It will be hard to stop Steph Curry for NBA MVP

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It will be hard to stop Steph Curry for NBA MVP
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There’s nothing more electric in the NBA than the Golden State Warriors’ offense. It moves with the kind of purpose that puts even the smartest and most effective NBA defenses in impossible binds. We’ve known this, of course: the Warriors are a recently-revived dynasty. But this year — with no Kevin Durant and thus far no Klay Thompson — is different. It’s the Stephen Curry show.

Curry is the heliocentric center, reminding of the good old days of 2015 and 2016. He’s the driver of good offense like no other player in the NBA. The Warriors are 18-2, ranking second in offensive rating and first in defensive rating. Thompson is on his way back. Watch out, NBA.

Golden State’s offense is beautiful, like it was at their peak. It’s a sea of cuts, off-ball screens, and smart, quick decision-making. It plays at a ferocious pace — fifth in the league in that category — and doesn’t let up until it finds the ideal shot.

Of course, the most productive player is Curry. The basic MVP numbers are there. He’s averaging 28.6 points per game, tied with Durant for tops in the league, alongside 6.8 assists on his normal scorching shooting: 42 percent from three, 60 percent effective field goal percentage, 94 percent on 4.5 free throws per game. He’s setting three-point shooting records all over the place, and in a balanced NBA year, the Warriors are the rare team to set themselves apart from the pack.

Good luck deciding this year’s MVP race. Durant has an outstanding case, with similar scoring on similar efficiency while playing great all-court defense and carrying a heavy load on a team that needs his best every night. Nikola Jokic will have a hard time matching the cases of Durant and Curry, but he leads in many advanced stat categories and might have to perform a herculean task to drag the injured Denver Nuggets into the playoffs.

But Curry, yet again, is making it hard to choose anyone else. His impact on every game — every possession — is so high. Consider the Warriors roster: what are the chances that they are even a playoff team without Curry right now? The offensive system is based on Curry’s ability to transform defenses.

Other NBA stars have their own ways of creating consistent offense. Luka Doncic can run elite pick-and-rolls with any combination of players and create something good every time. LeBron James hunts mismatches and plays chess with defenses. Durant gets buckets like no one else. Giannis Antetokounmpo destroys in transition and relentlessly attacks the paint as a screener or ball-handler.

Curry is different. He might do some of those things, from hunting mismatches to running high pick-and-rolls. But they’re mixed seamlessly into the offense, only parts of the Warriors’ varied and flexible system.

He starts off the ball and causes unlimited havoc by slicing around the perimeter. He’s fast and agile enough to slither through off-ball screens, forcing defenders to navigate a maze against a player who only needs a fraction of space to splash threes. The second a defense falls asleep, the Warriors are already at the basket.

Especially in the regular season, when defenses might not be organized and attentive at every moment, the Warriors are experts at capitalizing on every advantage. Good luck being a Trail Blazers guard in this situation:

Theoretically, Norman Powell should stick with Curry here and prevent the easy cut. But there was a mess of players all crowded in the same spot and moving in different directions. Curry could do anything here — pop for a three, cut to the hoop, act as a decoy for a teammate. The Blazers don’t switch quite fast enough, and it’s a layup.

The Warriors create these impossible decisions every possession. Their offense moves in sync, with every cut leading to another and every player capable of making whip-smart decisions. They aren’t overflowing with shooting, but Curry provides so much gravity that it doesn’t matter. Their below-average or non-shooters — Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Juan Toscano-Anderson, Gary Payton II — provide value as ball-movers and finishers.

Curry makes it all possible. There has never been a player in NBA history who renders individual perimeter defenders irrelevant like Stephen Curry. His movement is so unpredictable and varied that no defender can hope to keep up with him at all times. Even the best defenders, the ones who can contest every shot, have no hope of playing lockdown defense on Curry. A few games ago, Curry put up 25 and 10 on efficient shooting in a blowout win over the Philadelphia 76ers, despite Matisse Thybulle hounding him all game.

His passing is elite. He doesn’t pass to assist; he passes to create advantages. When he gets screens, he passes out of them quickly and lets the offense flow from there. He times his passes impeccably to give his surrounding shooters the best looks possible:

Those dribbles into the lane force the big man, Ed Davis, to drop even farther away from Nemanja Bjelica. Note also how much spacing the original Damion Lee cut gave this play. The Warriors’ offense is a special machine, and there’s no better executor than Steph.

Many overlook Curry’s abilities as a conductor. Watch him motion Andrew Wiggins to the opposite corner and fire a lefty skip pass that leads to a good look at a three:

Curry wouldn’t have gotten an assist on this play. But he often doesn’t get credit for the plays he creates. He’s tied for the league lead in secondary assists per game, with 1.5 — the assist to the assist. This is all in addition to what his gravity provides, and his role as a decoy. The Ringer recently wrote about the effectiveness of his off-ball screens and cuts. Per a Second Spectrum stat in that article, Curry sets 8.2 off-ball screens per game, the third-most among guards.

It is amazing all that Curry does for the Golden State offense. When Curry is on the court, the Warriors score 116.8 points per 100 possessions, and just 100.3 when he’s off — equivalent to the 28th-ranked offense in the league. They’re also five points better defensively with Curry than without Curry.

With all due respect to the magnificent Green-Curry two-man game, the Warriors don’t have a second offensive star, at least until Thompson returns. Golden State is a juggernaut because of the continuing majesty of Curry. If the Warriors keep this up, the MVP trophy awaits for Curry.

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