Stephen Curry is still the best player on the Golden State Warriors

Kevin Durant might have a more well-rounded skill set, but Stephen Curry's unique shooting talents make him a more valuable player than anyone in the league not named LeBron James.

When Kevin Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors in free agency after the 2015-16 season, most NBA fans assumed that the NBA Finals would become all but a formality. After all, according to public sentiment, the Warriors added the second-best player in the NBA to a 73-win team that had just squandered a title because of a badly-timed Draymond Green suspension, arguably the most important shot in NBA history from Kyrie Irving, and the iconic Finals series of LeBron James' historic career.

With his 6'9"+ frame, incredible shooting touch, and defensive versatility, Kevin Durant might be the most complete player in the NBA. LeBron James has yet to be knocked from his perch as the NBA's best player (as he demonstrated on Wednesday against the Portland Trail Blazers), but most fans think of Kevin Durant as the clear choice for the second-best player in the league.

However, Durant cannot be the second-best player in the league behind LeBron since he is still only the second-best player on his own team. Stephen Curry might not have the all-around game and versatility of Durant--he is a solid but not game-changing defender who does not have the raw athleticism that Durant possesses. Still, Curry is such a uniquely gifted shooter that he is still somehow underrated in that regard (even though he has staked his claim as the best shooter in NBA history). Beyond putting up his own numbers, Stephen Curry's shooting ability forces teams to defend him differently from any other player in the league. With Durant's impending free agency rapidly approaching and with increasingly blatant signals that this might be his last season in the Bay, fans around the league should remember that Golden State has always been Steph Curry's squad for a reason.

One Man Offense

The NBA has been moving towards faster and more shooting-heavy offensive attacks for the last decade--the NBA record for team three-point attempts in a season has been broken in each of the last two years, and the "Seven Seconds or Less" Phoenix Suns of the mid-2000's would rank last in the league in pace today.

Even as pull-up three-pointers and triples from well beyond the line become more popular (just ask Damian Lillard, Kemba Walker, and the theoretical idea of Trae Young), nobody can pull them off like Steph. It's not just that nobody can do what Steph does though, it's that no-one else even comes close. So far this season, Steph has hit more 28+ foot triples than the second and fifth-place players (Young and Lillard respectively) combined--despite missing the last three games. He's also shooting an absurd 17 of 30 on those shots. Opponents literally have to get in Curry's face as soon as he crosses half-court, which creates plenty of space for his teammates. It isn't hard to see which player scares opposing defenses more on this play, as All-NBA defender Jimmy Butler abandons Kevin Durant completely just to make sure that Steph doesn't get even an inch of room behind the arc:

Of course, sometimes it doesn't even matter how many players are guarding Steph or how far he is from the basket. How could you possibly hope to defend against this play?

It is almost impossible to overstate how much of an impact Steph Curry makes on the offensive end of the floor, but it is dramatic enough to more than compensate between the (arguably overstated) difference between Curry and Durant's respective contributions on the defensive end. Even if you had never seen the obvious effect of Steph's solar system-level gravity live, a quick look at the team's performance with and without Curry on the floor would tell you all that you need to know. Last season, the Warriors shot a league-best 39.1% from deep. That climbed to an absurd 42.5% with Steph on the floor but fell to 35.6% with him on the bench (per stats.nba.com). That mark would have tied for 20th in team 3-point percentage. The 5.9% on/off court gap in three-point percentage for Curry was larger than that of any other Warrior and was almost double the 3.0% on/off gap for Durant.

The difference was even more stark during KD's first season with the team. The Warriors were third in the league in shooting from long range that year, knocking down triples at a 38.3% clip. With Steph on the court, that jumped up to 40.3%--which would have been good enough to lead the league. With Steph on the bench? The Golden State Warriors, despite having Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson and numerous other shooting talents on the roster, shot just 32.3% when Curry sat--which would have been dead last in the league over the course of a full season. The next closest Warrior in that regard was another spectacular shooter in Klay Thompson, but the Warriors made 35.4% of their triples with Klay on the bench; that mark would have ranked 17th league-wide (all numbers from stats.nba.com). Those numbers don't even account for the fact that Thompson played most of his minutes with Steph on the court as well.

The 3-point percentage numbers tell the same story as the more general advanced statistics. The Warriors outscored opponents by 17.7 points per 100 possessions with Steph on the court in 2016-17 but were outscored by 2.7 points per possession when he sat. The gap between those two numbers was--you guessed it--larger than the gap for any other Golden State player. More tellingly, Steph was the only player on the 2016-17 team who had a negative Net Rating. In other words, the Warriors outscored every team in the league no matter who sat as long as that person was not Wardell Stephen Curry. Those numbers were not as stark last season, nor have they been as stark during the small sample size of this early season. Still, it is hard to wrap one's head around the almost-unprecedented difference that Curry makes on a team that has already entered the league's annals as the premier dynasty of the 2010's.

Future Outlook: Kevin's Choice

With the Golden State Warriors preparing to start next season in their new stadium in San Francisco, the team's brass is quite keen on keeping Kevin Durant in the Bay. The recent blow-up between Durant and Draymond Green and the fallout over the past couple of days have fed more fuel into the fire of the rumors that this is KD's last season in blue and yellow. While the two appeared to be in better spirits on Thursday morning, many people inside and outside the locker room seemed to think that this fight was somehow different. It is certainly telling that the KD/Draymond spat occurred during the one game when Curry did not travel with the team. The fact that he's been ruled out for the upcoming Warriors road trip but is coming along anyway would certainly point to the importance of his contributions off the court as the most selfless and team-focused leader since Tim Duncan.

Maybe Durant is tired of all the "snake" comments. Maybe he's tired of Green throwing the same insults his way that he gets from teenagers on Instagram and Twitter. Maybe Durant is tired of being the most unnecessary superstar in NBA history and the #StephBetter mantra of the vast majority of Warriors fans.

Above all else, maybe Durant is tired of enduring years of being called second-best to LeBron--only to be second-best on his own team once he found a team that could help him get the ring he so desperately wanted. Whether he leaves this summer or not, however, the Warriors will be just fine. After all, their best player will be a Warrior for many years to come.

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