Fear the Raptor

It’s amazing how a couple of days off can help to clear a players head. Kyle Lowry has been written off as a dead man walking multiple times in these playoffs, but he’s gone the way of Lazarus in these past two games resurrecting his three point shot as well as the Raptors chances of winning this series. Lowry scored 35 points on 14-20 shooting in the Raptors 105-99 win over the Cavaliers.

The big difference in the past two games, outside of Kyle Lowry finding his game has been the emergence of Bismack Biyombo as a rebounding and shot blocking monster. The Raptors defense has put a emphasis on defending the three point shot, and it has been mostly up to Biyombo to protect the rim. The big question coming into this series was when would Jonas Valanciunas get back into the fray. He was listed as available last night, but the superb play of Biyombo allowed coach Dwane Casey to give their star big man another night off to heal.

Biyombo

The reemergence of the Toronto’s two All Stars has completely changed the dynamic of this series. The constant aggression of DeMar DeRozan and Lowry has exposed the biggest weakness of the Cavs – they have no stoppers at the rim. They can constantly run Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love off of pick and rolls with one of their two stars and get a huge mismatch. I really expected Tyronn Lue to start playing Timofey Mozgov just to get some extra rim protection in the game, but Mozgov has only played 9 minutes in the series. DeRozan has scored 64 points in the past two games, taking full advantage of open driving lines and not settling for too many long twos.

The player has been most effected by Toronto’s change in defensive philosophy is Kevin Love. Love has been the big beneficiary of Cleveland’s run-and-gun offense, but now that the Raps are clamping down on outside shooters he is having a hard time fitting in. When Love is not scoring his effectiveness on the court drops big time. He is not a shutdown defender and has not had a game with over ten rebounds in the series. He is shooting 5-23 in the two games played in Toronto and is generally getting destroyed by Biyombo in the post. Channing Frye has seen his minutes go up in these losses and a lot of that can be contributed with Love playing poorly. Frye has been red hot from beyond the arch, but the 33 year olds defense is also suspect, which is a problem when having to handle DeRozan and Lowry on pick and rolls.

How much of the past two games can be contributed to the Raptors stars simply playing better against how much has Cleveland’s offense been effected by some subtle defensive adjustments from Casey? Can Tyronn Lue, who has made some smart lineup adjustments to get optimum efficiency from his bench, find ways to get Kevin Love back into this series? These are two questions that I’m interested to see answered in game five. The Cavs are finally being tested, and only player that has seemed to hold his composure has been LeBron James. It’s time to see if Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love can step up their defense, and help put away this suddenly dangerous Raptors squad. This is the kind of testing that Cleveland needs before they have to face the true challenger in either the Warriors or Thunder.

Why Draymond Green’s kick is going to hurt

The big story coming out of Oklahoma City’s 133–105 thrashing of Golden State was not how excellent Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant played, or how poorly the Warriors performed, but this:

Why Draymond, why?

This low blow from Draymond Green on Steven Adams has been the center of all sports talk in the past 24 hours. The big question is whether or not the kick was intentional. Both coaches and nearly every player interviewed last night was asked, and if you follow the NBA at all you’ve probably seen a thousand takes on the subject, and for good reason.

So why is this such a big deal? The Thunder are a good enough team to thrash a fully staffed Warriors squad, let alone a team that is missing their defensive MVP. We’ve already seen the league suspend Dahntay Jones for acting a damn fool on the court, and give that Green had already went low on Adams this series, it’s a good possibility that the league will suspend Draymond for game five.

Golden State is already in a bad spot, and can ill afford to go down 3–1 to an OKC team that is playing the best basketball I’ve seen them play since their last Finals appearance. Green did not play well in game three. He missed lay-ups, turned the ball over a lot and finished the game -43 in plus/minus. To be fair, no one on the Warriors played well last night, but when Green is having a bad night it has a huge effect on the rest of the team.

Without Green the Warriors are much worse defensively, especially without his ability to defend smaller players like Westbrook and Durant off pick and rolls. They also lose one of the best passing big men in the league, and the master key in their offensive sets. As Golden State searches for answers in the coming games I suspect that one of the keys will be having Green guard Kevin Durant full time.

The Thunder have done a great job of exploiting the weaknesses of the Warriors small ball (sometimes referred to as “death lineup”) style by constantly driving to the rim and beating up Green on the glass with their athletic seven footers. They have seemingly solved the puzzle that teams around the league have been working on for almost two years. This puts Golden State in an awkward spot, they are best when they play small with Draymond Green playing center, but it’s clearly not working in this series.

Whether or not Draymond’s suspended for game four I suspect that Steve Kerr will start playing Bogut and Ezeli more minutes. Bogut was in foul trouble right off the back in game three, but his size and defense are desperately needed against this Thunder lineup. The problem with playing Bogut big minutes is that he is not fast enough to effectively help and recover and pick and rolls involving Steven Adams. Ezeli has the athleticism to hang with Adams but is not dearly as adept of an offensive player as Bogut, and the Warriors lose a lot of their potency when he is on the court.

The difference in playstyles has made this matchup a real pleasure to watch. Thunder head coach Bill Donovan has shown a deft hand in handling his player rotations in this series. He has shortened his bench, only playing seven or eight guys in any given game. He’s put a very short leash on Enes Kanter, a player who can add a lot with his size and offensive skill set but is very exploitable by the Warriors pick and roll game. Donavan has gotten Kanter out of the game every time he starts hurting the team on defense. He has also braved it out with his big lineups when Golden State has gone small, and last night that decision was key in their win.

There are going to be times when the Warriors are going to hit threes and get steals and there’s nothing you are going to be able to do about it, but the Thunder have proven that if you can hang in their on defense and keep turnovers down, you can win with superior size. Of course it helps that OKC has guys like Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant who can combine for 66 points and 14 assists, but it’s the ability of the Thunder to block shots and secure defensive rebounds that has sling shot their two offensive killers into easy looks in transition.

Which brings us back to that crotch shot. The league has been put in an impossible situation here. If they chose to suspend Green and the Thunder go on to win game four and the series, they will be shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to NBA Finals ratings as well as the brand of the biggest draw in the league. If they do not suspend Green then they will be called hypocrites and have to deal with bad press for the next couple of weeks. For me the former sounds a lot worse than the latter, and I suspect that Green will not be suspended.

Either way this series is going to be even more heated as both teams desperately try to get an edge. Right now the Thunder hold home court advantage and have been the better team in the series. The onus is now on the Warriors to make the right adjustments and get back into this series. Both teams have shown an ability to blow one another out of the water. The argument being made by both coaches being played out by their teams styles is one of the more interesting strategic battles I’ve seen in a playoffs series. It’s clear now that either team could win this thing, and once we get past the distraction of “the kick tweeted around the world” we are in for some great basketball.

LeBron dunks Raptors, again

Do not adjust your internet. This is not a rerun of LeBron James assaulting a rim from two days ago. This is yet another ferocious dunk delivered by LeBron the Destroyer that can pretty accurately sum up how Cleveland once again thrashed Toronto 108-89 last night.

James finished the night with a triple double, scoring 23 points on a devastatingly efficient 13 shots, while also grabbing 11 rebounds and doling out 11 assists. Kyrie Irving added 26 points. He continues to be unstoppable off the pick and roll, and there is not a single player on the Raptors roster who has shown an ability to match-up with him one-on-one.

It’s not just the stars that are killing it for Cleveland, guys like Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye are also getting in on the beatdown. Jefferson, who has been in this league for 14 (going on 50) years scored 9 in game one, and Frye, who has come into his own as a stretch five for the Cavs, had 10 last night. This is a team whose role players are gelling perfectly with its stars and the results have been explosive.

Things are getting pretty desperate for Kyle Lowry, who shot 4-14 in game two and had five turnovers to only three assists. He is shooting 1-15 in the series from range, and has a deer in the headlights look whenever he has the ball. I really thought that Lowry had figured things out in game seven of the Heat series, but his play was so bad in game two that Lowry walked back to his team’s locker room before the half. This is a guy who is in need of some serious soul searching right now.

I’ve advocated for Corey Joseph getting a look at starting point guard before, but he has not been nearly as good in this series as he was against the Heat. He finished with a -17 point differential, and while he is much more active that Lowry that activity has not led to much success for the Raptors. Toronto needs to put out some kind of tip line to try to find an answer what Cleveland is throwing at them, because I certainly can’t think of anything, and it’s clear that Dwane Casey has run out of cliche’s to try to get his players to work harder.

There was a lot of talk during the regular season that the Eastern Conference had finally started to catch up with the West in terms of talent, but that theory has been completely blown out of the water in these playoffs. The Cavaliers have still not been tested by their competition in the postseason, and seem capable of blowing their opponents out of the water whenever they want. To watch Toronto fight as hard as they can to keep these games close in the first two periods, only to get completely steamrolled in the third is disheartening. You can’t knock the Cavs for being destroying weaker competition, it is the mark of a great team, but it has not made of very compelling basketball.

There are no games tonight, so I suggest all of us basketball fiends go out and enjoy ourselves. Perhaps we should all go light a candle for the Kyle Lowry, so he might find his lost soul.

NBA Conference Finals Preview

Let’s start this thing off with some real talk. These have not been a particularly great playoffs. That Heat/Raptors series has left even the most loyal hoopheads with a bit of a hangover. The Cavaliers have hit the “easy” button in the past couple of weeks, making the Eastern Conference seem like a insignificant stepping stone on the way to their second straight finals appearance. In the west we have had to constantly worry about the health of the game’s biggest star, but at least there have been a couple of entertaining series. The Spurs were everybody’s contrarian pick to knock the Warriors off their pedestal, but OKC played spoiler to the would-be spoilers. We also got a glimpse of what could be wonderful future rivalry in Golden State and Portland. These playoffs haven’t been as bad as say, Batman vs Superman. There have been some redeemable moments, but a lot of it has been forgettable, so maybe a better comparison would be The Dark Knight Rises.

Now here we are, ready and raring to see a couple of knock-down, drag-out fights in the Conference Finals. Unfortunately we are more than likely going to see at least one of these series end in either a sweep or gentleman’s sweep, and there is plenty of potential for both of these series landing on the shorter end. This is price we pay for having two historically great teams in different conferences. The Warriors just proved through the last 93 games that no one in the league can matchup with them when they are healthy, and the Cavs have been hitting three’s at rate we’ve never seen in the league before. Both teams have the feel of two trains heading towards each other at full speed, we know they are going to eventually collide, the question is when.

So, can either the Thunder or Raptors play spoiler? Let’s get the Raptors out of the way first. It’s great to see Kyle Lowry work his way out of that nasty slump before this series. He scored 35 points in the Raptors game seven win over the Heat and 36 in game six. He is taking threes with confidence, making 8-12 from range in the last two games.  Toronto desperately needs their All-Stars to play well in this series. They have to find a way to punish Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in pick and rolls to the point where Cleveland is left with no other option than to bench either of them for a better defender. The best the Raptors can do is create enough chaos that Cleveland makes some mistakes in their rotations. Tyronn Lue has shown in the past couple of weeks that he clearly knows what he is doing, but he is still a rookie coach with only a couple of months of experience.

Here’s the thing about this series that can’t be ignored, LeBron James has yet to break much of a sweat in these playoffs. He’s only averaging 38 minutes a game, which is good for second fewest in his career. When he is on the court he has been more than happy to be a facilitator, letting Kyrie and Kevin carry much of the load on offense. I’ve talked before about how effective James has been when he starts the second and fourth quarters with the second unit. The Raptors simply do not have the depth to keep up with a Cleveland team that always has one All NBA caliber player on the court. DeMarre Carroll is the one player on Toronto’s roster that is capable of defending LeBron effectively. If I’m Dwane Casey I put him on the floor whenever James is out there. The more you play Carroll however, the less minutes DeMar DeRozan sees, and the Raptors are going to need DeRozan points to even stand a chance of keeping up with the Cavs.

The only spot in which Toronto has a positional advantage is at point guard. The combination of Kyle Lowry and Corey Joseph will go a long way towards bottling up Kyrie Irving. I can see both players getting minutes together with CoJo getting defensive duties on Irving, leaving Lowry free to do as much damage as he can on offense. With Jonas Valanciunas missing at least one game with a sprained ankle the Drakes will have to play small ball, which unfortunately plays right into the hands of Cleveland, who are lethal when they are able to play Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love together. Toronto is going to have a hard time keeping Cleveland off of the offensive glass as well as protecting the rim. The Raptors have two not-so-great options in playing this Cavs team. They can either lean heavy into their defensive lineup that features Joseph and Carroll to the exclusion of DeRozan and hope that they can somehow makeup for the lost points, or they can try to score enough with their two All Stars to force Cleveland to break up their big three. I don’t think either strategy is going to be effective, and this series probably ends in five games or less.


Ok. Let’s get to the more interesting series in these Conference Finals. The Oklahoma City Thunder gritted and rebounded there way past the San Antonio Spurs to get here. There best chance to win this series is to play Adams, Kanter and Ibaka heavy minutes and hope to bully the champs in the post whenever possible. Both Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green are nursing injuries, expect to see a lot of Festus Ezeli in this series. Ezeli has had some good moments in these playoffs, but he lacks the passing ability of Bogut and the versatility of Green.

The problem with the Thunder playing big is that they are left with a mismatch on any pick and roll. The question is whether or not they can hold it together on defense enough to exploit their advantage on the offensive glass. Enes Kanter has been one of the worst defenders in the league when it comes to the pick and roll, and the Warriors will ruthlessly exploit that. The marquee matchup of this series is Steph Curry against Russell Westbrook, but the real match-ups to watch out for are the Thunder’s bigs against the Warrior’s guards coming off of switches. If the bigs for OKC can hang in there against the small lineups of Golden State then we may have ourselves a series. If they can not, and Coach Donovan is forced to play smaller lineups, they lose the one (pardon the pun) big advantage they have.

There’s no doubt that Kevin Durant will get his in this series. He’s had monster numbers against the Warriors all year (36 points, 53% shooting, 48% three point shooting). His play against the Spurs was enough to completely throw off the best defense in the league, and there are not many players in the league who can guard KD as well as Kawhi Leonard. San Antonio gambled on putting their best defender on Westbrook in hopes that Durant alone would not be enough to win the series – it didn’t work out so well. If the Warriors chose to play their death lineup it will be Andre Iguodala tasked with slowing down Durant. This makes me wonder how much we’ll see out of Harrison Barnes in the series, and if Iguodala can contribute enough on offense to counter what they are giving up in size.

Golden State has the luxury of playing Klay Thomspon on Westbrook throughout the series, freeing up Steph to roam around on defense. If the Thunder chose to play Andre Robertson big minutes it allows the Warriors to basically play 4-on-5 on defense. If they play Ibaka with Robertson it turns into 3-on-5. When OKC plays Dion Waiters they risk getting torched by whoever he is forced to guard. This is the conumdrum the Thunder find themselves in. They have answers to some of problems the Warriors pose, but not for all the problems at all times. Beating the champs is like solving a algebraic equation when all you know is long division.

The Thunder are going to try to play big, rough up Steph as much as possible and hope that Kevin Durant’s offense along with a onslaught of offensive rebounds will be just enough to knock off the Warriors. Golden State will counter by making the Thunder’s bigs navigate a maze of pick and rolls, forcing them to have to guard Klay, Steph, and the rest of their three point shooting death squad in open space. For all of the punches that I think Westbrook and Durant will land in this series, the Warriors are a younger, more adaptable team than the Spurs. This is a title fight that Golden Sate can win in the early or late rounds, but damn if it won’t be fun to watch all of these stars throwing haymakers.

The Trail Blazers got next

Stop me if you heard this before. A young team with a dynamite backcourt and one of the best crowds in the league show flashes of brilliance in the NBA Playoffs. Sounds a lot like the world beating Warriors, right? You have to give it up to the Portland Trail Blazers. This is a team that lost their presumed best player in the offseason and got better, largely do to the emergence of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum and the steady hand of Head Coach Terry Stotts.

The Warriors finished off this Blazers squad last night with a 125-121 win in Oakland. I’m a little sad that this series is over, as it’s given us some of the best basketball of the playoffs so far. I love watching young teams that refuse to back down to the leagues best. I remember watching a young Thunder team take the Kobe/Gasol Lakers team to a game seven back before Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden were household names.

Will we be talking about Dame and CJ the same way we now talk about Russ, KD and The Beard? I think so, especially in the case of Damian Lillard who is the only other player in the league who can make the same kind of insane step back three pointers that Curry has trademarked in the past couple of years. McCollum averaged over 20 points a game in the playoffs this year coming off of a Most Improved Player award. He plays well off the ball when Lillard is on the court and can be a microwave scorer when working with the second unit. Can he be the second best player on a championship team? Not yet, but we’ve already seen so much improvement out of the 24 year old, I think he is absolutely capable of jumping up another level.

 

I think the competition from the Blazers has brought out the best in the champs. I don’t think Curry would have worked quite as hard to get back if the Blazers have not pushed Golden State as hard as they did. Even in last night’s game, both Steph and Klay turned their games up a notch, providing some really fun moments including this dagger three from the MVP.

The Trail Blazers are a few pieces away from seriously contending for a title, the most obvious piece being a big man who can also shoot from range. You can’t help but watch this series and wonder how good Portland would be if they had a player like Draymond Green. A versatile player like Green can help any team but no other team in the league has a lineup composition so similar to Golden State. You might think that they really missed having LeMarcus Aldridge against the Warriors, but having a post player dominate the ball just takes shots away from their young stars.

What the Blazers need is a player like Al Horford, a big guy who can get rebounds, hit threes and has enough basketball IQ to keep the offense moving. Horford is a free agent, along with other bigs like Hassan Whiteside and Dwight Howard. Whiteside would offer more rebounding and rimprotrectoin than Meyers Leonard or Mason Plumlee, and if they decide to give Leonard his qualifying offer they would have a good mix of offense and defense between him and one of the afore mentioned centers. There’s also the intriguing possibility of them getting Nicolas Batum back in free agency, Batum had a great year in Charlotte and is the kind of defender every team envies in today’s game.

Portland has enough cap room going into this off season to sign a couple of max players and still retain role players like Leonard, Allen Crabbe and  Moe Harkless. They will also be a more battle tested squad having tasted victory in the NBA Playoffs. Not many teams can boast having one of the best young head coaches and backcourts in the league, and no one else can yet say that they beat the 2016 Warriors twice year.

Are the Blazers a NBA powerhouse in the making? Perhaps. These things are really hard to forecast. It takes one bad trade and a team that seems headed to multiple titles finds itself in no mans land. Just ask the Thunder what can happen when you miss your window. As a basketball fan, I want to see Portland continue to get back into the playoffs and unflinchingly stare down teams like San Antonio and Golden State. I want to watch Dame go shot-for-shot with Steph, and I want to see what happens when Kawhi Leonard gets matched up with CJ McCollum. The ascension from promising young team to world champion can happen in just a few short years, but a lot has to go right. The Blazers have all kinds of promise, and now they have our attention.

LeBron is the big winner of round two

 

Last night Oklahoma City Thunder went into San Antonio, and for the second time in this series walked out victorious. This is the same Spurs team that only lost one game at home throughout the regular season.  Now the Thunder have a chance to finish out the series on home court.

Not a whole lot of people saw this coming. I certainly didn’t. I kind of assumed that the overwhelming defense from San Antonio mixed with their “beautiful game” offense would be too much for a Thunder team that leans so heavily on their two stars. The people who had their doubts about the Thunder have been proven right even when OKC has found a way to win games. Russell Westbrook is still taking a lot of bad threes and turning the ball over at way too high of a rate, but he’s also been an unstoppable force on the glass and creates enough chaos in the open court to keep the Spurs defense off balance.

One thing I don’t think the Spurs planned on going into this series was just how much of a thorn Steven Adams would be in their side. Adams has consistently been the third best player on this Thunder team throughout the playoffs. His size, toughness and athleticism makes ultra valuable on defense, and his ability to sniff out offensive rebounds is a huge asset for a team with scores like Westbrook and Durant.

We see how much of a weapon having an offensive rebounding guru like Tristan Thompson is for the Cavaliers. In Cleveland’s case an offensive rebound means giving a team that is shooting around 50% from three another chance to kill you. The offensive rebound is probably the most overlooked stat in the game right now, and it feels like OKC, Golden State and Cleveland are taking full advantage of second chance opportunities.

Speaking of the Cavaliers taking full advantage – as the the Raptors and Heat bludgeon themselves in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, both teams playing without their key post players, LeBron and Co. are getting plenty of rest. Of all the teams left in the playoffs the Cavs feel like the team who have best found their identity. I love the subtle moves Tyronn Lue made to his lineups in these playoffs. We are seeing either LeBron ore Kyrie Irving playing big minutes with the second unit. In game four of the Hawks series both Irving and Love played with the second unit, playing a two man game that just obliterated Atlanta’s defense.

The Cavaliers have three of the best twenty players in the league on their roster. In the past those players were not being fully utilized, but in these playoffs we are seeing  a cohesive offensive game plan that has led the deadliest barrage of three pointers the game has ever seen. It makes a lot of sense to surround elite rim attackers like Irving and James with dead-eye shooters. I never thought I’d see a team make four more three-pointers a game than the Warriors, but that’s what is happening right now.

Perhaps an even scarier development for the rest of the league is that Cleveland has finally found the best way to deploy Kevin Love. When Love is involved in pick-and-rolls involving Kyrie Irving the opposing team is put into an impossible situation. They can either sag off the screen and allow Irving an open look at a three, go over the screen and allow him an open driving lane, or switch and allow Kevin Love a huge mismatch in the post. The Cavs used this simple play to grind Atlanta’s defense into a pulp in the last series. They decided to keep trapping Irving off of the screen allowing Love multiple open looks at corner threes, it was a bold strategy (read – awful) that cost them game four. When Love is featured prominently on offense the Cavs offensive rating shoots up to crazy numbers, which completely negates his defensive deficiencies.

As we stand the Spurs and Thunder are in a heavyweight fight that will probably go to game seven The Warriors will probably finish off the Trail Blazers tonight, but the threat of another Curry injury still lingers. We have a series between Miami and Toronto that feels meaningless given the injuries to both squads, I’ve had a really hard time paying full attention to any of the games between these two. Then there is Cleveland, a team playing gorgeous basketball, just waiting to devour whatever team they face in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cavs have yet to be tested in these playoffs, but you can only beat the team that gets put front of you. All they can do is continue to get better, and sit back and enjoy the rest of the teams rip each other apart. The King is getting exactly what he wanted when he made the decision to come back to Cleveland, a team that would give him multiple shots at the throne.

Now we wait.

Steph Curry is your 2016 MVP

Curry 4

No one should be shocked about this. If you’ve watched professional basketball in the past couple of years you know that Curry is different from the rest of the league’s elite players. His three point shooting is not just game changing, it’s game breaking.

Curry made 402 three pointers in the regular season, a number the broke his own record for made threes by 116! He made 126 more three point shots than the next closest guy. Those 126 threes alone would have put him in the top 40 for threes made. These are numbers that are not even achievable in a video game. They are numbers that are incomprehensible.

You don’t have to be an analytics savant to understand just how dominant Curry was in the 2016. The MVP led the league in win shares (17.9), PER (get to that later), true shooting pct. (.669), plus/minus (12.4) and value over replacement player (9.8). If there is some kind of statistic that evaluates a player’s value to a team, odds are Stephen Curry was at the top of it.

This was the kind of season that can be favorably compared with any all-time great. Steph finished the season with a PER (or player efficiency rating) of 31.46 according to basketball-reference.com. The only players to register higher PER’s in a regular season are Wilt Chamberlain, who has three of the top six seasons in player efficiency, Michael Jordan twice and LeBron James twice.

There’s a sea change in the way that professional basketball is being played. It’s not just the Warriors, Spurs and Rockets embracing the three point shot anymore – it’s every team in the league. Just look at what the Cavs did the Hawks in the Eastern Conference Semi-FInals. Cleveland hit 77 three point shots in four games! Almost half of the shots they attempted in the series came from beyond the arch.

Teams in the NBA are slowly reaching peak efficiency when it comes to which of their players take shots, and where those shots come from on the floor. What makes Stephen Curry an MVP in this environment is that every shot he takes is efficient, no matter how far out it may be. Teams have to constantly have a player face guarding Curry, even when he is 30 feet from the basket. This makes it almost impossible for teams to effectively cover a pick-and-roll when is on the court.

You can’t foul Curry because he makes over 90 percent of his free-throws. You can’t effectively trap Curry off of picks because he averages close to seven assists a game, and even though the league does not yet effectively track hockey assists (plays in which a basket is scored as a result of your initial pass), Curry would almost assuredly be at the top of the league if they did. The threat of Curry’s impossibly good shooting changes the dynamic of a game. He doesn’t even need the ball in hands to draw defenders. His mere presence on the court makes the game easier for his teammates.

As we’ve seen in these playoffs the Warriors are a dangerous team with or without Curry on the court. They have All NBA players in Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, but when you add the game breaking abilities of Curry to the mix they are one of the greatest teams to have ever played the game. The Warriors already possess the greatest regular season record in the history of the game, and if Curry can recover from his MCL sprain they will be the odds on favorite to repeat as champs.

When you add Curry’s overall value to the game of basketball to what he is worth to his team as a player and you get the most obvious choice for league MVP since Michael Jordan retired. When you have fans in every arena show up early to watch his warmups, or when Warriors games break records for TV ratings the value of Curry to the sport of basketball becomes obvious.

We’ve been lucky to witness this guy transcend his sport now for going on two years. His impact on the league is undeniable, both in how he is changing the way the game is played on the highest level, and in how he is influencing the next generation. There’s no question who the MVP is, the only question is when we will see him again. The Warriors – and the entire league for that matter – is better when he is on the court.