Why Steph Curry is the NBA’s leading MVP candidate

It’s never too early to speculate on the league’s top prize

By John Krolik

Special to The Examiner

It’s never too early to talk about the NBA MVP race. So let’s do that.Here’s why Stephen Curry is currently ahead of the pack, and who the other MVP candidates are at this point in the season:

In general, the search for the MVP begins by looking at the best player on the best team. It’s a crude but fairly effective way to cut through statistics that can be read a number of ways. If a player has a ton of points per game, is he really having a great scoring season or stealing shots from his teammates? If he has a high field goal percentage, is he a great shot-maker or is he passing up any shot that isn’t wide-open, to the detriment of his team? Does a high steal count mean he’s playing effective defense or gambling too much? Again, this is an oversimplification, but often a decent way to answer these very difficult questions is to simply look at the record. If the team is winning, there’s a solid chance the player in question is doing the right things.

Currently, there’s no doubt about the best team in the NBA. The Warriors have the league’s best record at 15-2. The next-best team in the league is the Suns at 13-3. If the Warriors keep up their current win percentage through the end of the season, they’re on pace to win 72 games. The Warriors’ scoring differential is even more impressive. They’re beating opponents by an average of 13.1 points per game. They currently score more points and give up less points than any other team in the league, which is frankly ludicrous.

It’s no secret that Steph is the key to the Warriors’ success. At 28.4 points per game, he’s just off the league lead in that category. Oh, he’s also handing out 6.6 assists per night. He’s even grabbing a career-high 5.9 rebounds a game, just for good measure. To the surprise of exactly nobody, he’s easily leading the league in made threes per game. He’s currently averaging 5.4 threes per game, with Buddy Hield in a distant second with 4.2 per game. His field goal percentage appears fairly pedestrian at 45.5%, but when you take the value of his threes and free throws into account (Steph is currently shooting a tidy 96% from the line), his “true” shooting percentage is 63.8%, miles ahead of the league average of 55%.

One of the biggest knocks on Curry has always been his defense, but it’s hard to knock his contributions on that end of the floor this year, since the Warriors are the best defensive team in basketball by a fairly large margin.

Then there are the contributions that don’t show up on the stat sheet. Normally this refers to ace defenders who can guard multiple positions and move the ball intelligently on offense. (See Green, Draymond.) But Steph’s hidden contributions come from how many points he generates on a nightly basis without the ball. Even on nights when Steph’s shot isn’t falling, his constant movement and the mere threat of his quick and deadly three-pointer can cause defenses to break down and give wide-open looks to his teammates on plays he creates without even touching the basketball.

And of course, Steph is doing all of this without Klay Thompson, which is something the voters will remember.

Other MVP contenders

Of course, it is a long season, filled with potential injuries, shooting slumps and long road trips. So, there are still a few players to keep an eye on. For the first time in a long time, LeBron James looks like he’ll be a complete non-factor. He’s finally beginning to show his age, and the Russell Westbrook trade has been an unmitigated disaster for the Lakers thus far. Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who have accounted for the last three MVP awards, are both having tremendous individual seasons, but their teams are both currently sitting at 9-8, and will likely need to get back near the top of their respective conferences to get the two superstars in the conversation. Chris Paul is again doing an amazing job leading the Suns, but it’s very difficult to imagine the MVP award going to a guard averaging less than 15 points per game.

Jimmy Butler is having the best year of his career from a statistical standpoint, and the 12-5 Bulls currently have a share of the best record in the East, so he could definitely be a serious contender. At this point, Steph’s stiffest competition looks like it will be his old running mate Kevin Durant, who has been nothing short of unstoppable. He’s leading the league in scoring with a ludicrous 66.6% true shooting percentage, and the Nets are, along with the Bulls, atop the East despite Kyrie Irving’s season-long absence and the Nets’ wafer-thin roster outside of Durant and James Harden.

John Krolik is a freelance contributor to The Examiner.

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