Stephen Curry ranked No. 6 on ESPN's list of best players in the NBA. SLAM magazine ranked Curry No. 10. Sports Illustrated had him No. 15, the fifth-highest point guard.
Many are expecting Curry to join the ranks of the NBA elite this season. If the Warriors are indeed to rise to the top tier of the Western Conference and make another run in the postseason, it will be because Curry proved everyone right.
And he's going to have to do it while opponents doggedly try to stop him.
"He's taking it to a different level," coach Mark Jackson said. "Now it's about building on what he was able to do last year. He's up for the challenge, and we believe in him."
The Warriors need the monster year from Curry people expect. The hype certainly isn't unwarranted.
Curry emerged as a national star with a ridiculous second half last season. After the All-Star break, he averaged 26 points on 47.6 percent shooting with 7.4 assists and 4.0 rebounds. Over the last 30 games of the season, he made 46.1 percent of his 3-pointers and scored at a pace that produced 118 points every 100 possessions.
The question now is whether that can be expected from Curry or if it was a magical run in a vacuum.
"I guess I was hot for a long time," Curry said with a half smile.
The difference now is Curry will dominate the attention of defenses from the opening tip. They will most certainly adopt the get-physical philosophy Denver used on Curry in the playoffs. He can expect opponents to put bigger, stronger players on him or have their guards be especially hands on.
Curry's plan for the way defenses will attack him: attack them.
"I plan on just being aggressive," Curry said. "Take shots I think I can make. Make plays I think I can make as well. Try to be one of the best players on the court every single night. That's something I try to hang my hat on, and hopefully that means we're winning and good things are happening."
Curry said he's ready for the challenge. All the pieces are in place. His right ankle is problem free. He's surrounded by arguably the best supporting cast of his career. And he put in the work during the offseason.
Since he didn't have offseason surgery, he went all out. He said much of his focus was strengthening his core and upper body. He's up to 195 pounds and doesn't want to drop more than five pounds during the season.
While he was lifting weights, working on the TRX machine and downing Muscle Milk, motivating him was the fact he had to maintain the bar he set.
"This was my first summer in three summers that I have been healthy," he said, "so I was able to take advantage of the entire summer and get my body ready for the season. ... About four to five hours in the gym, five days a week, mixing up lifting, agility, conditioning and court work. We go pretty hard in the summer."
His teammates said it's working.
Forward Draymond Green said he sees Curry's edge and toughness shining through, indicating he's out to prove "he's not going to back down from the challenge." Guard Kent Bazemore, who often defends Curry in practice, seconds that.
"Dude is an animal," Bazemore said. "He has gotten a lot stronger. He's been working on (developing) a mean streak, too."
Guard Toney Douglas, whom the Warriors signed largely because of his success defending Curry, said he could see the growth in Curry's game.
Many will focus on Curry's outside shot. And for good reason -- he made 272 3-pointers at a 45.3 percent clip. But Douglas said the rest of Curry's game has gotten better.
"He's ready, mentally and physically," Douglas said. "He's so dangerous because he's a great passer. You knew he could pass. But the way he handles the rock, and since he's a deadly shooter, you can't relax with him. "
Curry is emphasizing attacking the rim and drawing fouls. Last season, his 3.7 free-throw attempts per game were the fewest of any player who averaged at least 18 points.
It's a distinct possibility his scoring could go down and his assist numbers rise.
If teams focus on stopping Curry, he has shown a willingness to pass. His 6.9 assists per game ranked 14th in the NBA last season.
But the bigger question is whether Curry can close games. Whether he consistently takes over in fourth quarters. Whether he can produce when defenses are most stout. That is how Curry ascends to superstar status, in the class of Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and Chris Paul.
If he does, the Warriors might be the real deal after all.