Stephen Curry Somehow Made NBA's Hallowed MVP Award Wholly Inadequate

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 10, 2016

Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry celebrates a score against the Phoenix Suns in the final seconds of the NBA basketball game Saturday, March 12, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Ben Margot/Associated Press

Somehow, becoming the first unanimous MVP in NBA history doesn't feel like enough.

Not after Stephen Curry's season punctuated by paradigm-shifting play and more "there's no way that's true" statistical firsts.

I mean, it's nice. It's great. Winning MVP in unprecedented fashion—especially when the voting pool is made up of potentially biased team-affiliated writers and broadcasters—is a big deal. But the MVP is still an award the NBA has handed out 60 times before.

Winning it in a sweep of first-place votes is a necessary way to start appreciating Curry's 2015-16 season, but it's not sufficient.

This was more than a great season. When you wrap all of its parts together, it may have been the most significant single year a player has ever produced.

The Incomparable Numbers

Brandon Wade/Associated Press

You have to start with stats.

I made the case Curry should have been the league's Most Improved Player a handful of times during the year, and at the conclusion of the regular season, there was ample evidence he deserved the hardware.

Consider this, from ESPN.com's Tom Haberstroh: "Curry improved his player efficiency rating by more than any reigning MVP in history. In 1984-85, Larry Bird increased his PER by 2.3 points, the highest increase at the time for a reigning MVP. Curry's improvement: 3.5."

Last year's greatest got greater—by a larger margin than any previous MVP. And without firing shots at C.J. McCollum, who took home MIP honors, the leap from OK to good is impressive, but ascending from MVP to something else entirely is different.

It's unheard of...sort of like many other numbers Curry produced.

He became the first player to attempt more than 500 threes from at least 25 feet, as Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver noted, and Curry hit an absurd 44.6 percent of those 565 tries. The league average on such long-distance flings: 35.4 percent.

According to Haberstroh, Curry took 200 contested threes off the dribble. He hit 42.5 percent of them. Only nine players in the league converted better percentages on catch-and-shoot threes, whether contested or uncontested per NBA.com. Curry, of course, led everyone with a 48.8 accuracy rate on standstill treys.

The marriage of volume and efficiency was (here comes that word again) unprecedented. Only eight players besides Curry have ever shot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from the three-point line and 90 percent from the foul line. Curry's combined percentages (50.4/45.4/90.8) are historic on their own. But according to Golliver, he took more than twice as many threes as anyone else on the list.

That kind of quick trigger is supposed to diminish accuracy. Selectivity is a pillar of efficiency...normally.

Curry is not normal, and his marksmanship and prolific output created a world in which his coach, Steve Kerr (one of the other eight players to post a 50/40/90 season), now operates on the presumption that if Curry can get a shot off, it is by definition a good one.

Fast Break @GSWFastBreak

Kerr on Curry: "You're never going to say anything to him about shooting. He gets to shoot whenever he wants."

You can go big and cite the record 73 wins, or you can go granular, as BBallBreakdown did:

BBALLBREAKDOWN @bballbreakdown

Min. 400 PnR poss, Steph Curry shot an aFG of 61.1% The next highest was Tony Parker at 51.4% This is insane

You can even point to figures off the court, as Curry topped the league in jersey sales and blew past everyone in projected shoe sales.

Wherever you turn, you're confronted with numbers that mark Curry as something more than merely "the best." And then, when you crawl out from under the cascade of historical stats, you realize the real reason Curry deserves something even better than a unanimous MVP has nothing to do with numbers at all.

The Reconstruction of a Sport

Curry tore down and rebuilt basketball using a series of incredible moments as his only tools.

There was the February road stretch when Curry won a handful of games all by himself, capping the run with an NBA record-tying dozen three-point makes and the season's most iconic game-winner:

He did most of the damage in that stirring win over the Oklahoma City Thunder after a gruesome ankle sprain. League-altering progress, it turned out, wouldn't be stopped by injury.

It wouldn't be stopped by anything.

Before that stretch culminating with the win over OKC, Curry had already established a record-setting three-point pace. He had already taken up the vanguard in the NBA's long-range revolution and guided his team to the best start in league history.

Afterward, he'd go on to make more incredible shots and sustain his team's historic pace. If February had never happened, Curry would still be the league's best player. And he still might deserve to be the unanimous MVP.

But that series of games, more than any other, redefined our understanding of what could happen in an NBA contest. The impossible became typical. Miracles were expected.

It made 17 points in overtime of a playoff game—the first on-court action Curry saw in two weeks—feel like they were supposed to happen.

Think about what was more surprising in Curry's 40-point off-the-bench evisceration of the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 4. Was it the record-setting OT explosion?

No. It was his 0-of-9 start from long range.

Even after missing so much time, and even with no real reason to think Curry could channel his usual level of divinity, there was something almost mundane about the way he torched Portland when it mattered. If nothing else drives home the point about Curry shifting expectations and paradigms, that should.

He did something no one had ever done, in a way no one had ever done it, in circumstances where no one should have been able to do it...and it was somehow unsurprising.

And as much as Curry's gravity and free-wheeling chucking from long range inverted NBA courts in novel ways this season, shifting the emphasis away from the rim and onto a threat 30 feet away, it's the inversion of expectations that truly made Curry special.

Yes, he made chaos and efficiency synonymous. Yes, he united a voting pool long known for fractious, illogical decisions, as Ray Ratto of CSNBayArea.com noted:

Ray Ratto @RattoNBCS

Curry as unanimous MVP means he has now also broken basketball media. If you can't get even one wingnut to break formation, the game is done

Yes, he made more threes and won more games and created more Vines than anyone we've ever seen.

But he did it all in a way that fundamentally changed our own experience of enjoying basketball. He showed us something new—like Wilt and Oscar and Magic and Jordan—and then he made us unreasonably expect him to keep showing it to us.

And then he did. Over and over again.

Sure, Curry is the unanimous MVP.

But after all he gave us this season, it feels like we owe him more than that.

Follow @gt_hughes on Twitter.

Stats courtesy of NBA.com unless otherwise noted.


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