It should have never come to this. Steph Curry has now scored 62 points in a game, a career-high for him and a high for anyone in this new season, and we should have just been able to enjoy it for what it was: yet another outburst of brilliance from a generational player, the most influential of his era, singular in his imagination and range. We—no one—should have to frame this performance as a rebuke to the haters. It should have simply been the case that no one ever said things so stupid that they needed such a counterpoint; it should never have been said that Curry is some kind of “system player,” that he excelled only because of the talent around him, that he never had to make it in this sport for real. But if what it took, to conjure this display, was just such self-satisfied, smug, concern-trolling doubt from hot take professionals, from rival fanbases and players, I suppose we might consider thanking these small and ungrateful minds. In our thanking them for their genius-fueling foolishness, though, it is important that we not forgive them for doing such a graceless, clumsy dance, upon a grave they had merely imagined.
And really, it was probably not the idiocy of various reaches of the basketball ecosystem that broke the dam on Curry’s early season static, so much as the re-introduction of Draymond Green back into the Golden State Warriors’ lineup. Teammate to Steph for the better part of the past decade—half of which the two spent going to the NBA Finals—Green and Curry have a timeless on-court shorthand together, a two-man game that transcends the very concept and stands as the most dynastic personnel understanding of the modern NBA. Together, the two are now strapped with clearing a bar both lower and higher than those of the recent past: they’ve got to make a team of young projects, cast-offs, and unknowns cohere in a way that all of the newer Warriors have only witnessed on their televisions before.
In Curry’s breaking-out-all-over-again game (a convincing Warriors win over the Portland Trail Blazers), Green’s role was as indecipherable in the box score as ever, and equally as obvious to anyone who watched it happen. With his fierce intelligence and moxie, he makes everyone around him better. This phrase is a cliché, of course, but great players at their best give gravity to clichés. Screaming war-like at all the rapscallions still figuring things out around him, zipping the ball to everywhere it needs to go, Green turned unwieldy flow charts of consideration into nothing more complicated than two-factor algorithms for his teammates. Curry, of course, knows this, and in Green he now has a playmaking release valve that should prevent teams from continuing to quintuple-team him at mid-court.
One can see the development of promising rookie center James Wiseman accelerate exponentially as he is finally granted the privilege of playing with both future Hall of Famers. Wiseman is exceptionally fast and coordinated for his size, and a very willing cutter who’s already decisive in the open court. In limited time with the duo, it was soon clear how effectively he will come to move upon the generous scaffolding that the Green-Curry braintrust provides. Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre, two wingmen with dubious but undeniable talents—talents that have yet to materialize into much utility in their pre-Warriors careers—have similarly shown more flashes of role identity in their brief time playing with the two stars than they have at arguably any previous point of their respective careers.
All in all, what we have here is just maybe a Western Conference playoff team. With Klay Thompson out for the year, the Warriors’ margin for error is miniscule, and any time either Curry or Green is out for a game or more, their path to victory lengthens dauntingly. It all makes for a fascinating transitional campaign for the Warriors, who were so injured and dismal last year, so inertly within their post-zenith hangover that they were more cryogenically frozen than they were moving toward anything new. Now is the time for that, the moment that their bedrock is tested and they attempt to reach toward something like what the San Antonio Spurs of yore accomplished. (That’s 22 straight years in the postseason, with nearly half of them ending no sooner than the Conference Finals, and five championships).
It’s a hazy era for the Warriors: the post-Rome effort to make something more lasting, which necessarily requires Curry and Green to prove themselves as under-utilized players, who were capable of much more through their years with Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Andre Iguodala. What Golden State now needs from Green is for him to be a very powerful dad to lost basketball souls—so cosmically paternal enough that he can turn his less accomplished teammates into the versions of themselves that were so optimistically described on their draft nights. And from Curry, the Warriors will be requiring plenty more 62-ish scoring nights; for him to reach more deeply into his bag of magic than he has had to in some while. It’s rare that a team of such high profile relies so fundamentally on just two players, and certain that we’ll learn more about each of them this season, the Warriors’ odyssey past the peak, their search for new basketball meaning.