I love Steph.
He’s probably the single most enjoyable player to watch in the history of basketball. The moment the ball leaves his hand, no matter where he is on the court, everyone in the building (and watching at home) thinks it’s going in. Steph Curry has singlehandedly changed the game with his unlimited range. The league on average takes more than twice as many 3-point shots now compared to when Steph entered the NBA. That’s not a coincidence. Steph Curry has literally had the single biggest influence of any player ever, in terms of changing the way the game is played.
After winning this year’s Finals MVP, I have Steph in my Top 10 all-time.
In case your curious, my list goes a little something like this:
It goes Reggie, Jay-Z, Tupac, and Biggie. Andre from Outkast…
Oh shit, wrong list.
‘Till I Collapse by Eminem is just always running through my head…
Here are my Top 10 basketball players of all time.
- Michael Jordan
- LeBron James
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
- Magic Johnson
- Bill Russell
- Larry Bird
- Tim Duncan
- Kobe Bryant
- Steph Curry
- Shaquille O’Neal
The crazy part is I think he could move up (in my list) to as high as 4th, depending on how the rest of his career pans out.
I say all of this to let you, the reader, know how I feel about this truly generational talent, because I needed to put what I say next in perspective…
For 3 years in a row, Nikola Jokic has been a better basketball player than Steph Curry.
I don’t say this lightly. I’m not trying to give a “hot take.” I’m just trying to point out how INCREDIBLE Nikola Jokic has been over the last 3 seasons.
Let us compare. Season by season.
2019-20 REGULAR SEASON
First, the obvious – Steph Curry only played in 5 games during the 2019-2020 campaign.
On the other hand, for Nikola Jokic, this was the first season people started to realize he could be a superstar in the league.
The scoring numbers weren’t quite there yet (19.9 PPG), but he was remarkable nonetheless, averaging 9.7 rebounds per game to go along with 7 assists. Jokic also shot nearly 60% from 2, and nearly 53% overall.
The Joker simply wasn’t shooting enough, averaging less than 15 shots per game. He was still a bit too passive considering his percentages. Regardless, Jokic was changing how the Center position was played. The main playmaker on offense was a 7-foot center who was incredibly efficient.
In the playoffs, Jokic was even better, averaging 24.4 PPG, 5.7 APG, 9.8 RPG, shooting 52% from the field over 19 games played. Along with Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic brought the Nuggets all the way to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2009, eventually losing to the LeBron and Anthony Davis led Lakers in 5 games.
The Warriors didn’t make the playoffs (in large part because they were missing Steph).
In the 2019-20 season, by default, Jokic was the better player.
2020-21 REGULAR SEASON
This is where it gets fun.
Steph Curry led the league in scoring, with 32 PPG.
Nikola Jokic won his first league MVP award by averaging 26.4 PPG, 8.3 APG, and 10.8 RPG.
Jokic shot 56.6% from the field, 38.8% from three, and 86.8% from the free-throw line. Unprecedented for a player at his position.
Curry shot 48.2% from the field, 42.1% from three, and 91.6% from the free-throw line. Steph Curry just doing Steph Curry things.
Interestingly, Jokic averaged .1 more steals per game than Curry. A center averaging more steals than a point guard? Jokic also averaged .6 more blocks per game than Curry.
These numbers might suggest these two players’ regular seasons were a wash. Too similar to give the edge to either guy. But there was a reason Nikola Jokic won the MVP award and Steph Curry did not.
Their respective team’s success, combined with the advanced stats, help to clarify this picture.
First, some advanced stats:
For those of you who don’t know the ins and outs of these select few advanced stats, here are some definitions to make it easier:
PER = Player Efficiency Rating. A measure of per-minute production standardized so that the league average is 15.
TS% = True Shooting Percentage. A measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account 2-point field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws.
WS = Win Shares. An estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player.
BPM = Box Plus/Minus. A box score estimate of the points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player, translated to an average team.
VORP = Value Over Replacement level Player. A box score estimate of the points per 100 team possessions that a player contributed above a replacement-level (-2.0) player, translated to an average team and prorated to an 82-game season.
So why do these numbers matter?
Well, to put it simply, they help tell the whole story of how much a single player contributes to their team’s success.
As you can see, while Steph Curry’s True Shooting Percentage (TS%) is slightly higher, Jokic dominates Curry in the other major advanced statistics. Not only did Jokic dominate Curry in these stats, he dominated the league.
Do you see how Jokic’s PER, WS, BPM, and VORP stats are all in bold?
That means he led the league in all 4 of those categories.
1. Jokic was the most efficient player in the league.
2. He contributed the most wins to his team of anyone in the league.
3. His team led by more points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor than anyone in the league.
4. Jokic gave his team the most points per 100 possessions above an average player than anyone else in the league.
Wait there’s more.
This list consists of #6-13 on the all-time list of best PER seasons ever.
I think the names on this list speak volumes.
Jordan (#6,#9), LeBron (#7,#10), Wilt (#8), Steph‘s historic 2015-16 season (#11), and Nikola Jokic in 2020-21 (#12).
What about Box Plus/Minus (BPM)?
There he is again, clocking in at #4. Right in the middle of two historic MJ seasons, and above all-time great seasons from Steph, Jordan, David Robinson, and LeBron.
As for Win Shares (WS) and VORP, Jokic’s 2020-21 season came in at 88th and 34th, respectively, on the all-time list of great seasons in those two categories.
“So what? Stats don’t tell the whole story of who a player is.”
In the 2020-21 season, the Warriors finished with a record of 39-33, good for 8th in the Western Conference and a trip to the newly formed Play-In tournament. The Curry-led Warriors lost both play-in games however and didn’t end up making the 16-seed NBA playoffs.
The Nuggets on the other hand grabbed the 3rd seed in the Western Conference with a record of 47-25, beating the 6th seed Portland Trailblazers in the first round before eventually getting eliminated by the 2nd seed (and eventual Western Conference Champions) Phoenix Suns in the second round.
Both players dealt with injuries to their respective teams, with Steph missing Klay Thompson for the year and Jokic without Jamal Murray for the stretch run and the playoffs.
So yes, while the advanced stats don’t tell the whole story, they paint a relatively accurate picture of how much one player contributes to their team’s success.
This is the reason why Jokic won the MVP and Curry did not.
Nikola Jokic was a better basketball player than Steph Curry in the 2020-21 season.
2021-22 REGULAR SEASON
So this is where I might lose some of you.
After all, Steph Curry did just lead the Warriors to their 4th championship in the last 8 years. He won the Finals MVP. And yes, Jokic did win the regular-season MVP, but obviously one has far greater importance than the other. You will never get an argument from me disputing that fact.
So I get it.
But please, hear me out.
My argument goes a little something like this:
If Steph Curry and Nikola Jokic switched roles, Jokic’s team would have been more successful.
I know, I know. We can’t keep doing this hypothetical bullshit. I hate it as much as anyone. The world is the world, and playing make-believe can only be so convincing.
But the fact of the matter is:
Nikola Jokic just had one of the single greatest seasons of any player in the history of basketball.
And I simply can’t just ignore that fact.
So I will provide tangible, statistical evidence that Jokic was more valuable to his team than Steph Curry was to his.
First, remember all that mumbo jumbo, advanced stats I was talking about earlier to prove how valuable Jokic was in the 2020-21 season? And did you notice how I didn’t show you the players at the very top of those lists? There was a reason for that…
I mean c’mon, these have to mean SOMETHING right?
Even if you’re the biggest anti-advanced stats person in the world, how can you ignore that Nikola Jokic is #1 on both of these lists?
As a reminder, this means that Jokic:
1. Was the most efficient player in the HISTORY OF BASKETBALL and;
2. His team led by more points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor than anyone in the HISTORY OF BASKETBALL.
Of course, Steph was awesome this year during the regular season too.
To average 25.5 PPG, 6.3 APG, and 5.2 RPG, shooting 43.7% from the field, 38% from 3, and 92.3% from the free-throw line is absolutely ridiculous. It’s classic Steph. It’s why he’s one of the best to ever do it.
The problem? While Steph Curry’s 2021-22 regular season was most certainly ridiculous, Nikola Jokic’s 2021-22 regular season was HISTORIC.
Forget the advanced stats for a second. Just look at these raw numbers.
While Jokic didn’t shoot as well from 3, or from the free-throw line, he averaged 27.1 PPG, 7.9 APG, and 13.8 RPG on 58.3% from the field.
“Who cares? Look at what happened in the playoffs. That’s the real season anyways!”
So what did happen in the playoffs?
Well, the #3 seeded Warriors kicked the shit out of the #6 seeded Nuggets in 5 games and then proceeded to win the championship (relatively easily I might add).
But can we please look at the reasons why that may have happened?
Yes, Steph was the best player on the team that won it all. Yes, Steph is still one of the best players in the league. And yes, almost always, Steph is the best player on any court he ever plays on.
But was Steph really the best player on the court in the Warriors-Nuggets series?
While Jokic did average 2 more turnovers per game, he also averaged 3 more points per game, nearly 10 more rebounds per game, and had more assists per game than Curry. He did all this while shooting a significantly higher % from the field.
So what gives?
Nikola Jokic had a significantly worse team than Steph Curry.
It’s really that simple.
I’ll just start by pointing out the obvious, for example:
No one on the Nuggets outside of Jokic averaged more than 15 points per game during the regular season.
Three Warriors not named Steph Curry averaged more than 17 PPG.
Also, Andrew Wiggins was a starter in the All-Star game…#neverforget
The playoffs weren’t much different…
Actually, it was somehow worse for the Nuggets, with no one outside of Jokic averaging more than 14 PPG.
I’ve hammered you with enough advanced stats, so here are a couple of graphics for your viewing pleasure. Decipher from this what you wish.
Again…playoffs weren’t much different (I’ll save you the graphics this time).
So what about defense?
What do these numbers tell us?
Well, for one thing, both Steph and Jokic are under-appreciated defensive players.
Jokic is a better rim protector than people think, and Steph is more switchable than people think. Both players are way above average in deflecting a lot of their opponents passes.
Overall, both guys are above-average defenders. Nothing more, nothing less.
So if both were similar defensively at their respective positions, and Jokic was the superior offensive player, what conclusion does all of this data bring us to?
During the 2021-22 season, Steph Curry accomplished the ultimate goal. Curry was the best player on the best team in the NBA…
Regardless, Nikola Jokic was the best basketball player in the world.
I want to bring up something else as well.
Because I hear this argument a lot:
“Jokic doesn’t get double-teamed as much as other stars. That’s why he can pad his stats.”
I have a couple things to say about that. However, first I’m going to let Ryen Russillo speak for me and make you feel dumb for a second.
Honestly, I can’t find any data on who gets double-teamed more, Jokic or Curry, as neither are in the top 20 players who get double-teamed the highest percentage. (For those curious, the top 5 from last year were Paskal Siakam, James Harden, Ja Morant, DeMar DeRozan, and Brandon Ingram. Do what you want with that information).
But in case you haven’t deciphered Russillo’s tweet yet, Jokic doesn’t get double-teamed as often as other big stars because of his other-worldly passing ability.
Doubling Jokic is literally a worse option than leaving him 1-on-1.
Don’t get me wrong, teams still double Jokic, but they’ve learned recently that it’s the worst of two absolutely terrible options.
However, there’s one thing I will admit:
Steph Curry’s “gravity” on the court cannot be ignored. There has never been a player like Steph, where as soon as he steps foot over half-court, everyone’s eyes in the gym are on him, including, and specifically, the players on the other team. I don’t think there’s a stat that can measure that.
That’s why sports debates are fun.
We still have things like “Steph Curry’s gravity” vs. “Nikola Jokic’s gravity” that we can only really have debates about, not provide tangible facts for.
Because yes, Jokic has gravity too, but for very different reasons. When he has the ball, everyone knows to keep their head on a swivel. If not, he can do this:
One more for funsies:
You didn’t think I was going to get through this entire thing without posting some Jokic highlights did you? C’mon, you should know me better than that by now.
Fine, I’ll throw in a Wardell Stephen Curry highlight too:
That’s all you get Steph fans. Don’t be greedy.
So finally, let’s get back to my original point:
Steph Curry Is one of the 10 greatest basketball players ever.
Since 2019, Nikola Jokic has been the better player.
Take that, chew on it a little bit, and come to me with what I’m sure will be a civil, well-informed, cordial conversation about the matter.
Thanks for reading.