• Nick Fay

THE RECIPE FOR AN MVP LEVEL CURRY


*Photo via USA Today

This past Sunday, Mark Jackson disagreed on ABC about Curry having “The Steve Nash effect” on his second tier or role-player teammates on the Warriors, citing Thompson, Barnes and Speights’s career years as a product of their own work and improvement.

But Jackson himself suffers from being just another Chef in the kitchen. One that couldn’t create the right dish out of this group, which has faced almost no turnover in the main ingredients of its roster. Jackson unintentionally highlighted that in fact it’s “The Steve Kerr effect”. Kerr has found the right Goldilocks-level of offensive and defensive schemes to properly position Curry as “just right”, and serve a dish worthy of MVP.

A CHANGE OF CHEF

On SI Now, Curry asserted that Kerr can “Chop it up with the guys”, which is of course incredibly important for a Chef or a coach. Kerr is a Chef who has brought out the best in all his ingredients, especially his entree, Curry. After being stagnant offensively during the Jackson years despite a team full of gifted passers (Bogut, Iguodala, Curry, etc), this year the Warriors lead the league in nearly every important passing category- assists per game, points created by assist per game, and secondary assists (aka hockey assists) per game[1]. This keeps the movement going, and puts the ball and decision making in the best player’s hands in the right spots.

Does this mean Kerr is the real MVP? Perhaps in a sense, but the other teams benefitting from top coaching- the Spurs and the Hawks- have no MVP candidates among them. The merging of a great coach, who puts the proper system around his star, such as Phil Jackson’s Bulls, or D’Antoni’s Suns, allows the role players to thrive while the true MVP on a team stands out and reaches peak form.

½ CUP OF DEFENSE

In earlier years, there were many critics of Curry’s defense, sometimes even himself. He was hidden in conservative schemes, and never utilized for his quickness or instincts. This year, in a new scheme, Curry leads the league in steals. He has an incredible net rating, due in part to sharing the court with excellence defenders, like the 2013-14 Paul George effect. However, he grades out highly in metrics like defensive rating and Defensive Plus-Minus, catch-all stats that quantify the true effect a player is having for the team.[2]

A PINCH OF HEALTH

Curry’s recurring ankle injuries were enough to assume he was on the Grant Hill path earlier. He has missed only one game this year, and the hope that he is finally past his vulnerable joints is just the seasoning this season needed.

DICE UP THE LEAGUE AND MINCE COVERAGE

This sequence speaks for itself, against Paul, the player that the 2015 MIT Sloan Conference winning paper[3] asserts is the best perimeter defender in the league.

MIX AND WHISK: ⅓ Chris Paul, ⅓ Kyrie Irving and ⅓ Kyle Korver.

If you take Paul’s floor general game, including change of pace and steady distribution, toss in Irving’s unreal ball control, acrobatic interior scoring, and heat-check off the dribble shooting, with Korver’s floor spacing and off ball movement, you arrive at the perfect complement for an unstoppable dish.

GRILL THE COMPETITION ON ALL-STAR SATURDAY NIGHT

As in Bird’s ‘86 season (Three Point Shootout crown), Jordan’s ‘88 season (Slam Dunk champion, All-star MVP), or Allen Iverson ‘01 season (All-Star MVP), sometimes shining brightest among other stars during All-Star Weekend adds to the momentum of an MVP campaign. Curry’s sparkling display gave us all a taste of his skill and star power.

ADD A SPLASH OF SPLASH BROTHERS

Klay Thompson has been his own wonderful story this year, but as happened in the finals at the All Star shootout, Curry has eclipsed him national in attention and play throughout the year. This has allowed Curry to absorb the feel good attributes of Thompson’s media attention. Klay already is diametrically opposed to Kevin Love, forever melded together through the “non-trade” this past off season. In doing so, the lifting of Thompson’s play this year on Curry’s watch, fairly or not, gets contrasted with Love’s dropping play after moving perennial MVP Lebron James’ Cavs. So add another dose to the needed narrative.

COMPARED TO OTHER DISHES

The Harden for MVP bandwagon has lots of steam. He’s kept The Rockets in the hunt without Howard, and he has strong stats across the board. Curry and Harden’s games are both predicated on exploiting opportunistic advantages in today’s game. For Curry, it’s the 3 point shot. For Harden, it’s drawing fouls and getting to the line.

While Curry may get the nod for better teammates, Harden will do you one better: he is always playing 8 on 5 on the offensive end- his team and the three refs that gift him flop calls. But this is already drying up- at the end of the Memphis game, the refs swallowed their whistles, in a sign of will happen more frequently down the stretch and especially in the playoffs. In losses, Harden takes 3.6 less foul shots a game, indicative of the team’s overall struggle when he doesn’t get the calls.[4]

Curry’s game will transition better, since it’s based on skills that operate in different modes: in the half court, on the break, off the dribble, through the pick and roll, or catch and shoot.

Ultimately, Curry has all the hallmarks of an MVP campaign. He’s the best player on the league’s best team, he has the “clutch” label and is seen as carrying his team on his back: they post a -3.3 with him off the court, and a +16.5 with him on, both measures by far the largest on the team[5].

In addition, he’s close to the hallowed ground of the 50-40-90 Club, a narrative that featured in MVP seasons of Dirk Nowitzki (‘07), Nash (‘06). The stats back him up as well- he’s third in PER when you account for Whiteside and Durant playing only half the season, first in Real Plus-Minus and a close second in Win Above Replacement, which makes sense when you factor in he plays three minutes less a game than the leader, Harden, due to the frequent blowouts that have Curry on the bench in the fourth quarter.[6]

As for the supernova that is Westbrook, the time may come where his tantalizing play indeed eclipses Curry’s when it comes to the voters’ preference. The question will be: would you rather have a perfectly balanced meal with a delicious main that stands out? Or one course so fantastic, that the sides and complements taste like garbage and don’t go together? Westbrook’s seems similar to Kobe Bryant’s Last Samurai type season in ‘05-’06, when his exploits failed to be recognized by the league.

COOKING TIME

It’s taken years for all of these elements to gel, and marinate long enough to make the perfect MVP Curry. Spicy as Vindaloo, hearty as Massaman, and sweet as Korma. The critics will likely reward it with a 4 Star MVP review come voting.

-By Michael Sutherland

[1] Per nba.com/stats

[2] Per nba.com/stats, ESPN.com/stats

[3] Counterpoints: Advanced Defensive Metrics for NBA Basketball

[4] Per Nba.com/stats

[5] Per Nba.com/stats

[6] Per ESPN.com

#MVP

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