"The game speaks for itself" - Curry playing the best ball of his career *now* is a big deal
The prime of Stephen Curry is a gift and a wonder, MVP or no
There’s no Golden State Warriors dynasty run without Stephen Curry. Yes, there was plenty of support around him - especially with the addition of Kevin Durant - but the driver of the Warriors franchise move to relevance is Curry. When he exploded in the 2015-16 season, becoming the league’s first and only unanimous MVP award winner, it was on the back of an astounding pile of statistical evidence.
That season, Curry averaged 30.1 points, 6.7 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game while shooting 50.4% from the field, 45.4% from deep, and 90.8% from the line.
Now, those same numbers are nearly identical for the 2021 season. Years later, with a team that hardly resembles the old one, Curry is once again reminding the league how deadly this version of Curry is.
Over the last eight games, Curry has scored no less than 27 points, in a stretch that included nights of 57-, 40-, and 38-point games. These scoring bursts come after he set a new career high of 62 points in 36 minutes in the Warriors' 137-122 win over the Portland Trail Blazers last month.
Here’s Curry, after the game last night, responding to a media member asking him if he’d like to be in the MVP conversation. For those who just want to read Curry’s answer, here it is in full:
The game speaks for itself.
Those two [MVP] years is the exact same kind of conversation. Obviously, that's an amazing accomplishment, and being in that conversation with all that we've been through these last two years, that means something. Those narratives make themselves as you go throughout the season, and my job is obviously just be at the level that I expect to be, and usually that means you're at the top at the end of the season.
I really try not to get distracted by that because it kind of taints the moment. And really right now, if I'm doing my job, then I'll be there at the end of the season, and that will take care of itself.
I remember back in that first MVP season, holding lively debates about exactly how long Curry could maintain his hot hand. You see, back then (and this was five or six years ago) it wasn’t clear what constituted ‘normal’ for Curry - a player that struggled with early ankle injuries, inconsistent playing time, and a slight frame.
But with the current season Curry is putting on display, there’s no more mystery, no additional unknowns or uncertainties. This is who Curry is. A dominant force on the court, that uses his savant-like shooting to swipe enormous holes through opposing defenses.
And the NBA world at large is beginning to take notice.
After putting up 57 points in a loss, coach Steve Kerr said that Curry was playing the best ball of his career. The numbers support that, but perhaps more importantly for an emergingly robust MVP conversation this season, so too do the eyeballs. Curry has spent the intervening years refining his game, sharpening his tools while standing in the background next to Kevin Durant and the Warriors superteams.
“He’s never played better,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We’re talking about a two-time MVP, three-time champion. I’ve never seen him like this. He just looks so strong to me. He’s obviously always been an incredible shooter, but he looks stronger to me just getting by people, fending them off on drives to the rim, finish, and of course the shot-making. It’s almost unfathomable what he’s doing out there.”
No longer deferential to other stars - heck, not even really having other stars to shoulder the scoring burden - this newly resplendent version of the Splash Brother playing without his bro has taken the reins and has whipped the offense into a froth-mouthed beast.
Ok, admittedly, the offense has lagged a bit (the team’s offensive efficiency is ranked 20th at the moment), but if anything, that deficiency only bolsters the strength of Curry’s claim to this season’s most valuable player accolade. Via Anthony Slater of the Athletic, the Warriors have been plus-90 in Curry’s minutes over the past 11 games, and minus-20 when Curry’s on the bench. Slater goes on to point out that in last night’s too-close-for-comfort win over the depleted (and bad) Orlando Magic, the opponents outscored Golden State by 16 in the nine minutes Curry rested.
It’s a well-established fact that Curry’s presence warps the court in a way that few other players do, but watching it happen without any other meaningfully dangerous offensive creator sharing the court is breathtaking.
Watch here how Curry collects the opposing defenders before swinging the ball out of the pressure for Draymond Green to exploit. In that graphic comparing this season to Curry’s unanimous year, he averaged an additional 0.8 assists per game; this is what happened to them.
One of the smartest women I ever worked for told me to be sure to always give a “so what” to let readers know why they should care. If you’re reading this, presumably you are well aware of Curry’s excellence.
But beyond the conversations that happen around Curry’s season, and the MVP award, I just wanted to take a moment to marvel at Curry. To understand that he is really and truly playing at peak level (again? still?) and that alone is worthy of celebration.
He may not win the MVP award this season. But those awards are fairly arbitrary. Remember that the NBA offers absolutely zero specific guidance on what criteria should be evaluated, other than a minimum number of games played. And if it is a truly arbitrary process, then why not Curry? As he said last night:
Those narratives make themselves as you go throughout the season, and my job is obviously just be at the level…
That’s the thing. He’s at “the level” in a way that is becoming harder and harder to ignore, even for those further removed from the team. After a recent informal poll, voters were already reconsidering if Curry’s position should be at the top.
All us fans have to do is marvel at Curry and enjoy the show. The results will speak for themselves.
"It's literally like a video game," our guy™ Juan Toscano-Anderson said after the game last night. "We're all on the bench chuckling and laughing like, 'Man, he's unreal.'"
Oh no Juan. He’s very real, but we are all chuckling and laughing along with you.