Is Stephen Curry Ready to Embrace Spotlight of NBA Superstardom?

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 9, 2013

In the span of a single NBA season, Stephen Curry went from being a player surrounded by question marks to one who couldn't be described without using exclamation points.

The highlights piled up, the big shots kept falling and in the process, the NBA world got better acquainted with a uniquely charismatic personality.

Now, Curry and the Golden State Warriors are facing immense expectations. Following a playoff series victory and a true breakout campaign by No. 30, all eyes are on the Dubs.

Can Curry solidify his place among the league's upper echelon? Will he be able to duplicate—or even improve upon—his record-breaking season? Poised on the cusp of the biggest season of his life, he'll get the chance to do both.

But it won't be easy.


Ready to Shine

One of the first things a superstar needs is a signature moment. If he's got more than one, all the better.

Curry put his stamp on a handful of games last season that captured the attention of the NBA at large, the biggest such instance being his 54-point outing in Madison Square Garden.

That scoring explosion was the highest single-game point total in the league during the 2012-13 season, and it might have been the most memorable contest of the year. It wasn't just the points that drew attention, either.

It was the way Curry accumulated them.

His performance was out of a video game. He was on fire, ready to shoot from anywhere and completely absorbed in the moment despite the massive stage.

More iconic games followed, one of which featured 22 points in a single quarter of a playoff game.

These were isolated incidents of potential stardom, but on balance, Curry's entire season was similarly spectacular. He hit more three-point shots than any player in history and was among some truly elite statistical company.

Four players managed to average at least 20 points, five assists and four rebounds per game while hitting at least 45 percent of their shots last season, per Curry was right there alongside LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant

And only Curry and James pulled off those numbers while also hitting at least 40 percent of their threes.

Admittedly, there's some statistical cherry-picking going on here. But however you slice up the numbers, Curry was among the league's best performers in 2012-13.

The official definition of a "superstar" is an inherently imprecise thing. But in watching those clips, it's impossible to deny that Curry has that special magnetism, that hard-to-define something that makes certain players stand out.


The Every Man's Superstar

It's probably not a prerequisite that superstars be relatable. In fact, the opposite is typically more accurate. I mean, how much do any of us have in common with larger-than-life personalities like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony?

Curry is uniquely comfortable in his own skin, and that self-assuredness allows him to forge an uncommonly strong connection with his fans.

It helps that he isn't imposingly huge or impossibly athletic like other stars, but it's really the fact that Curry seems like such a regular, unassuming guy that has made him so beloved. He was the small-school product who got by on smarts, hard work and a killer shot.

He's a family man who loves golf, eats dinner at home and is extremely committed to charity.

That's a narrative that connects.

Curry seems to know this, and he's been particularly savvy in building his brand by reaching out to fans with an extremely strong social media presence. He lets people into his life via television shows, constant Twitter updates from both he and his wife, and an ever-growing slew of endorsements.

Lemonade-flavored mouth guards, a deal to dance for Capri Sun and a big jump from Nike to Under Armour were just a few of the latest business ventures for Curry. 

It's getting harder and harder to get away from Curry on the Internet and on TV, but the amazing thing is that nobody is even remotely tired of his growing multimedia presence. In fact, fans only seem to want more.

If his off-the-court exploits count for anything, Curry is already very much a superstar.


More to Prove

Let's all just take a second to breathe, though. Curry has put together one phenomenal season on the court, but it was hardly perfect. If he wants to solidify his spot among the league's best players, he's going to have to do a little more work.

For starters, he'll never fit the conventional mold of a superstar. He doesn't have the size or athletic ability to be a dominant two-way player in the mold of James, Kevin Durant or even Paul George.

That means he'll have to continue to do damage from the perimeter, but also add things to his arsenal so he can affect the game in as many different ways as possible. Improving his ability to get easy buckets when that jumper isn't falling would be a good place to start.

We saw flashes of that skill during last year's playoffs, as Curry looked to attack when terrified defenders lunged out to stop him from getting off a three. But he could still stand to do even more scoring from the lane, if only because it would force defenders to play him a bit more honestly on the perimeter.

You can tell from his 2012-13 shot chart that there's one area of the floor that obviously needs improvement.

Curry has a crafty arsenal of runners, wrong-footed scoops and deft flip shots that he uses in the restricted area, all of which look cool. But the degree of difficulty on most of them is pretty high. Maybe a Tony Parker-style floater should become a bigger part of his interior game.

In addition, Curry has to do a better job of taking advantage of one of his biggest weapons: his free-throw stroke. A career 90 percent shooter from the stripe, Curry has never averaged more than 3.7 foul-shot attempts per game.

Part of that has to do with the fact that most of his touches come away from the traffic of the lane, but he still has plenty of opportunities to draw contact. During the preseason, he has been making a real effort to get defenders in the air with the specific goal of inducing a foul.

He'll have to continue that during the year.

Finally, Curry is going to have to become a bigger factor on defense.

True superstars must be able to have an impact on both ends, and although Curry won't ever become an on-ball terror like Avery Bradley or Patrick Beverley, he has the quickness, hands and intelligence to be a very good defensive player.

Last year, he showed major growth, particularly in terms of executing Golden State's overall scheme. Curry fought hard to turn ball-handlers toward the sidelines and generally put himself in the right place in help situations.

He's still too prone to reaching when beaten, and larger guards can take him into the post fairly easily. But there's no reason Curry can't make strides on D.


Willing and Able

Ultimately, Curry has already conquered most of the big challenges on his road to superstardom.

He's already a household name, has plenty of memorable moments on his highlight reel and, critically, has proved that he can stay healthy for a full season. Just as importantly, he has the built-in charisma and seeming desire to occupy a visible position in the NBA landscape that has to be part of the superstar persona.

The final phase in the process will be leading his team to major success. Considering he has handled all of the other prerequisites to stardom so well, that shouldn't pose a problem.


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