What are reasonable expectations for Steph Curry this NBA season?
That's a question The Ringer's Zach Kram set out to answer Tuesday and based on his findings, MVP voters better take notice.
Why? Because the most fitting comparison for what to expect from the Warriors guard this season, according to Kram, is the player who finished runner-up in MVP voting last season and won it the year before that.
That's right. Based on what Curry has averaged per 75 possessions without either Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson on the floor over the last three seasons, we can expect his 2019-20 season to mirror that of James Harden's in 2018-19.
That's a high bar, considering the Houston Rockets star produced the second-highest scoring average (36.1 ppg) in NBA history by any player not named Wilt Chamberlain last season. But Kram has data to back up his assertion.
Over the last three seasons (regular season and playoffs combined), Curry has played 1,214 minutes with both Durant and Thompson off the floor. Given that Durant now plays for the Nets and Thompson is expected to miss most -- if not all -- of the 2019-20 season, that's an accurate representation of the situation Curry will find himself in this year.
And, if we break those minutes down into possessions, the comparison between Curry's upcoming season and the one Harden just had becomes much tougher to deny.
"These two stat lines -- Curry’s per-75-possession numbers without Durant and Thompson ... Harden’s overall numbers in the 2018-19 regular season," Kram wrote, "are eerily similar, down to the exact same true shooting percentage."
See for yourself.
Image: The Ringer, Zach Kram
Eerily similar, indeed.
As you can see, Curry is quite capable of producing a one-man show; he simply hasn't been in a situation where that was required over the last three seasons. But with Thompson rehabbing, Durant and Andre Iguodala elsewhere and Shaun Livingston retired, it's a brand-new world for Curry and the Warriors, and Golden State might need him to claim it as his own to make another postseason run.
Consider this: Harden had a usage rate of 40.5 percent last season (the second-highest in NBA history), but throughout his career, Curry has never used more than 32.6 percent of the Warriors possessions in any single season. By the way, that career-high came in 2015-16, when Curry became the first unanimous MVP in league history.
With Golden State's revamped roster, it's not just reasonable to expect Curry to produce his highest usage rate ever in the season ahead; it likely will be required. His 2019 preseason numbers only support that assumption.
Over four preseason games, Curry averaged career-highs in shot attempts, 3-point attempts, free-throw attempts and points per possession. Per 75 possessions, he averaged 35 points and converted 43 percent of his 12-plus 3-point attempts per game -- numbers very much in line with Curry's per-75 possession averages without Durant and Thompson over the last three seasons.
Now, obviously, there are other factors to consider. Curry's new backcourt partner D'Angelo Russell will have the ball in his hands quite often as well, and the degree to which Russell is effective will have an impact on how much is required of Curry. Of course, it's worth mentioning that Harden played alongside a ball-dominant guard in Chris Paul each of the last two seasons.
We don't know what to expect from the Warriors this season. But if Curry provides what we can reasonably expect from him, it will provide both him and Golden State with the chance to add some more hardware.