(Full disclosure: I love the Warriors, I love Steph, and I wear the #30 in all the recreational basketball leagues I play in.)
In many ways, this was a landmark season for Steph Curry. Before the first games had even started, he got name-checked by Drake in “0 to 100” and won a FIBA World Cup title with team USA during the summer, and things only got better from there.
After deciding not to swing shooting guard and fellow “Splash Brother” Klay Thompson to the Timberwolves for Kevin Love, the new-look Warriors led by Steve Kerr went on a 21-2 tear to start the season and played their way to 67 wins, becoming just the tenth team to hit that landmark. They also became the eighth team in history to finish the season with a double-digit point differential at +10.1.
Steph Curry would also compile individual stats of note as well this season. In the traditional counting stats, he was eighth in points per game, seventh in assists, and third in steals. He shot 91.4 percent from the line and a 44.3 percent from three (51.7 percent after the All-Star break). With room to spare, Curry broke his own record for 3-pointers in a season (286). He also tied Ray Allen for the all-time record by leading the league in threes made for a third time.
He also twisted Chris Paul into a knot, hit game winners with aplomb, and dribbled through entire teams with a preternatural handle.
Basically, if you watched him closely this season your reaction was similar to this:
Curry won the MVP by a large margin, garnering 100 of the 130 first place votes and beating the nearest competitor, James Harden, by over 250 points. The reasons for such a pronounced victory include not only the stats, but also the following point: it is damn fun watching this dude play the game of basketball.
Steph winning the MVP is also indicative of a paradigm shift in the way that basketball is played in the NBA, the official coronation song of a wholesale move to the pace and space era. If we look historically at the MVP award, a few large trends emerge that have only recently been broken.
Since Bob Cousy won the second ever MVP award back in 1956-57, Oscar Robertson would be the only guard to win the trophy in the next 30 years until Magic Johnson. The Big O was also on the larger side for a guard at 6’5. Looking from 1965-2000, every player to win the MVP award stood 6’6 or taller and in most cases the winner would beat that mark by at least a few inches.
It is no coincidence that the three smallest MVP winners have all come since the year 2000. The shortest is Allen Iverson, closely followed by Steve Nash (2 MVPs), and now Steph Curry. Iverson won his MVP in 2000-01, the same season that hand-checking was banned on the perimeter which offered guard’s more freedom to move around. Then before the 2001-02 season, illegal defense was scrapped completely for the current defensive three-second rule, allowing zone defense to be played for the first time in almost 50 years.
While discussing the rule changes that year, Stu Jackson, Senior VP of Basketball Operations for the NBA said that the current rules were changed because they were having a negative effect on the game by encouraging isolation play and stagnant offense. He predicted that the rule changes from the past two seasons would open up the game again get back to a game that “once again is based on passing, cutting, player movement, and ball movement.” In the same interview, he also stated that “there will be more movement, more players taking shots, a different requirement to have better shooters.”
What we see today is the NBA that Jackson helped to create, with a premium on flowing offense, shooting, and player and ball movement. And this year, Stephen Curry has become the realization of that vision: a ball-handling maestro who can shoot from great range with great accuracy with the vision to get teammates involved, playing in an offense that puts an emphasis on passing and cutting.
I don’t want to discount Curry’s player development in this analysis. His MVP award is definitely attributable to hard work, improvement on the defensive end, and a unique set of skills gained over a career. But credit must also go to the brave new NBA world which put a premium on the exact things he excels at.
BRIAN WONG | @bigbwong
Brian Wong is a third-generation Chinese American and Bay Area native. NBA fan, Golden State Warriors fanatic. Brian is a 2015 Dat Winning fellow.