Stephen Curry's lead in the 2015-16 NBA MVP race is so strong the sharpshooting, shimmy-shaking point guard could glide down the final stretch in cruise control.
But what if he stopped racing altogether? Could anyone conceivably steal the crown over the coming weeks?
Incredibly, that scenario is the only way this award chase gets interesting. A healthy, active Curry is slaughtering the field and easily wearing arguably the two most important hats in this pursuit: best player on the best team and best player overall.
Curry's Current Lead
He is without competition, which sounds like a criticism of the field. But that's not the issue. From past winners such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant to potential ones such as Kawhi Leonard and Russell Westbrook, this campaign has witnessed several superstars produce compelling MVP arguments.
It's just that Curry exists on a different plane.
"He is, without question, the best player for a Warriors contingent that will go down as the greatest team of all time," Bleacher Report's Dan Favale wrote. "At this rate, Curry is not only the overwhelming favorite to win the MVP award but [also] one of the most valuable players ever, period."
Curry has turned the competition into background noise during his march into basketball lore. All-encompassing statistics used on Basketball-Reference.com and ESPN.com all regard him as the game's most dominant individual force.
Curry has already shattered his own record for threes in a season (294 and counting) while connecting on a personal-best 45.9 percent of his long-range looks. If the campaign closed today, he'd have history's highest player efficiency rating (32.3), plus the best true shooting percentage of anyone who averaged 20-plus points (67.8).
As absurd as the numbers look, the way he compiles them is even harder to fathom.
He is changing how the game is played, redefining what a "good shot" really is. This season's league-average three-point percentage is 35.2. Curry is shooting 47.2 percent from 26-plus feet and an even 50 percent from 30 feet and beyond.
"When a guy makes 40-foot shots three straight games, you'd hope people would recognize this is not normal," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, per Andrew Keh of the New York Times.
The numbers are universally in Curry's favor. The narrative couldn't be more captivating with his Warriors perhaps having the best season ever. That his popularity has reached icon status only adds to his intrigue.
But is his lead so insurmountable he could actually stop playing and still walk away with the trophy?
Field Isn't Buried
Although Curry can't see them, there is still a pack of superstar sprinters forming MVP arguments behind him.
Basketball-Reference.com uses past results to determine the win probability for current candidates. While Curry is the overwhelming favorite at 72.2 percent, there are still seven other players given at least a 1 percent chance to win.
|The 'Others' in the 2015-16 MVP Race|
|Player||Notable Numbers||MVP Probability|
|Russell Westbrook||24.1 PPG, 10.3 APG, 7.5 RPG||7.3|
|Kevin Durant||28.1 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 50.7 FG%||5.8|
|Kawhi Leonard||20.8 PPG, 1.8 SPG, 47.8 3P%||4.5|
|LeBron James||24.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 6.6 APG||3.3|
|Draymond Green||13.7 PPG, 9.7 RPG, 7.4 APG||3.0|
|Chris Paul||19.9 PPG, 9.7 APG, 2.1 SPG||1.6|
|Kyle Lowry||21.6 PPG, 6.4 APG, 2.2 SPG||1.1|
If Curry weren't going berserk, we'd be talking ad nauseam about Russell Westbrook's insane numbers.
He's opening the door to a potential triple-double average, and the one category that doesn't qualify might be the most impressive. He's hauling in an astounding 7.5 rebounds per game—as a 6'3" point guard. Only two players his height or shorter have ever tracked down more rebounds: Fat Lever and Jerry West.
Westbrook is simultaneously having his best year as a shooter (45.8 percent from the field) and a setup man (10.3 assists per game, 49.2 assist percentage). Between the points he's scoring on his own and those he's creating for his teammates, he's supplying the Oklahoma City Thunder with 47.4 per night.
It's no surprise, then, that the Western Conference contender follows his lead. With him, they outscore teams by 10.7 points per 100 possessions. Without him, they get outscored by 3.7 points per 100 possessions. The first figure would be the league's third-highest net efficiency rating, while the latter would check in at No. 26.
"He's a video game," Thunder teammate and former MVP Kevin Durant said earlier this season, per ESPN.com's Royce Young. "He may surprise you guys, but I've been seeing it for eight years."
This isn't Westbrook's introduction to the big stage, but he's arguably never been better. He's leaving stat sheets stuffed like few others ever have, as NBA.com/Stats pointed out:
Most triple-doubles in a 2-season span, last 25 seasons Jason Kidd - 25 in 2006-08 Grant Hill - 23 in 1995-97 WESTBROOK - 21 in 2014-163/7/2016, 6:15:26 PM
If Curry were to re-open this race by sitting out the remaining portion, Westbrook could be the first to seriously challenge for the throne.
But Durant has the tools to embark on an award-winning run. He's had 30-plus points in five of his last six outings while shooting 50.8 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from deep.
There's always the possibility of four-time winner LeBron James turning this race on its side. Another month like his January (23.6 points on 55.2 percent shooting and 7.1 assists) could move him back within striking distance.
If the Dubs faltered without Curry, that might open the door for Kawhi Leonard to grab the "best player on best team" honor. His stats don't always jump off the page—though he's clearing 20 points per game while flirting with a 50/40/90 shooting slash—but his two-way impact is almost always impossible to miss.
And if Golden State avoided a Curry-less collapse, maybe Draymond Green could make a late charge at the crown. He actually has a wider on/off split than Curry (26.1 to 24.2).
The talent pool is deeper than Curry has made it look.
Curry's Work Isn't Done
Only one 82-game season has produced an MVP who played fewer than 60 games. Bill Walton earned that distinction in 1977-78, averaging 18.9 points, 13.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.5 blocks over 58 games for the Portland Trail Blazers.
But that field was nothing like this one. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar might have been the second-best candidate, and he missed 20 games after punching Kent Benson and breaking his hand. Offense-first perimeter players George Gervin and David Thompson couldn't match Walton's two-way impact even with the heavier workload.
Curry faces much bigger threats. As mind-numbing as some of his stats are, they aren't strong enough to compensate for 20-plus absences. Not with all the star power in today's NBA.
But that isn't a concern of Curry's. He's still sprinting toward the finish line of his second consecutive award-winning campaign, and, if the opportunity presents itself, making (more) history in the process.
"We have to do it the right way," Curry said of breaking the single-season wins record, per ESPN The Magazine's Sam Alipour. "We want to keep getting better and be at our best come April. If we don't win the championship, what good is 73?"
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