A season ago, there was some chatter around Golden State Warriors star guard Stephen Curry being the NBA MVP.
They started as whispers, given the undeniably incredible season award-winner Nikola Jokic had, but those whispers turned into regular conversations down the home stretch of the season where Curry averaged 37.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists over the final two months.
His season-long numbers were comparable to that of his two previous MVP campaigns, which certainly helped his case.
Leading the league in scoring at 32.0 points per game - a career-high, surpassing his unanimous MVP season - was the jumping-off point for the argument. On a nightly basis, Curry was doing things that only Curry is capable of doing to keep his team alive in the Western Conference playoff race.
In the aforementioned two-month span, he had 12 30-point games, seven 40-point games and one 50-point game. He had five games with 10 or more 3s, which would tie him with Klay Thompson for the most all-time, except Curry did it over the course of a couple of weeks. (If you're wondering, Thompson's five games with 10 or more 3s is second to Curry in NBA history, who has 21 such games).
Curry knocked down 96 3-pointers in April, setting an NBA record for most 3s in a month.
96 threes in April (@NBA record)- Golden State Warriors (@warriors) April 30, 2021
15 threes from beyond 30 feet@StephenCurry30's got RANGE 🎯 pic.twitter.com/7m6JOQMdP6
When you're producing performances that are that loud, you're bound to draw MVP consideration. However, Curry finished third in voting behind Jokic and Joel Embiid.
Maybe we're desensitized to Curry's flurries, which are only comparable to catching fire in a video game like NBA Jam or using a gamebreaker in NBA Street. We're so used to the eye-popping stat lines he produces that no one even bats an eye when he goes for 40-plus points with 10 3s. It feels like it's something we've come to expect because we've seen him do it before...a lot.
We may not want to admit it, but all of that plays a role in MVP voting.
How can someone who's already done what seems impossible captivate an audience again? How can they wow us more than the shiny new toy on the block?
At the end of the day, even with how incredible Curry was last season, he shouldn't have been the league MVP. Jokic earned that award with a breakout individual season that attributed to elevating his team to a top-three seed in the gruelling Western Conference.
And that's really the major difference - individual success is one thing, but historically, team success has to come along with it if you're going to win the MVP. Even though Curry did everything he could to produce wins for his team, the Warriors still finished eighth in the West.
In the 66-year history of the NBA's MVP award, only five times has the winner played for a team that finished lower than third place in their respective conference.
Russell Westbrook is the most recent example of that, where averaging a triple-double outweighed the fact that the Oklahoma City Thunder finished sixth in the West - the lowest team placement in NBA history by an MVP winner.
The other four examples are all prior to 1985.
Moses Malone did it twice with the Houston Rockets, winning MVP in 1979 when they finished fourth in the East (yes, the East), and again in 1982 when they finished fifth in the West. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it once with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1976, winning MVP despite the team finishing fourth in the West, and Bob Pettit did it during the inaugural season of awarding an MVP in 1956, where his St. Louis Hawks finished fourth out of five teams in the West.
All of that to say: if Curry is going to win a third MVP award, it will go beyond feats like leading the league in scoring and wow-ing the masses each and every night. The Warriors will also have to reassert themselves among the top teams in the West.
Even after missing nearly the entire 2019-20 season with a variety of injuries, the 33-year-old marksmen doesn't appear to be slowing down, as evidence of his 2020-21 campaign.
He should have more help around him this season, too. Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins both looked revitalized last year. Players like Juan Toscano-Anderson and Jordan Poole started to break out. James Wiseman is getting healthy. Andre Iguodala is returning to The Bay. They drafted a pair of promising young rookies in Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody, both of whom should make an immediate impact. They added solid rotational players in free agency in Otto Porter Jr., Avery Bradley and Nemanja Bjelica.
And most importantly, his Splash Brother Thompson hopes to return sometime around Christmas.
If the Warriors can get back to being a powerhouse in the West, and Curry produces at a similar rate as he did last season, he'll be impossible to ignore in MVP conversations.
With two trophies already to his name, he has the chance to join elite company alongside Magic Johnson (3) and Michael Jordan (5) as the only guards in NBA history with three or more MVP awards.
Stephen Curry is already considered as one of the greatest guards - and players - of all time. Achieving this feat would only further solidify his place in NBA history.
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