NBA King of the Hill Tournament: Stephen Curry Is the Real 1-on-1 Dark Horse

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Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors.

Mar 26, 2020, 12:15 PM EDT

You may have heard that the Action Network is on a quest to find the top 1-on-1 player in the NBA. So far our basketball experts — Matt Moore, Rob Perez, Justin Phan and Bryan Mears — have each ranked their 64-best individual hoopers (For more on their rankings and analysis, click here). On Thursday, we’ll unveil the official bracket, and on Saturday, we’ll start playing out the tournament on Twitter via NBA2K for the whole world to see.

Justin sees a lot of upside in picking Stephen Curry for the 1-on-1 format — he has the former unanimous MVP ranked No. 11 out of 64 in his King of the Hill rankings. He makes his case for Steph below.

I was originally going to write about how guys like Jrue Holiday, Devin Booker, and DeMar DeRozan were undervalued in this tournament, but I kept coming back to the same conclusion: Does any of this really matter?

Outside of Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis, who has an actual chance of winning this thing? It’s tough to come up with a legitimate answer because those five are so much better than the field at what they do that you’re drawing extremely thin if you try to beat them at their own game.

And therein lies the problem. To beat those five you need to take a totally different approach with the goal of increasing variance as much as possible. That’s why I really liked what Daryl Morey did at the deadline when he moved Clint Capela for Robert Covington and went all-in on micro-ball. They weren’t beating the Clippers or Lakers with a more traditional big man like Capela, so they decided to shift their approach to a logical extreme.

They lowered their floor in the process but also increased their ceiling, which should be the main focus if you enter a matchup as a considerable underdog.


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The King of the Hill takes this to a whole other level as 3-pointers are even more valuable than usual. Whereas they’re worth 1.5 times as much as a two-pointer in an NBA game, they’re worth twice as much in pickup ball (#math).

The main critique from my colleagues like Wob about a player like Stephen Curry is that he won’t be able to get a stop. That may be true, but that totally misses the bigger point: 3s are the biggest inefficiency in this tournament.

Not only does the math slant things in Steph’s favor, but so do the rules. Yes, he may get cooked on one end, but he’s getting the ball right back on the next possession — this isn’t a “make it take it” format.

There are concerns about the quality of looks that Steph will be able to generate against elite defenders like Ben Simmons, Giannis, and Kawhi, but let’s not shortchange how impossible it is to guard the two-time MVP.

You’re going to have to guard him out past 30 feet for one. He’s made the most threes from 30-34 feet since the 2014-15 season and has shot 43.5% from that range during that span. That’s reflected on 2K with his near-perfect 99 three-point rating; Klay Thompson is second with a 95 rating.

It doesn’t just end there though. While Kyrie Irving’s handle is on a whole other planet, Steph has to be at or near the top of the next tier. He’s proven to be a dangerous three-level scorer, ranking in the 92nd percentile or better at his position in four of the past five full seasons when it comes to scoring efficiency at the rim. He’s got the mid-range game down, too, shooting 48.4% in that area (~90th percentile) over the past three seasons.

When looking for legitimate dark horses outside of the big five I mentioned above, we need to change up the criteria of how we evaluate players. It shouldn’t be about who will have the lowest average margin of defeat against Kawhi or Giannis, but more about a player’s range of outcomes and who, if he gets hot, could pull off an upset. Because in the end whether you lose 11-7 or 11-3 doesn’t matter.

Give me the greatest shooter of all time in a tournament that rewards his biggest strength even more than usual.

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