s the best time in NBA history to be a small player,” said Thomas, perhaps the greatest point guard, other than Magic Johnson, to ever step on a basketball court.
Professional sports is always evolving, altering and growing. There was a time when the center ruled the basketball landscape and the game was won from the outside-in. Over the years this has naturally changed along with coaching styles, player’s athleticism and ability.
We know that defense is more lax and players weren’t allowed to shoot 15 threes in a game back when Zeke and The Big O played. The purists and pioneers used to say, “you can’t win like that.”
But maybe, as one of my young sports heads told me on Facebook the other day, “They just didn’t understand the math.”