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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

ZANGWILL | Is All-Star Steph Curry an All-Time Top-Five Player?


On a recent episode of ESPN’s “First Take,” Stephen A. Smith named his all-time starting five in the NBA. The topic was spurred by Allen Iverson’s appearance on Smith’s radio show, but quickly spread throughout the sports world.

Smith listed his starting five from point guard on up: Stephen Curry, Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Shaquille O’Neal.

Jordan and James are universally placed in any list of the sort, and O’Neal certainly deserves his share of votes. While Durant’s selection is open to criticism, it is difficult to know who Smith was comparing him to, and at exactly what position. The choice of Curry as point guard, however, is a harder sell.

Smith definitively chose Curry on the basis of his shooting ability and laughed at any other suggestion in typical Stephen A. Smith style.

“Steph Curry: all day, every day!”

Unfortunately for Smith, there is a plethora of great point guards who deserve a mention in the conversation. Oscar Robertson, John Stockton and Jerry West, to name just a few. While including these players, like Curry, is up for debate, there is one player who owns the top spot at point guard. He deserves to be included in everyone’s all-time starting fives.

Throughout his illustrious career, Magic Johnson accomplished too much to include in a single article. I will just stick to the highlights.

Prior to drafting Johnson first overall in 1979, the Los Angeles Lakers were a non-factor. In the 13 seasons he led them thereafter, they were the top seed in the Western Conference 10 times, never finishing worse than third. They competed in nine NBA finals, winning five of them. While Johnson certainly played with other greats, it was only when he joined them that they began winning. His retirement was followed by a decade of irrelevance for the Lakers where the team failed to make it back to the finals, and at times the playoffs, in eight consecutive seasons.

If the championship titles and winning streaks do not convince you, Johnson’s individual accomplishments are just as impressive.

Johnson won three Most Valuable Player awards in a time when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan competed alongside him. He was also selected as an All-NBA First Team nine times and as an All-Star 12 times.

Johnson averaged 11.2 assists per game (the most of all time), nearly double Curry’s 6.7 assists. Unsurprisingly, Johnson is widely described as the best passer ever. His unique size as a 6’9” point guard enabled him to average 7.2 rebounds per game, nearly three more than Curry’s 4.5 rebounds per game.

While Curry does have an advantage in points per game over Johnson, he shoots a lower percentage from the field.

I acknowledge that Curry is the best shooter in NBA history, as Smith suggested. That being said, the point guard position, or any for that matter, requires more than one dimension. While neither Curry nor Johnson qualifies as a great defender, Johnson’s versatility and wide-ranging accomplishments overwhelm Curry at least at this point in his career.

The best athletes, in any sport, elevate their games at the most important moments. Curry failed to elevate his game in the 2016 NBA Finals when star teammate Draymond Green was suspended. In Game 7, Curry managed a lackluster 17 points and two assists, and the Warriors lost the series.

Curry, time and time again, has come up small in the biggest moments. Despite three Finals wins, he has never won a Finals MVP award.

Johnson was put in a similar situation to Curry as a rookie in the 1980 Finals. Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did not play in Game 6 due to an injury. Johnson changed positions for the game to replace the center. In doing so, he posted 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in one of the best performances of all time. Johnson did not just rise to the occasion. He had to change positions, and still found a way to win.

Curry’s career is not over. He has the chance to make his own case for greatest point guard. Maybe one day Curry will be in my starting five. In any era, however, I want Magic Johnson bringing the ball up.

Grant Zangwill is a sophomore in the McDonough School Business. Did I Hear That Right? appears every other Friday.

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