Back in April 2013, Mark Jackson, who was then the Golden State Warriors' coach, made a bold declaration. Talking about his backcourt of point guard Stephen Curry and shooting guard Klay Thompson, Jackson said, "In my opinion, they're the greatest shooting backcourt in the history of the game."
That was high praise for two guys who, at that point, had just made their first playoff appearance.
Two-and-a-half years later, Curry and Thompson each have a championship ring. They earned them last season, when the guards led the Warriors to 67 wins, the 10th most in NBA history. Not only is Jackson's claim now widely accepted, but the Splash Brothers are part of the conversation for the greatest backcourt in history, period. (They got their nickname because of their ability to splash the net with three-pointers, and also because Golden State plays its games near San Francisco Bay.)
Curry was named MVP last year, and Thompson made his first All-Star team. It was only the second time in history that a backcourt featured an MVP and an All-Star, and the first time in 49 years.
So what are the secrets to their success?
SHOOT THE LIGHTS OUT
Let's get the obvious one out of the way. Curry and Thompson are two of the best pure shooters in NBA history. Last year they each shot better than 43% from behind the three-point arc while attempting more than seven threes per game. Only one other player has ever done that: Ray Allen, when he was with the Milwaukee Bucks. But teammates doing it? That's unheard of.
Both Curry and Thompson have worked tirelessly to perfect their strokes. An undersized Curry used to slingshot the ball to get it to the hoop, and Thompson would put sidespin on the ball. You'd never know it by looking at their shots now, though. They have picture-perfect form and lightning quick releases.
Just how pure are they? Practicing by himself, Curry once made 77 three-pointers in a row. And one of Thompson's favorite drills is to shoot from behind the arc until he misses twice in succession. His best score: 122.
After the Warriors won the championship, Hall of Fame guard Isiah Thomas, who won back-to-back titles with the Pistons, told the Detroit Free Press, "Are they the best shooting backcourt I've ever seen? Absolutely."
BE ON THE MOVE
The Splash Brothers realize that the ability to knock down a shot is useless unless you can get a shot. They're both tireless when it comes to moving without the basketball. Defenses will get caught watching Curry when he has the ball and lose track of Thompson as he curls up the opposite wing. Or if they lock in on Klay, they'll miss Steph sliding into the corner. That leads to a lot of makeable shots.
COMPLEMENT EACH OTHER
Sure, they're great shooters, but there's a great deal more to the game than that. It would be asking a lot to expect each of them to do every single thing well. But between the two of them, they come close.
For instance, Thompson is a great defender, while Curry has struggled at that end of the floor. (He's gotten much better, though.) So the Warriors are able to have Thompson handle elite opposing point guards.
On offense, if Curry is on the perimeter away from the basket, Thompson can post up his defender in the paint. Or if Curry drives the lane, Thompson can spot up for a jumper. Plenty of NBA coaches can tell you: With the Splash Brothers, you have to pick your poison.
COMPLIMENT EACH OTHER
Having two great offensive weapons playing alongside each other can be a sticky situation. Being a scorer requires a lot of confidence. There's a fine line between confident and cocky, but Curry and Thompson don't cross it. Thompson realizes that Curry is the team's go-to star, and he's fine with that role. After the Finals he referred to Curry as "the best player in the world." Curry, who was sitting at the podium with him, looked genuinely touched.
And when Thompson set an NBA record with 37 points in one quarter last season, Curry posted a picture on Instagram of a red-hot Thompson reading a piece of paper that had caught fire. They clearly support and respect one another.
"It's unusual to see superstars who are willing to take a backseat," says Warriors assistant coach Luke Walton. "It might be Steph's night one game and not Klay's, or vice versa. But they are O.K. with that because they think much more about team than self. That unselfishness is contagious. It makes everyone around them play for each other and not just for themselves."
Curry's dad, Dell, was an NBA sharpshooter who often took young Steph to the arena. Klay's father, Mychal, was a center who was the top pick in the 1978 draft. Basketball is in their blood.
But the athleticism in their families doesn't stop there: Both of their moms were college volleyball players.
Jackson's time as Warriors coach wasn't incredibly successful. But the former All-Star point guard played a pivotal role in Curry's development. He put the ball in Steph's hands and let him make plays. It didn't work out well for the team, but it made Curry better. And last year, the team hired Steve Kerr, who was one of the most dangerous shooters in the game when he played. He understands the mindset of a gunner, and it's no surprise that Curry and Thompson, especially, thrived under him. "No one knew how good Klay really was until last year," says one opposing coach, "because Mark never ran any plays for him."
Kerr also simplified the Warriors offense last season and encouraged the team to pass the ball more. As a result, his guards got much better looks at the basket.
Sure, they're nice guys, but we mean that they're level-headed. Nothing seems to bother them. Steph is more animated, but when he shows emotion it's almost always positive. Last year the two of them played more than 5,000 minutes and only had three technical fouls between them. And neither has ever been whistled for a flagrant foul.
IT'S THEIR TIME
NBA teams place a premium on three-pointers now more than ever, making Curry and Thompson especially valuable. Ten years ago teams took an average of 15.8 threes per game. Last year that number was 22.4, an increase of more than 40%. Yes, the NBA is now a bomber's league, and nobody does it better than the Splash Brothers.
Photos: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images (action), John W. McDonough for Sports Illustrated (high five, Curry, Thompson)
Steph Curry and Klay Thompson: No Backcourt Mates Work Better Together
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