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.