The qualifier "if a player other than Durant or James" shouldn’t be ignored. They are clearly the two best players in the world, and something would have to happen for one of them not to win, but it’s possible.
Now that he has an award, Durant could have votes taken from him by superstar teammate Russell Westbrook in the future. Or, voter fatigue could hit him as it hit James if he wins again. If James switches teams again, the ring-chaser critics will hurt him. If he stays with the Miami Heat, Dwyane Wade’s diminishing abilities could limit the team’s success.
Surprise winners have come in the past. Derrick Rose won in 2010-11 when he wasn’t even on the map heading into the season. The right combination of personal accomplishments, team success and outward circumstances coalesced, and it was enough to give Rose the award. A similar situation could occur with Curry.
The truth of the matter is that Curry is already much closer than Rose was in the summer of 2010. In fact, his numbers from last season are arguably better than those of any point guard who has been named the MVP in recent years. (Allen Iverson is included here, although he played both shooting guard and point guard his MVP season.)
Curry had more win shares, more win shares per 48 minutes and a higher player efficiency rating than any of his counterparts. He outscored Steve Nash in his two wins and had more dimes than either Allen Iverson or Derrick Rose when they won theirs.
When you factor in points generated off assists (which includes three-point makes on assisted shots), Curry actually produces more points per game than any of the past award winners at his position. He even beats James in the 2011-12 season and isn’t far off him from his 2012-13 season or even from Durant this year.
A kind of folklore has grown around Rose’s win. The new narrative is he just won based on “narrative.” While that certainly played into it—no one really believed he was the best player in the league—the deciding factor was actually the Chicago Bulls’ success.
They won 62 games that season, more than anyone in the NBA. They did so in spite of the fact that they had their starting five together for only 29 games. Rose was the biggest reason they were the league’s best regular-season team.
Dwight Howard finished second in the voting. Statistically, he may have been better, but his Orlando Magic had 10 fewer wins. James had a better supporting cast with the Heat, but his team won four fewer games, which included an 0-3 record against the Bulls.
If either team had won more games than Chicago, Rose probably would not have won the MVP, even with the edge in narrative.
Team success matters in the MVP award. Per John Schuman from NBA.com, of the last 26 MVP winners, 20 played on the No. 1 seed, and six played on the No. 2 seed (adding Durant into his numbers).
This year, Golden State won eight fewer games than Oklahoma City. Curry accounted for 1.4 fewer points than Durant. That’s how much ground is between them. The distance is not that great.
Exit Mark Jackson. Enter Steve Kerr and, perhaps, David Blatt.
Per Aridan Wojnarowski of Yahoo!:
Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr is pursuing a powerful coaching partnership with one of the world's best offensive minds, Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt, league sources told Yahoo Sports. …
As one major college coach who has studied Blatt's offense this spring told Yahoo Sports recently, "I am not sure there is anyone in the U.S. with the kind of creative efficiency or ability to change constantly like David Blatt has. He utilizes what his players do as well as anyone I've ever watched."
If you’re a Warriors fan, the phrase "one of the world’s best offensive minds" has to give you goose bumps. Reading “utilizes what his players do as well as anyone I’ve ever watched” or “creative efficiency” should make you burp out little laugh-sobs as your body tries to giggle and weep tears of joy simultaneously.
Contrast that with Grantland’s Zach Lowe’s assessment of Jackson’s offense:
The offense had some hiccups, and any team with this level of passing and shooting should rank better than 12th in points per possession. This team didn’t quite reach its ceiling, and the team concluded Jackson wasn’t the right guy to push that ceiling higher.
The Dubs were sometimes careless with the ball, though they cleaned that up as the season went on. Their offense lacked continuity; opposing defenses that snuffed out the first option could count on the Warriors devolving into a vapid isolation play over the last 12 seconds of the shot clock. The team chased mismatches on the block like an addict, chucking the ball to so-so post-up players and asking them to back down into uncomfortable fadeaway shots.
Going from an offense that lacked imagination and failed to utilize talent to one that is engineered by one of the world’s most creative minds bodes well for Curry, particularly considering how much the talent around him was wasted under Jackson.
Certainly, it’s easy to see him generating 1.4 more points per game in a new system.
If the Warriors can land Blatt and maintain their defense, it’s not impossible to see them moving up in the standings during the next couple of years, even in the tough Western Conference.
The Right Circumstances
Finally, the right circumstances are necessary to win the award. Often, the award goes to the player with the most optimal situation, not the best player. Players who might be argued to be better than Curry have challenges Curry doesn't face.
Durant and James have already been discussed in the opening.
Rose has already won an award. Coming back from injuries that have kept him out the bulk of the last three seasons won’t help. If the Bulls add Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Love, that will take votes away from him.
Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers is going to split votes with fellow superstar Blake Griffin, who finished third in voting this year. Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers should also share attention.
Westbrook won’t ever be considered the most valuable player on his team with Durant there. Too many will continue to obtusely (don’t get me started!) see him as an impediment to Durant’s success.
Among players at other positions, James Harden’s defensive woes will prevent him from winning. (While Curry is no defensive monster, he’s not the turnstile Harden is.) Paul George will always be no better than third-best at his position. Joakim Noah will be pressed to duplicate last year’s performance. Howard is on the downside of his career and will split votes with Harden.
After Durant and James, Curry is in the unique position to win. He has the collective help to be on a team that finishes top-two in the West, but there is no one who can rival him for the best player on the team. (If the Warriors land Kevin Love in a trade, as Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle reports they are trying to do, that could change, though.)
Additionally, it’s easy to see Curry getting the “narrative” votes. He’s a nice guy. He’s overcome some injury issues. He has lineage.
And he’s crazy clutch. Per NBA.com/stats, when the score was within five with five minutes left, he averaged 37.0 points per 48 minutes. When it was three minutes or less, that number rose to 42.1. With one minute, it was 68.4. With 30 seconds left, it was 80.4. With 10 seconds left, it was 130.4. The tighter things got, the brighter he shone. That's narrative.
Stephen Curry is closer to winning the MVP than you might realize. His numbers are already on that level, and with the potential for an actual designed offense to run, they could get even better. And, if the offense gets better, his team should move from very good to elite.
With the right set of circumstances, which is pretty easily foreseeable, the Warriors’ star could get the award within the next few years. Perhaps, if the planets align right, maybe even next year.