Stephen Curry was named Most Valuable Player in the NBA on Monday after leading the Warriors to the best record in the league. He’s a pure shooter, the best in the game. He’s also the best ball-handler in history, with all due respect to Bob Cousy and Pete Maravich.
Curry is the NBA’s most exciting player. He had a terrific season. But was he the most valuable? LeBron James led the Cavaliers to a 20-win improvement over last season and a division title with a rookie coach. He finished in the top 10 in scoring and assists. He’s the most complete player in the league.
Does that make him the MVP?
It all depends on your criteria.
In the NFL and NHL, the award is given to the player who is most valuable to his team. In Major League Baseball, there is no clear definition. Instead, MLB allows individual voters to set their own criteria. In the NBA, it’s awarded to the “best performing player” in the regular season.
Curry and James were among the NBA leaders in scoring, assists and steals. James is one of the best defensive players in the league, and he’s a much better rebounder than Curry. An argument also could be made for James Harden, another great scorer and underrated passer who led the Rockets to 56 wins.
James has been so dominant for so long that people take him for granted. This year didn’t particularly stand out from four other seasons in which he won the MVP. He averaged 25.3 points per game, two below his career average. He grabbed fewer rebounds and handed out more assists than usual.
Regardless, he was the best performer and will remain so until someone else comes along and dominates in as many facets as he does. My definition of “the best performer” is the player most valuable to his team.
Curry averaged 23.8 points and 7.7 assists per game for a team that won 67 games, including 30 victories by 15 points or more. His individual numbers suffered because he often was on the bench during the fourth quarter of blowouts. Curry and Harden also had more talent and depth around him than James did.
No matter the criteria, the NBA, NHL and NFL should wait until after the playoffs before voting on the MVP. It never made sense to me that the most important time of the year was excluded from deciding which player was most valuable. It’s different in Major League Baseball, where one player can stand out on a terrible team.
The timing of the vote should have been changed years ago. It would not take away from playoff-related awards. Michael Jordan won the regular-season and playoff MVP four times in the same season, but only Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and James have accomplished the feat since 1998.
For the most part, the MVP comes from a postseason team, anyway.
Not since Kareem Abdul Jabbar was named MVP after the 1975-76 season has the winner played for a team that failed to reach the NBA postseason. Mario Lemieux in 1987-88 was the only player to win the Hart Trophy for a non-playoff team after the NHL expanded in 1967.
O.J. Simpson was named MVP in 1973 after rushing for 2,003 yards for a Bills team that missed the playoffs. Alex Rodriguez was named the American League MVP while playing for a Rangers team that finished last in 2003. A-Rod was shipped out after the season and later admitted using performance-enhancing drugs that season.
The postseason is where players most prove their value. In no other NBA season in recent memory does that become more evident than this one. If you believe Curry is the MVP, that’s fine, but let him prove as much when the stakes are raised. Perform when it matters most. The same rules apply to LeBron and Harden.
Golden State had the best record in the league this year, but it now has an easier road to the NBA Finals. The Spurs appeared to be most equipped to beat the Warriors based on matchups. San Antonio has much more experience, better big men and a tireless perimeter defender in Kawhi Leonard.
San Antonio was eliminated on Chris Paul’s epic last-second shot in Game Seven to end the best first-round series in years. Golden State cruised into the second round and past a Memphis team without injured point guard Mike Conley in Game One. The Warriors should breeze into the conference finals and wait for the tired winner between the Rockets and Clippers.
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, are without top forward Kevin Love for the rest of the season. The burden will fall mostly on LeBron, who will need to play more minutes and get more active inside on both ends of the floor for the Cavaliers to stand a chance against the Bulls.
If the situation was reversed, if LeBron could trade places with Curry or Harden, there would be no argument. LeBron’s team would still have the best chance of winning a title. Subtract him from Cleveland and add Curry or Harden to the Cavs, and they wouldn’t stand a chance of winning a championship.
And yet LeBron stood little chance of winning the MVP.
It doesn’t make sense.