Steph Curry played some of his best and most impressive basketball over the final six weeks of the 2020-21 NBA regular season, skyrocketing him to the scoring title and giving his team a chance to crack the playoffs via the play-in tournament.
But despite his heroics and jaw-dropping performances, he finished third in MVP voting. Instead, Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic was awarded the honor.
Drafted by the Nuggets with the No. 41 overall pick in the 2014 draft, Jokic is the lowest draft pick to ever be named MVP in league history. And deservingly so.
Jokic and Curry are similar in the fact that they both are the focal point of their respective offenses, and both the Warriors' and Nuggets' performance dips considerably without them. There are many ways to assess the makings of an MVP, but in my eyes, that is the most important measurement.
So, if they are both so important to their teams and Curry put on an absolute clinic through the final month-and-a-half of the season, why didn't he win?
Well, perhaps for a few reasons. One of them probably is related to where Golden State and Denver finished in the standings. The Warriors finished 39-33 -- good for eighth in the West -- and nearly made the playoffs, but lost both of their play-in games. The Nuggets finished 47-25 -- third in the West -- and have a decent shot of making it to the Western Conference finals, if not the NBA Finals. And they are doing it without their second-best player, Jamal Murray.
Yes, the Warriors also were without their second-best player in Klay Thompson, but the manner in which the Nuggets have managed to keep up their strong play without Murray and the fact they finished the regular season 13-5 after he tore his ACL are feats that can't be overlooked.
And they were able to do it because of Jokic.
When Murray was healthy, yes, Denver relied on Jokic to score, but needed him to be a facilitator even more. Jokic is the Nuggets' best playmaker, and they rely on him to be involved in every offensive scheme, even if he isn't the one scoring. When the Nuggets played in the bubble last season, they even started Jokic at point guard for several games while they awaited members of their backcourt to arrive in Orlando.
After Murray's injury in April against the Warriors, the Nuggets needed Jokic to continue being the facilitator while also stepping up his scoring and making sure it was there on an every-night basis. And that was further exacerbated when the Nuggets lost Michael Porter Jr. for 11 games, Monte Morris for 25, Will Barton for 16 and Gary Harris was traded at the deadline. Paul Millsap, PJ Dozier and JaMychal Green also missed significant time, significantly thinning Denver's frontcourt.
Through the last month of the season, Jokic averaged 26.9 points per game on nearly 57 percent shooting from the field.
But his dominance wasn't limited to the final few games.
He averaged 26.4 points per game on the season -- a major jump from his average of 19.9 last season -- on 56.6 percent shooting from the field and 38.8 percent from 3-point range. He tied a career-high with 10.8 rebounds per contest, and his 8.3 assists per game were just shy of Wilt Chamberlain's single-season record (8.6) for most assists per game by a center.
Jokic led the NBA in double-doubles (60) and finished second in triple-doubles (16). He played the third-most minutes in the league and appeared in all 72 regular-season games.
Now, none of this takes away from what Curry accomplished this season. As I said before, he won the scoring title, surpassed Reggie Miller on the all-time made 3-pointers list and became the Warriors' all-time leading scorer. His numbers were similar to that of his unanimous MVP season.
Maybe that again begs the question: Why didn't Steph win if he was as playing as well as he did that year?
The answer is twofold. First, in Curry's unanimous MVP season, no other player came even close to equaling his dominance. And second, this season, the player who did match his dominance took his team further.
Whether that's fair or not, nothing can diminish what Jokic did for the Nuggets this season. And even with the MVP award residing in Denver, that doesn't take away from how good Curry was.