Stephen Curry's killer instinct
This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Dec. 23 Interview Issue. Subscribe today!
Sam Alipour: Wassup, Steph.
Stephen Curry: Hey, man, sorry I'm late.
Alipour: It's funny, just yesterday I was telling a friend how you're the kind of player our moms like as much as we do. But ironically, my mom is now legitimately pissed at you because you called five hours late for this interview, in the middle of my parents' dinner party. And now I'm in their bedroom, using their home phone. What do you have to say to my mom?
Curry: [Laughs] Well, sports fan that I am, I got caught up watching some good college football. I'm just sitting here in awe -- that Alabama-Auburn game was crazy. But please apologize to your mom for me. I hope she forgives me.
Alipour: Well, now that we have proof that you're not as squeaky-clean as advertised, give me more dirt on you: What else is bad about Stephen Curry, besides an epic punctuality problem?
Curry: Procrastination is probably one of the bigger ones. And around the house, my wife would probably say I'm the messiest person in the history of husbands. If Coach McKillop, from Davidson, reads this article, he'll be disappointed in me. He says, "Sloppiness is a disease." And I spread that virus a lot.
Alipour: A friend asked me something the other day, and I thought I'd pass it on to you: If you were incapable of feeling fear -- I mean no fear whatsoever -- what's the first thing you'd do?
Curry: I'd probably skydive. Everybody who's done it has told me it's the best feeling ever. But I can't ever see myself in that situation where I'd jump from a plane.
Alipour: What scares you on the court?
Curry: Really, just injuries. I'm not the guy who's afraid of failure. I like to take risks, take the big shot and all that. But throwing your body on the line every day, that's the one thing that scares me about what we do.
Alipour: It seems like you do play without fear. One of the big takeaways from the playoffs was the revelation that you're a killer. You've got it -- the it that Kobe Bryant has, the killer instinct that everybody said LeBron James didn't have until he won a title.
Curry: Yeah, I have it. Since high school, I've never been afraid of big moments. I get butterflies, don't get me wrong. I get nervous and anxious, but I think those are all good signs that I'm ready for the moment.
Alipour: Here's my other takeaway from the playoffs -- and you won't like this one: You're not past your ankle problems. After two surgeries on the right one and your recent issue with the left, it looks like it'll always be a thing for you, something you'll have to manage, like Steve Nash and his back. Do you think about that when you're on the court?
Curry: I think about it. But the way I've felt since the playoff run is probably the best I've felt, healthwise, so I think I'm pushing in the right direction. I don't know if I'll ever get past the tag of injury-prone when it comes to my ankles. Sometimes I go out there not wanting to do a move because I know it might trigger a sprain, or I'll stay away from the paint and all of those big feet in there because I might land on somebody's foot. But I haven't thought about that all season, so I think I'm turning the corner.
Alipour: Give me one element of your game that you wanted to improve, above all the rest, coming into this season.
Curry: Finishing games as a point guard and being able to make the right plays.
Alipour: I was expecting your answer to be defense. Let me ask you this: What grade would you give yourself today as an individual defender?
Curry: Shoot, that's a good question. Probably a B-minus. I'm not the most athletic guy, so I have to use my smarts and angles to stay in front of those quick guards. I'm not going to be a one-on-one, shut-down guy, but I can stay body-to-body with a Ty Lawson in the full court and stick to the game plan when it comes to forcing guys in the right direction, to my help, and not leaving my teammates on an island if I don't do my job.
Alipour: Last night I caught your game against OKC at a bar in Oakland's Jack London Square. The Warriors needed a stop to send it into overtime -- and you weren't on the floor. Does it bother you to know that you, the man in Golden State, aren't deemed fit by Mark Jackson to be on the floor in that situation?
Curry: Well, that's the first time that's happened all season. That was the original game plan, to be able to switch any one of three guys onto Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook when their man screens for each other, and then I guard the primary wing. I mean, obviously, I'd love the challenge of guarding Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, and I've had conversations with Coach about what he expects of me in that situation. But I know I'll get my chance as the season goes on. Last night it bothered me that we lost, not the fact that Coach had confidence in Draymond Green to get the stop and not me.
Alipour: Let's talk about the other end of the floor now. If you had to guard Steph Curry, how would you play him?
Curry: I'd try to be physical and funnel him to my help. I'd pick him up at halfcourt, knowing he can shoot the ball off the dribble, and especially in transition, so being able to put a body on him as he comes across halfcourt -- that's the key. But you have to pick your poison. If you do that, I'm able to get by you and make plays. I might not score 30 points, but I can get a bunch of assists, get that ball moving. That's why we're such a good team. You can't key in on one guy and expect that I'll go out there and force 30 shots a game and try to get my numbers. It's about making the right play.
Alipour: As of this interview, your assists are up by almost two per game, while your scoring has dropped by almost two points per game. Was that a conscious decision on your part coming into the season to be less of a shoot-first point guard?
Curry: Well, I have the ball in my hands a lot more this season. Jarrett Jack took a lot of that responsibility last season. He played 30 minutes a game and handled the ball, and I'd play off the ball, run off screens and get shots up. But without him and with Toney Douglas hurt, I handle the ball 99 percent of those minutes. So I have to be able to make those extra passes, and other guys have to make shots.
Alipour: Today more than ever, the stereotype for the position is being challenged. But for every Tony Parker, there's a label buster like Russell Westbrook. When you're at your peak, when you've reached your full potential, which all-time NBA guard will you most resemble?
Curry: I'd say Steve Nash. He's always been one of those guys who was in that 50-40-90 club [50 percent on twos, 40 percent on threes, 90 percent from the line], which as a point guard is tough to do because you're responsible for getting guys in rhythm, getting guys open, walking that fine line of when to shoot or pass. To be able to run your offense as efficiently as he does, as a guy who can stretch a defense and also use his change of speed and passing to be a triple threat, that's pretty special to watch. I mostly modeled my game after him, but I watched everybody. I can't do some of the stuff that Coach Jackson did or Gary Payton, who liked to back people down, and I'm not as quick as Tim Hardaway, but you can watch those guys and steal a move from them. Steve, the way he shoots the ball and his creativity with passing, using both hands, that inspired me to play the way I do right now. We're different, but he's as close as it gets.
Alipour: I read somewhere that rain or shine or snow, Magic Johnson, arguably the greatest ballhandler in history, often dribbled to and from the store, right hand in one direction, left hand in the other. What types of training methods did you use growing up that helped you with your handle?
Curry: It was very traditional. It was two-ball dribbling, working on both hands: right hand high, left hand low, changing direction. Three years ago, I started using tennis balls, weighted balls and sensory gadgets -- you can see it on YouTube. There are lights on the wall, and you have to do a move that corresponds to the lights. You're not thinking about where the ball is. You have to be aware of so many variables that the ball is tied to your hand, and it becomes that much more fluid of a dribble, that much tighter of a handle.
Alipour: How many shots do you put up per day?
Curry: It's not a ridiculous number. I count makes, so in the summer, I make 500. During the season, depending on what portion of the schedule we're going through, I make 200 to 350. And whatever goal I set before the workout is the goal. I won't shortcut it. If I play Around the World, I have to make 10 out of 13 at each of the seven spots to move on. If I don't, I'll sit at that same spot until I do.
Alipour: At practice, who wins a three-point shooting contest between you and Klay Thompson?
Curry: Me. But I'm sure if you call him right now, he'd say him. [Laughs] That's how it is with two confident shooters.
Alipour: So let's say there are five seconds left in the game, one shot to win it all, and you get to draw up the final play in some Space Jam–type world. On the floor is Ray Allen, Jordan, Kobe, Reggie Miller and you. Who's your No. 1 option?
Curry: Jordan's No. 1. I'm No. 2. Then you go Ray, then Reggie, then Kobe. Three-pointer or not, same answer.
Alipour: You're a top-10, worst case top-15, player, and you've yet to make the Western Conference All-Star team. Many feel you were robbed last season. How much does the omission bother you?
Curry: It did bother me when it all went down. There was just so much buildup to selection day about how I was for sure on the team, and we were playing great ball. But all of that stuff is out of your control.
Alipour: If you don't make the West team this season, do you straight-up just lose it?
Curry: [Laughs] Well, hopefully, I'll make it, but it's all about the playoffs, man. I'd rather be a non-All-Star playing in the Western Conference finals than an All-Star who's sitting at home in May.
Alipour: If the season ended today, the Warriors would be in the playoff conversation. Before the season, they were viewed as a surefire playoff team, but there wasn't a lot of true contender talk among the experts or fans. How can the team get into that discussion?
Curry: You know, I think a lot of people don't give us enough credit for last season. I've heard a lot of Cinderella tags on what we did, and a lot of that is because of the history of the organization. To label a Warriors team as a title contender is foreign to a lot of NBA gurus. It's going to take a lot for us to prove that we're credible when it comes to that praise. This season, staying healthy, that's the biggest thing.
Alipour: I grew up in the Bay Area, and I can tell you that my people are gripped by fear of the Warriors losing their stars via free agency, trade or alien abduction. Why should the Bay Area expect a different result down the road?
Curry: Because I've seen the transformation of the organization. I saw the chaos in my rookie year and the step-by-step transformation. I love the Bay Area. I'm glad I signed the extension when I did, kind of locking in my future. Being a North Carolina boy, I obviously have a draw to Charlotte and going home, but at the end of the day, I want to be in a winning organization. And I think that's where we're headed.
Alipour: Finally, to wrap this up: The holidays are upon us. If Santa were to say to you, "Wardell, you can have just one gift for Christmas this year, and it's your call," what do you tell him?
Curry: [Laughs] A 40-inch vert. And that I'd get to the free throw line a little more. That's it. That's what's missing.
Alipour: And are you cool with Santa calling you by your birth name, "Wardell"?
Curry: Yeah, that's pretty good. That means he knows me pretty well.