Now that Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry has won his fourth championship and earned the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Trophy for the first time, how high has he climbed in the all-time rankings of NBA point guards?
The long-awaited Finals MVP award filled the only hole remaining on Curry’s résumé. He had already won a pair of regular-season MVPs, appeared on eight All-NBA teams (four of them first-team nods) and become the NBA’s all-time leader in 3-pointers earlier this season.
When ESPN’s all-time NBArank put Curry fourth among point guards in 2016, during the midst of the season he earned MVP unanimously for helping the Warriors win a record 73 games, his placement ahead of Isiah Thomas was controversial.
Given everything Curry has accomplished since then, that’s no longer the case. When we recently ranked the NBA’s list of the top 76 players in league history, Curry finished third among point guards behind Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson.
With another title run in the books, it’s time to revisit where Curry ranks all time at his position.
Curry’s rank, by championships added
In conjunction with those 2016 rankings, I unveiled my championships added metric, which uses Basketball-Reference.com’s win shares — estimated back through the beginning of NBA history — and awards voting to figure how many championships a player would have added to an otherwise average team over the course of his career, adjusted for league quality.
Because we’re looking at player performance and not specifically team results, winning another title doesn’t affect Curry’s score. The Finals MVP is not factored into the calculations, either.
Still, Curry’s .18 championships added this year brings him to 1.85 in his career, good for 17th all time. That’s about where Curry finished in our recent rankings (16th), though he’d surely move up after this postseason run.
If that seems too low, remember that Curry is still adding to his ledger. He’s likely to leapfrog Dirk Nowitzki (1.9) next season and has a good chance to climb into the top 10 by the time he’s finished.
Already, Curry ranks in the top 15 in championships added in the playoffs and based on awards voting. He rates worse in the regular season, in part because he just hasn’t played that many minutes compared to the all-time greats. Of the 16 players ahead of Curry, 14 played at least 34,500 minutes in the regular season (when including Julius Erving‘s ABA career). Curry is at 28,361 and counting.
A clear top three at PG
The voters and the championships added metric agree about the top three point guards of all time, all of them capable of being recognized with only a single name: Magic, Oscar and Steph.
Setting aside combo guard Jerry West, no other point guard has peaked at the same level as those three MVPs. All of them sustained their success in the postseason in a way other point guards who won MVP (James Harden, Steve Nash and Russell Westbrook) can’t match.
At one point, supporters of Thomas, John Stockton or Chris Paul could make a case against Curry on the basis of longevity. That has been undercut by Curry continuing to play at a high level into his mid-30s. While Paul and Stockton still outpace him with 11 All-NBA nods each, Curry now has more than Thomas (five) and has matched Thomas’ Finals MVP win from 1990.
The Steph vs. Oscar showdown
The best comparison now for Curry’s greatness at point guard is Robertson, who won a single MVP (in 1963-64) but nearly matches Curry in terms of MVP shares thanks to nine finishes in the top five, as compared to just three for Curry.
Given all the attention on Curry never winning Finals MVP, it’s amusing to note that Robertson was one of just two players ahead of him in our top-76 rankings without that honor. (The other, namesake Russell, would surely have multiple Finals MVPs had the award been given before 1969, his last of 11 championships with the Celtics.)
Finals MVP has been less of a focal point with Robertson because his Cincinnati Royals never won a title during his prime, when they often fell short against Russell’s Celtics dynasty. By the time Robertson won a championship in 1971 with the Milwaukee Bucks, he was the clear second option to star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was voted Finals MVP.
Championships added draws an interesting contrast between Curry and Robertson. Oscar has a big edge in regular-season championships added by virtue of his long career (Robertson’s 43,886 minutes rank 22nd all time), while Curry dominates the playoff measure thanks to his performance in Golden State’s series of long playoff runs.
The sum total for the two players is almost identical, with Curry (1.85) edging Robertson (1.82) after this postseason. Although Robertson finished ninth in our top-76 rankings — two spots higher than he did in 2016, perhaps owing to renewed attention on his triple-double average as Westbrook joined him in that two-player club — I suspect Curry will end up ahead of him the next time we revisit the voting.
Can Steph catch Magic?
ESPN’s Kendrick Perkins sparked controversy by declaring last month that Curry winning Finals MVP would elevate him past Johnson as the greatest point guard in NBA history.
By championships added, that’s not yet a discussion. Despite being forced into retirement after his age-31 season by a positive HIV diagnosis, returning only briefly for 32 games in 1995-96, Johnson still has a huge edge on Curry. Johnson’s 2.43 championships added rank eighth all time.
It’s possible Curry could catch Johnson, but it’s not necessarily likely. Curry would need another four seasons like his 2021-22 to close the gap, which would mean playing at a championship and All-NBA level through age 38. More realistically, Curry would have to put together another couple of seasons like this one, then continue to add value at a lower level by playing into his 40s.
Besides health, Curry’s eventual championships added total will depend in large part on how long he wants to continue playing, given his shooting is likely to retain value even as his physical ability diminishes.
Still, Johnson is the one point guard Curry might not be able to catch in terms of peak value. Johnson won three MVPs and as many Finals MVPs as part of the Lakers’ five championship runs in the 1980s. That success, and perhaps a bonus for the years Johnson was unable to play, produced the No. 4 ranking among the top 76. That’s probably higher than Curry will ever get.
Then again, Curry has a habit of proving us wrong — this time by leading the Warriors to another title after two years in the lottery.