The Whiteboard is The Step Back’s daily basketball newsletter, covering the NBA, WNBA and more. Subscribe here to get it delivered to you via email each morning.
It seems crazy to make an MVP case for Steph Curry using just two data points but, honestly, that’s enough to get you most of the way there. As was pointed out in NBA Reddit, as of today Curry is averaging 30.1 points per game on a 66.9 true shooting percentage — identical numbers to the 2015-16 season when he became the first unanimous MVP in NBA history.
Curry is not currently atop the MVP leaderboard for a variety of reasons, the Warriors hovering barely above 0.500 being one of the major ones. It’s weird that the MVP voting often intertwines team success and individual accomplishments in different ways for different players (in different seasons). But given the context and treated purely as an individual accomplishment, Curry’s production this season should be vastly more impressive than what he did in 2015-16.
What’s different for Stephen Curry this season?
In addition to the 30.1 points, Curry is averaging 5.9 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. He’s leading the league in total points scored and 3-pointers made and he’s a single made 2-pointer away from 50-40-90 shooting percentages.
It’s understood that Curry’s supporting cast is nowhere near as good as this season, but it’s worth clarifying the point. This season, the four players Curry has shared the floor with most often are Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr. and rookie center James Wiseman. There is talent in that group but Green is five years older, shooting under 40 percent from the field and under 20 percent from the 3-point line, no longer even remotely threatening as a scorer. Wiggins is having a strong season but he’s still largely Andrew Wiggins. Oubre is having the worst shooting season of his career, by a wide margin, and Wiseman is a rookie turning the ball over on nearly 10 percent of his frontcourt touches.
In 2015-16, the teammates Curry played the most minutes with were a 25-year-old Draymond Green in the midst of a career-best 38.8 percent shooting season from beyond the arc, Klay Thompson in the midst of the second-best true shooting season of his career, Harrison Barnes (a respectable outside shooter who could also punish mismatches in the post and Andrew Bogut — a solid veteran screener, finisher and passer, who averaged nearly twice as many assists as turnovers.
That season, Curry was able to share the load in ways that he just can’t this year. He’s also five years older but spending more time on-ball — his average touch is longer and includes more dribbles than it did in 2015-16. This year, roughly 23.9 percent of the Warriors’ points have been created by Curry — that’s unassisted points he’s scored plus points scored off his assists. And that may even be undercounting since we can’t separate free throw attempts and points scored at the free-throw line in hypothetically assisted and unassisted situations. (He is averaging the second-most free throw attempts per game of his career). If we look at just full offensive load and include points off Curry’s assists and all points he’s scored (assisted, unassisted and at the free-throw line) he’s had a direct hand in 39.7 percent of the Warriors’ points this year. In 2015-16, those percentages were similar but again, he had a much more threatening supporting cast to hold defensive attention.
Basketball-Reference’s MVP model gives Steph Curry a 1.8 percent chance of being named MVP this season, ranked 10th behind Luka Doncic, Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard and the three front-runners — Joel Embiid, LeBron James and Nikola Jokic. Of the players ranked above him, only Doncic is on a team with a lower win percentage. A 50-win pace for the Warriors might not be enough to get Curry a third MVP Award but it would certainly move him into a shorter list of favorites.
Curry’s season most likely won’t get the same recognition as his 2015-16 campaign. But it’s no less incredible.
If you’re hungry for more on Stephen Curry, Rohan Nadkarni has him and his centrality to the Warriors’ covered at Sports Illustrated.
You aren’t seeing their names reported in trade rumors as often, but John Collins and Aaron Gordon are among the most interesting players who could be on the move.
If you can’t wait for the WNBA season, Howard Megdal is here to catch you up on the league’s new post-free-agency pecking order.
Everyone is talking about LaMelo Ball but Gordon Hayward’s surprising resurgence has been just as important for the feel-good Hornets.