Two players that have changed the NBA landscape are Stephen Curry and Magic Johnson, two superstar players that altered the way the game is played and also the mentality of players. Curry is the greatest shooter of all time and is widely known to have spearheaded the new modern era of basketball where teams live and die by the three-point shot. It is no wonder why Curry and the Warriors have won 4 NBA championships because teams cannot shoot like them no matter how hard they try. Sure, he changed the game, but he also accomplished his greatest accolades yet following Golden State’s Game 6 victory over the Boston Celtics in the 2022 NBA Finals.
Stephen Curry has finally added the coveted Finals MVP award to his resume which also includes 4 NBA titles, 2 MVPs, and the all-time 3-point record. Of course, Curry has been the cornerstone of the Golden State Warriors dynasty that has lasted multiple seasons over the last decade. At the same time, Magic Johnson captivated audiences with his elite playmaking and star power during the 1980s. Alongside Larry Bird, Johnson helped elevate the NBA’s standard across the world. Of course, he is widely regarded as the single greatest point guard of all time due to his 5 NBA championships won.
An all-time great Laker, Magic revolutionized the game as a “big” point guard who was a triple-double threat and an all-time great playmaker. Quite frankly, we have not seen a better floor general and leader on the basketball court, because Johnson elevated the play of others around him for years as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. The Purple and Gold are benefitting from the presence of an all-time great playmaker in LeBron James, but there is no doubt that Magic was the first and best player to lead the franchise’s offense.
That is why it could be interesting to compare both players in terms of their statistical achievements. Specifically, it is time to uncover their career highs in major statistical categories to get an indication of which player was able to accumulate stats better than the other. While many will claim that Stephen Curry is the best shooter ever and cutting it closer to Magic’s all-time legacy, does he have the edge in the most important career-high statistical categories? It is time to find out.
Stephen Curry: 62 Points (Warriors vs. Trail Blazers, January 03, 2021)
Magic Johnson: 46 Points (Lakers vs. Kings, December 23, 1986)
Stephen Curry’s career-high in scoring came during the 2020-21 season, as a member of the Golden State Warriors. The superstar point guard went ballistic on the Trail Blazers’ defense, nailing 18-31 shots from the field including 8-16 from three and 18-19 from the free-throw line. Anytime a shooter of Curry’s caliber nails 8 three-pointers, it is obvious that he will score over 50 points with ease, especially in today’s NBA.
Thanks to Steph’s offensive explosion, the Warriors won the game 137-122. Steph has 10 games of scoring at least 50 points in his career, but his 62-point performance has to be one of the greatest games that the offensive player has played so far.
Magic Johnson has his career-high of 46 points on December 23, 1986, in a matchup against the Sacramento Kings. The legendary point guard certainly took more shots than usual in this regular-season encounter, going 17-36 from the field and 12-16 from the free-throw line. Amazingly, Magic only went 0-1 from the three-point line, an indication of how different the game was back in the 1980s. Not considered a score-first player, Magic never scored more than 46 points and loses this comparison to Curry.
Advantage: Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry: 14 Rebounds (Warriors vs. Kings, December 28, 2015)
Magic Johnson: 18 Rebounds (Lakers vs. Bulls, March 7, 1980)
Stephen Curry is considered a miniature player, but that might not be true considering e stands 6’3”. The point guard has an impressive career average of 4.6 RPG and managed a career-high 14-rebound performance against Sacramento Kings on December 28, 2015. Stephen Curry actually had an impressive all-around game with 23 points on 7-16 from the field to go along with his 10 assists. The Warriors won the game 122-103, as Curry’s triple-double complemented Klay Thompson’s 29-point explosion. No doubt about it, Steph is a very capable rebounder for a point guard.
Magic Johnson posted an impressive career-high in his career against the Chicago Bulls. This time, it comes in the form of crashing the boards. The talented point guard achieved his career-high in rebounds with 18 while also chipping in 14 points and 9 assists. A 6’9” point guard, Magic 7.2 RPG for his career, so he was always capable of grabbing the ball off the rim consistently and has to go down in history as one of the most elite board-crashing stars from his position. As an all-around player, Magic was a truly exceptional talent.
Advantage: Magic Johnson
Stephen Curry: 16 Assists (Warriors vs. Suns, December 27, 2013), (Warriors vs. Jazz, April 06, 2014)
Magic Johnson: 24 Assists (Lakers vs. Nuggets, November 17, 1989), (Lakers vs. Suns, January 09, 1990)
The Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry had career-high performances in 2013 and 2014, putting up 16 assists in spectacular fashion on two separate occasions. Considered a score-first player, Curry is still known for his passing ability and is above-average in that regard.
Anytime a score-first player of Curry’s caliber feeds his teammates like that, a win is normally ascertained and that was what happened in the blowouts against the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns. Curry’s career APG average is 6.5 APG, which is solid but pales in comparison to Magic Johnson.
Magic Johnson was an all-time great playmaker and arguably the greatest passer ever. The Lakers star was known to be an efficient playmaker, setting his teammates up consistently and being the spearhead of countless fastbreaks. The proof is in the pudding, as Magic won 4 assist titles that way, so it clearly worked.
No doubt about it, Magic had one of the highest basketball IQs in NBA history, and he used it to accumulate an impressive 24 assists against the Nuggets and Suns in 1989 and 1990 respectively.
Advantage: Magic Johnson
Stephen Curry: 7 Steals (Warriors vs. Timberwolves, April 07, 2010), (Warriors vs. Clippers, December 07, 2016)
Magic Johnson: 9 Steals (Lakers vs. Suns, November 06, 1981)
A man without a single All-Defensive Team selection, Stephen Curry had a career-high 7 steals in two different games over his career. The first came in 2010 when he managed 7 steals against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The last time Curry did that was in 2016 when he managed 7 steals against the Los Angeles Clippers, once again proving he could play passing lanes effectively. The point guard has a career average of 1.7 SPG which is certainly impressive considering he is not a defensive stopper by any means.
Magic Johnson registered an impressive 9 steals in a showdown against the Phoenix Suns in 1981, while also putting up 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 16 assists. The Suns ended up winning the game by scarping by in a two-point victory. Unfortunately for the Lakers, Magic’s career-high in steals was not enough. The point guard was not known to be an elite defender without a single All-Defensive Team selection, but he clearly knew how to punish the opposition for their poor handles and inability to make solid plays. Whether playing passing lanes or picking the ball in one-on-one situations, Magic was a hound at getting steals over his career as seen from his 2 steals championships as well.
Advantage: Magic Johnson
Stephen Curry: 2 Blocks (25 times)
Magic Johnson: 5 Blocks (Lakers vs. Spurs, November 08, 1980)
Stephen Curry, at only 6’3”, was never blessed to be a shot-blocker as a member of the Golden State Warriors. No point guard has ever been blessed with natural shot-blocking ability, which is why Curry never had more than 2 blocks in a single game over his career. He did accomplish this feat 25 times, so he could extend or recover when necessary. Over his career, Steph has a career average of 0.2 BPG.
Magic Johnson managed to block 5 shots in a single game on November 08, 1980. Again, Magic was not known to be an elite defender but he was very capable of blocking some shots on the court because of his incredible size. Johnson has a career average of 0.4 BPG with his best season in that regard coming in 1981 when he registered 0.7 BPG. No doubt about it, Magic was capable of zoning in defensively when he really needed to although he was more focused on passing and even rebounding. But finally, Magic has a higher career number of blocks versus Curry.
Advantage: Magic Johnson
Stephen Curry: 13 3-Pointers Made (Warriors vs. Pelicans, November 07, 2016)
Magic Johnson: 5 3-Pointers Made (Lakers vs. Clippers, April 21, 1990)
Stephen Curry made his career-high 13 three-pointers as a member of the Golden State Warriors in an iconic performance against the New Orleans Pelicans on November 07, 2016.
It is unsurprising to see Curry rank 2nd all-time in threes made in a single game, with his teammate Klay Thompson holding the record with 14 3’s made. Curry is the best shooter ever, and will always have a shooting advantage over any other player. Overall, Steph has a career average of 3.8 makes from deep.
The numbers clearly show that Magic Johnson hardly took three-point shots when he played. It was a totally different game in the 1980s and 1990s than it is now, and players never attempted as many threes as modern players do now. Over his career, Magic averaged 0.4 makes from deep. Obviously, he would have made at least 1 or 2 threes per game over his career if he played in today’s game, but he was nowhere near the shooter that Curry is.
Advantage: Stephen Curry
Field Goals Made
Stephen Curry: 20 Field-Goals Made (Warriors vs. Magic, February 25, 2016)
Magic Johnson: 18 Field-Goals Made (Lakers vs. Pistons, January 09, 1982)
Stephen Curry’s career-high in field goals did not come in his 62-point performance. Rather, it came in a 51-point performance against the Orlando Magic. Steph shot 20-27 from the floor including 10-15 from the three-point line.
Obviously, making 10 three-pointers is an incredible thing to do, but Step somehow makes it look so easy. The point guard also chipped in 7 rebounds and 8 assists in a virtuoso performance, leading the Warriors to an easy 130-114 victory.
Magic Johnson hit his career-high 18 field goals in an iconic performance in the 1982 season in a game against the Detroit Pistons. The Lakers legend was simply unconscious because he played with efficiency and aggressiveness en route to a 40-point, 10-rebound, and 9-assist performance. Magic was known to make shots consistently when on fire, and on that occasion, the legend was on another level on the offensive end by making 18 out of 23 shots. But his career-high does not usurp that of Stephen Curry’s.
Advantage: Stephen Curry
Free Throws Made
Stephen Curry: 18 Free-Trows Made (Warriors vs. Trail Blazers, January 03, 2021)
Magic Johnson: 19 Free-Throws Made (Lakers vs. Mavericks, April 09, 1990)
Stephen Curry greatly usurped Magic Johnson in terms of total points in a single game, but he made one less free throw for a career-high in a single game than the Lakers star did. The point guard made 18 foul shots in January 2021 against the Portland Trail Blazers, on 19 attempts. Unsurprisingly, Curry scored his career-high 62 points and led all scorers in the game. Not to mention, Curry guided the Golden State Warriors to a victory as the game was won 137-122. Still, Magic has an advantage over Curry in this free-throw category.
Magic was a very good free-throw shooter over his career, averaging 84.8% from the stripe over his career and had 2 seasons shooting over 90%. The point guard was able to draw contact and head to the line, as evidenced by his performance on April 09, 1990, against the Dallas Mavericks. Magic went to the line for 22 shots, nailing a career-high 19 of them. The point guard chipped in 38 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists in a 113-106 victory against the opponent. No doubt about it, Magic’s proficiency from the line effectively controlled the outcome.
Advantage: Magic Johnson
Stephen Curry: 11 Turnovers (Warriors vs. Clippers, October 31, 2013)
Magic Johnson: 11 Turnovers (Lakers vs. Trail Blazers, October 21, 1980), (Lakers vs. Warriors, February 11, 1986), (Lakers vs. Mavericks, April 15, 1991)
Stephen Curry is similar to other all-time great offensive players in terms of the aggressiveness he has had to face over his career, a reason why he has an average of 3.1 turnovers per game. Curry had a career-high 11 turnovers in a single game against the Los Angeles Clippers in 2013. As expected, the Clippers were able to force Steph into uncomfortable positions and take advantage to earn a 126-115 victory thanks to a spectacular performance by Chris Paul. Still, Curry equaled Magic Johnson’s own career-high with 11 turnovers.
Magic Johnson averaged a career 3.9 turnovers per game, mainly because he was such a high-usage player who handled the ball a ton and also was forced to create offense for his team through scoring the ball or especially creating for others. Of course, Johnson was also keen to make the spectacular pass, and that could result in turnovers when it wasn’t successful. Magic had 11 turnovers in a single game on three separate occasions, which equals Stephen Curry’s career-high. Overall, this category is even.
Stephen Curry Is A Greater Scorer Than Magic But Not A Better All-Around Player
No doubt about it, when looking at the career-high statistics, it can be deduced that Stephen Curry is a greater scoring talent than Magic Johnson because of his tremendous sharpshooting ability. It is no secret that Curry loves shooting the three-point shot, and he has done it better than anyone we have ever seen. A shoot-first point guard with elite scoring ability, Curry managed to usurp the majority of Magic’s career-highs pertaining to shot-making. It truly takes a special kind of player and mentality to be able to score the ball as efficiently as Curry has over his illustrious career.
Meanwhile, Magic Johnson was always a team player. Standing close to 6’10” feet tall with incredible length and passing ability, Magic never tried to shatter scoring records because he wants to share the ball and make his teammates better. For years, Magic’s Los Angeles Lakers had the best offense in the league because of their unstoppable fastbreak led by the point guard. The style of play clearly worked, because Magic ended up winning 5 NBA titles and capturing 3 Finals MVPs to go along with 3 MVPs.
When it comes to other areas of the court, including rebounding and passing, Magic Johnson has a big advantage. Magic was a gifted passer, and he led the league in APG on 4 occasions. Even when he was a pass-first player, he knew how to score as well although that wasn’t his priority. So it is no surprise he has the edge over Curry in career-high assists and usurps Steph’s career-high in rebounds. Magic is 6’9” and looks to be slightly taller when he played, so the fact that he was able to usurp Curry in size-based stats is unsurprising. Regardless, Magic was easily the better all-around player when taking more than scoring into account.
Overall, when it comes to all-around ability on the court, Magic usurps what Curry did over his career. As a taller player who could compete at the forward and even center position, Magic has the edge in areas where his size could be imposed on the court. Curry has the edge when the modern era comes into play, including 3-pointers and free-throws made. It can be deduced that Curry is a more talented offensive player with a much better jump shot, but Johnson was a greater all-around talent.
In terms of which player had more success in their career, it can be strongly argued that Magic has the edge. He won 5 NBA titles, 3 Finals MVPs, 3 MVPs, and also had a greater number of career-high numbers compared to Stephen Curry. As a passer, rebounder, and floor general, it is hard to argue that there has ever been a greater point guard than the legendary Earvin “Magic” Johnson.