OAKLAND The left ankle the good ankle is the one bothering Stephen Curry this time. But that's a relief. Anything but the right ankle is a relief.
In his four seasons with the Warriors, Curry has become an expert on the anatomy of the ankle. He has tweaked, aggravated and sprained his ankle, requiring multiple surgeries, painful rehabilitation and a search for the softest boot in town. After landing awkwardly in the Game 2 victory that evened Golden State's Western Conference opening-round series against the Denver Nuggets, he suffered a few troubling flashbacks and felt the familiar, if fleeting, fear.
"I wouldn't be able to play right now," he said Wednesday before watching practice. "It acted up more than I expected after the game. Maybe I'll be a little limited, but it's responding pretty quickly, so I'm not worried right now."
Heat, ice, rest, stimulation. Curry is so eager to make his home-court playoff debut tonight, so aware of his importance to his injury-depleted team, he would consider closing his eyes and submitting to a painkilling injection.
The irony alone is enough to make him wince. After missing large chunks of his previous two seasons because of ankle woes, Curry missed only four regular-season games and said his right foot felt better than at any time since his rookie year, when his second-half development almost nudged him past Tyreke Evans for the Rookie of the Year award.
Curry's emergence reinforces the uncertain nature of the draft. The brightest basketball minds can rely on analytics, interviews, game film, psychological exams and the old-school "eyeball" test, but the mistakes ultimately are revealed. In the point guard-rich 2009 NBA draft, Evans (fourth), Ricky Rubio (fifth) and Jonny Flynn (sixth) were selected ahead of Curry (seventh), who was followed by All-Star Jrue Holiday (17th), Ty Lawson (18th), Jeff Teague (19th), Darren Collison (21th) and Toney Douglas (29th).
Asked what he recalled about his audition in Sacramento against Evans, Flynn and Patty Mills, Curry laughed. He remembers Tyreke dominating with his one-on-one skills, and exploiting him with a wicked crossover and driving layup. But he also remembers disappointment because the predraft protocol doesn't allow for fullcourt scrimmaging, preventing Curry from displaying his passing and floor leadership.
The shooting was there that day, though. The shooting has always been there except for a two-month stretch in high school when his father, Dell, one of the league's premier deep shooters in his day, restructured his son's mechanics against taller, quicker opponents.
The younger Curry has become a master at creating separation from his defender with a full complement of escape dribbles, head and ball fakes and sharply angled bank shots. He torments defenders with step-back jumpers, high-arching pull-up 22-footers and running one-handers, often released while he is off-balance, at times even appearing out of control. And though he can be a little loose with his dribble, he has excellent court vision and has always been a willing and capable passer.
"Steph is more than a shooter," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. "He can make plays, run pick and rolls, lead our team. For me, the only question has ever been his health, and when he's healthy, he's a tremendous player."
With his ankles finally cooperating, Curry set an NBA season record with 272 three-pointers. He also finished third in the league in three-point percentage and tied for second in free-throw percentage, thrusting himself into this conversation: Is he in a league with the greatest shooters of the modern era, including Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, Chris Mullin, Dale Ellis, Larry Bird, Mark Price, Steve Nash, Peja Stojakovic and the late Drazen Petrovic?
Jackson answers with a forceful nod. TNT analysts Steve Kerr and Kenny Smith are in the same camp, as is former Warriors coach Don Nelson, who was obsessed with drafting Curry in 2009.
"He's almost too good to be true," Nelson said from his home on Maui. "A lot of guys can shoot but can't get their shots off. Steph has this tremendous ability to score, even when he's doubled and tripled, partly because he has the ballhandling skills to get himself free. I figured it would take him a year or two to become comfortable as a point guard, which at his size (6-foot-3), he needs to be. And I think before it's over, he's going to be put up there with the best of them."
Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin (916) 321-1208 and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.