People like to put things in tidy little packages in the real world and that holds true in the realm of professional sports as well.
Each position is defined as having specific attributes within the realm of the rules of the game. In basketball, point guards are expected to be able to penetrate the lane in order to score or assist other players and centers are normally the tallest guys on the floor. However, beyond the visible player attributes that many of us pontificate upon, there are also many intangible attributes as well.
A glue guy or blue-collar type of player is generally an individual who will gladly sacrifice his own personal glory to help his team win. That includes hustle plays, rebounding, setting screens and doing all sorts of dirty work that your average prima donna star player would not do. A basketball bruiser is someone who is there as much to intimidate the other team with hard fouls and scowls as he is for rebounding the basketball, and the consummate floor general is someone who would be more likely to run a team and set teammates up to score before looking to score themselves.
Each of the aforementioned types of players contribute to the overall team dynamic in ways that may or may not be quantified by the stat sheet. Similarly, each of the aforementioned attributes requires a particular mindset as well. After all, mindsets are the ultimate intangible. The constitution required to be an NBA closer may be the most elusive attribute to gauge of them all.
Outlets across the globe covered the annual NBA award announcements that started popping up just before the playoffs. Of particular discussion this season was the NBA MVP race as many names were circulated as deserving of the award. Though we had given Stephen Curry a great deal of positive press this season, the initial announcement of Curry as an MVP candidate was met with some doubt by this writer in particular.
Yes, I showed Chef Steph love in January when I asked whether he was the best point guard in the NBA, but I also fell victim to some of the vitriol that said Houston Rockets SG James Harden would be MVP if players got to vote on it. I even penned a diatribe supporting Harden’s bid for MVP just days before the award was actually announced. Then, when Curry actually won the award, I was all ready to see the league’s anointed “good guy” fold like deck chairs on the Titanic once the playoffs began. Averaging 24 points and nearly 8 assists per game was all good for Steph during the regular season, but it appeared to me that James Harden’s 27 points and 7 assists per game, and his ability to draw fouls looked like It was going to translate into a deep run in the playoffs better than Curry’s shooting ever would.
Some argue that players who rely too much on jump shooting do not fare well in the NBA playoffs. That proved true for SG James Harden as his scorching hot shooting touch was largely inconsistent in their Western Conference Finals series versus the Golden State Warriors. But Curry’s scoring average was 31 points per game, including 51 percent from the field. Harden’s scoring average jumped to 28 points per game in the series, but it looked a whole lot uglier on paper than it did live. Add in Harden’s 24 turnovers in the series, as compared to Steph’s 14 turnovers in the series, and who gets some idea of Steph’s pedigree.
Always smiling, seldom scowling, and seemingly a model NBA citizen, it was at first difficult to see that Curry is a basketball psychopath. Basketball psychopaths are a rare breed to be certain. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Jerry West, Isaiah Thomas and a menagerie of all-time NBA greats were all described as having an addiction to competition and winning that was so palpable that it was often misinterpreted as being an attitude problem at some point in each of those players’ careers.
Yet when you’re in the NBA playoffs, especially in a closeout game with the clock winding down in the fourth quarter, you’re down 1 point and your teammates are looking like a deer in headlights, these psychopaths are just what you need. They fear no player or situation, the ice water in their veins numbs any hesitation or trepidation that they may have. Numb to the fear of losing, these emotionless automatons seek out such moments.
Actually, they live for these moments.
Although Steph Curry’s 2015 playoff explosions prove he is clearly a member of this legendary guild of players, his outward appearance belies the killer instinct that he has within.
Indeed, a funny thing happened on my way to being a pompous ass. The smiling, laughing, happy Steph Curry showed us all that he is a step above his contemporaries in ways that can only be measured in clutch situations.
Many of the great ones possess that attribute in some degree. Although we won’t know exactly in what measure Curry has “it” until a champion is crowned in these Finals versus the Cleveland Cavaliers, a largely wounded team that may be the best litmus test we’ll ever see. You have to be able to stare a wounded opponent in the eyes, yet show no mercy.
There are NBA All-Stars, NBA MVPs, and then there are NBA psychopaths who relish killing playoff dreams.