These days, all we hear is how phenomenal a basketball player Steph Curry is, how great a shooter he is and the incredible stats that he will certainly amass during his still-young career. People struggled to come up with comparisons early on, perhaps due to the fleeting nature in which people treat history.
But when it comes to Steph, there is historical precedent to suggest that he is just the latest link in a chain of shooters that goes back to NBA antiquity.
I’ve heard people mention how gaudy the numbers for a shooter like Jerry West would have been if there were a three-point line when he played, or that Pistol Pete Maravich was just as good a shooter and ball-handler as Curry.
Recently Twitter went bananas when New York Knicks General Manager Phil Jackson tweeted that Steph’s game is similar to that of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf. The Internet almost exploded in an atomic fireball of doom.
(Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf Gives Jason Kidd That Work!)
Yet, I can’t recall anyone even saying a peep back when current Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said something very similar nearly three years ago. Similar to how a lot of old-school hoop fans still say Wilt Chamberlain is the best player in NBA history, and how '80s babies will testify that the title solely belongs to Michael Jordan, modern day basketball aficionados seem unable to envision a time prior to their own existence.
When it comes to Steph Curry’s shooting brilliance from behind the arc, it is difficult to come up with someone who is comparable in the modern era, but the artist formerly known as Chris Jackson is about as similar as it gets.
Like Curry, Mahmoud could pull up from behind the arc off the dribble. Like Curry, you couldn’t neutralize him by simply crowding him because his handle was good enough to get around you. Like Curry, Mahmoud had the ability to break opponents down to the very last compound off the dribble.
(John Stockton Ain't Want No Problems!)
At 6-foot-1, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was at a bit of a height disadvantage when compared to Steph, who is listed at 6-foot-3. Also, Steph’s handle is a little more advanced. He is shiftier than Mahmoud was with his ability to slither through the tiniest of cracks to get to the rim.
Also, while Mahmoud did have the ability to finish in the lane and around the rim, Steph is better at it. He has an array of reverse layups with either hand, finger rolls and floaters that are so silky smooth. Rauf’s handle was much more straight forward. He would rely on speed to get by defenders where Curry relies on quickness and shiftiness with the ball.
(Michael Jordan Got Some Too!)
Curry’s NBA career averages of 22 points and 6.9 rebounds per game outshine Rauf’s 14.6 points and 3.5 assists. But as nasty as Steph was in college at Davidson while averaging 25.3 per game, he couldn't touch Rauf's 29 points per game two-year average at LSU.
Additionally, Rauf came off the bench for much of his NBA career and didn’t have the freedom to shoot whenever and however he wanted to, something Steph has enjoyed most of his career. Also, Mahmoud played during a time where he HAD to feed the post while playing with guys like Dikembe Mutombo, pre-injury Laphonso Ellis, Mark Macon, Rodney Rogers and a number of others who needed to be fed for them to be effective.
And he was battling for time against the supremely athletic and underappreciated PG Robert Pack in his early years as a Denver Nugget, who is coincidentally compared to OKC point guard Russell Westbrook in some circles due to his freakish explosiveness. Later, Mahmoud would have to share time with Tyus Edny and Bobby Hurley with the Sacramento Kings. He never was given the freedom that Steph enjoys.
Furthermore, Curry has the luxury of playing in the most offense-friendly era in NBA history. We can only imagine how fast Mahmoud would have been blowing by people if defenders weren’t allowed to bump cutters and hand-check from end-to-end.
I would be negligent if I did not also mention the negative backlash Rauf received when he refused to stand for the national anthem after his conversion to Islam. That backlash was a partial catalyst for his premature exit from the NBA at 28 years old.
Do I believe Steph Curry is better? Yes, but it’s not like we’re comparing apples to pine cones here. It's more like a comparison between Granny Smith and Red Delicious Apples. They’re still apples, one is just a little different, and grown under different conditions, than the other.