NBA

Stephen Curry Deserves More MVP Consideration

April 12, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) celebrates during the third quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Curry deserves more consideration for MVP. His case for the award hasn’t been discussed enough this year, but it’s real.

53 games into the season, the Warriors sit at the 10th seed in the west, clinging onto the last play-in spot. Unfortunately, this poor record effectively disqualifies Curry from contending for the award in the eyes of voters. But it shouldn’t.

The Warriors have struggled mightily this year, but that’s not on Curry. And it shouldn’t overshadow his sheer individual dominance in 2021. 

If the MVP truly went to the league’s most valuable player, Curry would be the front runner. 

Making the Most of a Poor Situation

Jan 21, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) on the bench ahead of guard Klay Thompson (11) during the fourth quarter against the New York Knicks at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

During the Warriors’ legendary run from 2014-2019, Curry proved his value as an all-time-great ceiling raiser. Thanks to his ability to coexist with multiple star teammates, Curry elevated the Warriors from good to historically great and was the engine behind one of the most incredible five-year stretches ever.

But in 2021, Curry’s been tasked with a completely different role. On a Warriors squad which is a far cry from their past dynasty, Curry’s serving as a floor-raiser, keeping the team afloat for playoff contention. 

This isn’t just floor-raising on a mediocre team. It’s floor-raising on a team that would possibly be dead last in the league if not for Curry’s heroics.

With Curry on the court, the Warriors post a respectable 113.7 offensive rating, good enough for 13th in the league. 

But when Curry sits, that mark falls to 103.2, or 8.8 points below league average (10th worst ever).

As the offensive unit crumbles without Curry, so does the team. This was entirely evident in Golden State’s recent 53-point loss without the greatest shooter of all time. Altogether, the Dubs are 1-7 in games that Steph doesn’t play.

Recent acquisitions like Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre look solid on paper, but their horrific passing vision prevents them from bringing positive value on offense. They regularly miss reads to open cutters and shooters and often make Curry’s life harder rather than easier. 

Not only that, the Warriors haven’t surrounded Curry with a respectable set of shooters to space the floor. 

Per BballIndex.com, the amount of spacing provided by Curry’s teammates ranks in just the fifth percentile of all players. 

Without a dependable sharpshooter or shot creator to take any legitimate pressure off him, Curry looks hopeless at times. His current circumstances are quite possibly the worst that any superstar has faced over the last decade.

This lack of offensive help allows defenses to game plan exclusively for him. Defensive schemes against the Warriors intend to neutralize Curry with constant double teams and traps. This leaves him very little room to operate. In other words, opponents try to make the other Warriors beat them, which has repeatedly worked against Golden State. 

Given these challenging circumstances, one would expect Curry to have a down year. However, it’s been quite the opposite. 

MVP-Level Scoring

Apr 10, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) shoots a 3-pointer during the third quarter against the Houston Rockets at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Despite his poor situation, Curry is having one of the best individual offensive seasons of all time. It’s arguably the best offensive campaign since his other historic year in 2016. 

This transcendent offense starts with Curry’s scoring and lights-out shooting. He’s second in the league at 30.4 points per game, only behind Bradley Beal. But unlike Beal, Curry combines this high volume scoring with elite efficiency. 

His ultra-efficient 65.5% true shooting percentage places ninth in the league and first among guards. Furthermore, this combination of scoring volume and efficiency isn’t just great; it’s historic. 

If the season ended today, 2021 Curry would go down as just the fourth season ever to top the 30 PPG and 65% TS threshold in the same season. 

Again, he’s doing this with poor spacing while facing immense defensive pressure on a nightly basis. Not to mention, Curry suffered a tailbone injury in March, which is likely still hindering him. 

Ironically, Curry has played his best basketball of the season since the injury. He’s scoring 38.4 points per game on red-hot 53/46/91 splits. This stretch also includes a masterful 53-point performance from earlier this week. 

Despite Curry’s dominance, the Warriors are just 4-3 in that span. This reinforces the fact that without Curry playing out of his mind, the Warriors are doomed for failure. 

For many players, this scoring alone would be enough to put them in the MVP race. But that’s only part of the reason why Stephen Curry deserves more consideration for MVP.

Vastly Underrated Playmaking

Feb 13, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) passes the ball away from the reach of Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) in the first quarter at the Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Based on the box score, Curry doesn’t appear to be an elite playmaker. His 5.9 assists per game rank just 24th in the league. 

However, assists don’t accurately quantify Curry’s unique playmaking.

Assists are teammate-dependent. And, as mentioned earlier, Curry plays on a team without many knockdown shooters or capable scorers. So when Curry frequently creates open looks for teammates, it’s rarely a guarantee that they’ll capitalize on it and reward him with an assist. 

Luckily, there is a way to capture the open shots that Curry creates, regardless of whether his teammates make them. Per Backpicks.com’s Box Creation metric, Curry creates 13.5 open shots for teammates per 100 possessions, sixth in the NBA. 

Most of Curry’s playmaking stems from his incredible off-ball gravity. Even without the ball, there’s rarely a moment in time when Curry isn’t making an impact. His deadly off-ball movement gravitates defenders towards him and allows him to leverage his scoring into playmaking.

Since Curry is a threat to score at all times, defenses regularly send a flurry of double teams his way. In turn, this frees up plenty of open looks for other Warriors. 

This playmaking, combined with Curry’s scorching outside shooting and scoring, makes him the undisputed best offensive player in the league. 

The advanced stats further suggest this. He’s first by a mile in O-RPM, second in O-RAPTOR, and third in O-LEBRON.

Playing at this level in 2016 was one thing. But doing so in 2021 with a far worse supporting cast is just as, if not more impressive. 

Only this time, his performance isn’t being met with much surprise or shock. We, as fans, have grown accustomed to his greatness and see this as the expectation for Curry. 

The Obstacle in the Way

Feb 24, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) looks to pass the ball away from the Indiana Pacers defense in the fourth quarter at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Besides 2017 Russell Westbrook, every MVP winner of this century has played on a team that finished top-two in their conference standings. With the way things are going for the Warriors, it’s virtually impossible they reach that benchmark.

Thus, Curry’s third career MVP is improbable to come in 2021. His absence from the NBA’s MVP ladder doesn’t bode well either. 

However, Curry’s spot in the rankings shouldn’t diminish his excellence in 2021. Despite battling injuries at age 33 with mediocre teammates, he’s putting together one of the most impressive floor-raising seasons ever. 

And if he keeps playing like this, he might even keep the Warriors alive for a playoff spot. Regardless of how the team does, one thing is certain: Stephen Curry deserves more MVP consideration. 

With all the slander he received after his slow start, it’s time Stephen Curry gets his respect. Five years after his most recent MVP, he’s still one of, if not the league’s most valuable player in 2021. No one means more to their respective team, and it would be a shame to dismiss him from the MVP race. 

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