Friday Flashback: Steph Curry at Davidson

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Watching Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals, in which Steph Curry putting up 28 points, 10 assists, six rebounds and three steals, I was reminded of my first time watching him play. I discussed that moment earlier Friday on Bumpers — subscribe here! — and marveled at how much changed in a decade.

Even after recording that short bit, I have not been able to shake that 2007 NCAA Tournament game between Davidson and Maryland. Was it Steph Curry’s game that changed since then? Or was I simply wrong in my initial impression?

This was an itch I had to scratch. The first place to start was the box score from March 15, 2007. To go off the stat line, Curry was dynamite: 30 points, four rebounds, three assists, three steals. He hit 57 percent from inside the arc, and while he took 14 3-pointers, his 36 percent average was just fine.

Hmm.

Step 2: Find the game film. Now, you might not think pulling up an NCAA Tournament game from 2007 would be that difficult. YouTube was somewhat new, but had already exploded in popularity. Keep in mind, this is the same year “Leave Britney Alone,” “Don’t Taze Me, Bro,” and “I Like Turtles” entered the mainstream.

Nevertheless, searches today bore no fruit beyond clips of individual plays. *sigh* Time for a tangent.

CBS (and other networks with deep catalogs of classic sports footage) are missing the boat not offering a service akin to WWE Network. I’ve championed this concept for conferences, and I believe it’s the direction traditional networks must go as more subscribers cut cable every year.

Were CBS to team with Turner and offer a service that cataloged every NCAA Tournament game since the former gained broadcast rights, I would gladly pay for that. As it stands, the closest option is the NCAA On Demand channel, which has gone without new content for 11 months.

OK, so it’s not Steph Curry and Davidson against Maryland in 2007, but NCAA On Demand does have highlights of Davidson’s 2008 upset of Georgetown.

Some observations:

1. 2008 does not feel all that long ago to me — at least, not until I see the uniforms worn in this game. Styles have changed dramatically. Why oh why did we ever believe clothing that baggy looked good? Everyone looks like David Byrne in his giant suit.

2. Curry’s childlike face in 2008 looks remarkably similar to 2017; the only noticeable difference is the scraggly beard he’s currently rocking.

3. Though I’d come around on my opinion of Curry as a player by this 2008 Tournament run, I’m still astounded at just how good he’s been in the NBA. He’s not much bulkier now than in those days, which is downright gaunt by post-1980s NBA standards.

Without the film evidence to reassess my initial impressions, I sought other evaluations of the time. Well, if there wasn’t a stronger indication I was on the wrong side of basketball history, here’s Bill Simmons in an ESPN.com diary of the 2007 Tournament conveying my sentiment at the time that Curry was a ball hog:

“Davidson’s up by eight and Stephen Curry is taking crazy Pistol Pete jumpers. He doesn’t even remotely have a conscience.”

My Googling found another story about Curry from that same time, albeit one written in 2015, shortly before Steph won the first of two NBA MVPs. Kevin Flaherty at 247Sports revisited Curry’s recruitment, and the skepticism from power-program coaches that landed Curry at Davidson.

Among Curry’s high school doubters? Steph Curry himself. There’s a fascinating anecdote in that article with Curry’s high school coach reminiscing about Steph fearing he’d be viewed as a ball hog if he played to his strengths. Instead, Curry’s prep team had a season for the record books.

It was reading that story that I had an epiphany. Beyond refining elements of his game, it wasn’t Curry who changed. My views on the game changed, sure, but only in part because the game itself changed.

And the game changed because Steph Curry changed it.

Defense ruled the NBA from the end of the Showtime Lakers through the mid-2000s. Sure, the Bulls dynasty was renowned for Michael Jordan, who’s most fondly remembered as an ever-evolving offensive machine. But those Chicago teams didn’t start winning titles until they were willing to match the Detroit Bad Boys punch-for-punch in physicality.

Horace Grant, and later Dennis Rodman, were vital to Chicago’s success. Jordan’s retirement made the emphasis on D and physicality more pronounced.

The evolution to a fast-paced, more uptempo style isn’t the result of Steph Curry alone. The transformation began when he was still a high schooler, thanks in part to the 2004-’05 Phoenix Suns. Statistical analytics also began gaining popularity around basketball in the same era; KenPom started doing his thing in 2002, and was building prominence when Curry was at Davidson.

Indeed, both movements predate Curry, but he’s the ideal player through which the two philosophies intersect. Watching him in 2007 was peeking into a window on the future. My mind wasn’t ready for it.