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Behind the Numbers: Steph Curry is the MVP

Back in March, we took a look at how the odds stood for the crowded field of possible MVP candidates in the NBA. Back then, it seemed as if we were bound to have a historic race to the finish, with up to 5 worthy players making their case for the award. After all, winning the MVP has been reserved for a certain crop of player.  Just as there are no fluke NBA champions, there are no fluke MVP's. All of the previous winners are either Hall of Famers or future members of their brethren (though we still have to wait on Derrick Rose). This week, a new member was entered into the elite: Golden State's Stephen Curry, a player that was so raw at one point that he wasn't even courted by college basketball's powerhouses.

The case for Curry could be made easily as the season progressed, with the Warriors becoming one of the best regular-season teams ever. Golden State took a gamble after firing popular coach Mark Jackson, who had guided the team to successful seasons but never took the leap, only to bring in Steve Kerr, who had never coached in the NBA before. Kerr's plan was obvious from the beginning: the Warriors had to play defense.

Before this season, Curry was known as a fragile player who was somewhat of an offensive genius mixed with a defensive liability. He had already led the league in consecutive years in 3-point field goals and attempts, made his first All-Star in 2014, and was part of the second team All-NBA by the end of the year. In a way, Curry's ascent to the top is not a huge surprise, but it still comes in an era where many presumed that MVP awards were to be distributed between LeBron and Kevin Durant for the foreseeable future.

What may have been surprising is the final vote’s tally that saw Curry earn 100 out of 125 first-place selections (80%). Even as James Harden finished a somewhat close second in the final tally (1,198 points over 936), the voting showed that people clearly saw Steph as the best player of the season, leaving aside the notion that Harden was more deserving due to his weaker supporting cast.

And now as Curry and his Warriors battle it out on their way to NBA glory, we will try to shed some light as to why he won the MVP by a landslide, in the end. Did he really have a transcendent season? How will 2014-15 be remembered for Curry? Where does he rank among the other MVP's of this era? These and other questions will be answered in this article.

In his Book of Basketball, Grantland's Bill Simmons suggested the idea of having different-sized trophies for MVP awards. The greater the season, the bigger the award. On the surface, Stephen Curry's season may not stand out among all-time greats. He didn't lead the league in scoring, assists, or even PER – the all-encompassing stat that is all the rage among statheads. He can only boast of being the most efficient shooter in free-throws, and of coming oh-so-close to a vaunted 50/40/90 season, as he finished with a split of .487/.443/.914.

However, it was Curry's all-around brilliance that made him the undisputed best player of the year.

If you take a snapshot of the season's statistical leaderboards, you will find that Curry's name appears all over the place, leading the league in steals while also being #1 in Value Over Replacement Player. If anything, Curry's counting stats may be undervalued by the fact that he played so little (32.7 minutes per game), but that was mostly a factor of the Warriors being so deep and good that they could afford spelling their star point guard when they jumped to huge leads.

In many ways, Curry's MVP represents the new wave of what we value in the NBA. His most obvious skills, spacing, precision passing, free-throws, and efficient 3-point shooting, are becoming the assets that teams look for in their offensive structures. That Curry took it a step further and became a competent defender in the process was just gravy, but his season will always be known mostly for the nightly array of heat checks, Vines, and highlight reels that stemmed from his games.

His argument as the best player on the best team turned out to be the deciding factor in the voting (the Warriors were a whopping +920 when Curry was on the floor), and now it will carry throughout the playoffs to what ultimately be Curry's legacy. Should the Warriors fail to win the NBA title, as they continue to be the heavy favorite, Curry's MVP may be remembered much like Steve Nash´s, as a special undersized player whose supporting cast was never enough to win it all.

Still, Curry's leap in 2014-15 may just be the start of something big by the Bay, as the Warriors have young talent, a passionate fanbase, and Kerr, who suddenly became one of the league's best coaches. In a league where superteams are becoming the norm and the transition to a new guard of stars is already taking place, it may be Curry who overtakes LeBron & Co. on the way to a prolonged story of success in a basketball town that hasn't been used to it.

Leaving aside his humble and emotional acceptance speech (which is somehow becoming the norm in the NBA), Curry can be proud of achieving a season that will go down in history as a statistical masterpiece, and the forefront in the NBA's statistical revolution. As Kevin Durant would say, he is da real MVP.


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