Warriors

MVP or not, NBA season will be remembered as Steph's year

Warriors
Steph Curry

"Fine, I'll do it myself."

The above line was uttered by Thanos, the Mad Titan, after seeing his minions fail to secure the Infinity Stones for him. But it very well could have escaped the mouth of one Wardell Stephen Curry II before he took the court on Opening Night against the Brooklyn Nets this season.

After missing all but five games last season, Curry has re-emerged this season and once again announced himself as the greatest show in sports. That is a title that Curry held during the Warriors' dynastic reign and one he never relinquished.

But this is different.

No longer flanked by Kevin Durant, and with Klay Thompson watching painfully from the sidelines, Curry has had to shoulder the entire load for a Warriors team with a brand-new supporting cast -- save Draymond Green and Kevon Looney -- and little postseason experience. Like Thanos eradicating Nidavellir in an instant, Curry has torched most of the league without warning. A 50-piece here, 12 3-pointers there, oh, and here's 49 points in 29 minutes for good measure.

The Warriors star has been borderline unstoppable, and in a truncated season played amid a global pandemic with almost every superstar missing a handful of games, Curry has carried a heavier burden than any of his contemporaries.

I'm not going to get on a soapbox and say Nikola Jokic shouldn't win MVP. He has been incredible and has played all 68 games, putting the Denver Nuggets in position to earn a top-four seed. He is a likely and worthy MVP given what the typical criteria are for the award. Jokic and Joel Embiid have had the two best seasons for two of the top seven teams in the NBA.

 

But no one has meant more to their team than Curry.

In the 61 games Curry has played, the Warriors are 35-26, good for a .574 winning percentage. Without Curry, the Warriors are 1-7 (.125). In essence, Curry's presence elevates the Warriors from what is a team resembling the tanking Houston Rockets to a playoff contender.

Let's go a bit deeper.

The Warriors are 14.2 points per 100 possessions better when Curry is on the floor than when he is off, per Cleaning The Glass, and score 16.1 points per 100 possessions more when Curry is scorching opposing defenses instead of chatting with Thompson on the bench. Those numbers rank in the 98th and 100th percentile, respectively, per Cleaning the Glass. Curry's plus-4.7 efficiency differential equates to a 53-win team during an 82-game season, which is 35 (!) wins better than how the Warriors have played with him off the court.

Those numbers are impressive. Hell, they are otherworldly. But compare them to how other top teams have fared without their stars and it shows just how "valuable" Curry is.

The 76ers are 38-11 (.776) with Embiid and 9-10 (.464) without the dominant center. The Los Angeles Lakers are 28-15 (.651) with LeBron James and 10-15 (.400) without. The Bucks have been great with Giannis Antetokounmpo (37-21, .638) but have survived without him (6-4, .600).

When Kawhi Leonard suits up the Los Angeles Clippers are 34-16. They are 11-7 when he sits. The Brooklyn Nets have a similar winning percentage with Durant (19-12, .613) and without (25-12, .676). Meanwhile, the Utah Jazz are 39-14 with Donovan Mitchell (.736) and 11-5 (.688) without him.

Jokic and Chris Paul have played every game this season, so let's take a look at their on/off numbers for comparison.

For Jokic, the Nuggets are 4.7 points per 100 possessions better when he's on the court than when he's off. That ranks in the 78th percentile. They score 12.9 points more per 100 possessions when Jokic is on the court, good for the 99th percentile. Jokic's plus-6.8 differential equates to a 57-win team and is good for 10 more wins than how Denver plays when he's off the court.

As for Paul, the Suns are only 1.9 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor and his plus-6.7 differential also equates to a 57-win team but is only five wins better than how the Suns play when he's off the court.

What all this tells me is that Curry means more to this Warriors team than any other star does to his. Without Curry, the Warriors might be more insignificant than an Oklahoma City Thunder team that has been outscored by almost 500 points in its last 25 games.

This isn't a knock on Green, whose defense and leadership have been invaluable, or Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre or Looney. But it's Curry's greatness, his ability to inject wonder and belief into his teammates, that has them even playing at a level of respectability. Green has stated he, a three-time NBA champion, wasn't motivated by the potential of the play-in tournament.

 

But it's clear that the greatness of his brother who he has fought and bled with has motivated him to make sure it is not all in vain.

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Curry's entire season has been "stop what you're doing and watch" worthy. Barry Bonds and prime Tiger Woods are the only other two athletes who made it necessary to halt your life, pause your very existence, and watch the incredible feat that was bound to follow.

Every time Curry steps on the court for the remainder of this season, whether that's three, four, 10 or 20 more times, will have the same feel as Woods pegging it at Pebble Beach or lining up a putt at the Old Course in the early 2000s. You're unsure of what the next three hours hold, but you know it will be something you can't miss.

No matter what your definition of valuable is, Curry's virtuosity -- his historic, iconic, unimpeachable greatness has been on display night-in and night-out.

He has been the star this NBA season needed. A baby-faced assassin slaying everything in his path to drag the Warriors as far as he can humanly take them.

Give the MVP award to Jokic. In five, 10, 20 years, this will be remembered for one thing: Steph Curry trying to do it all himself.

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