Many players have been considered as members of the 'upper echelon' of NBA talent. These players have been looked up to by their peers and fans alike as the benchmark for achievement in basketball. However, a select few players have transcended this 'upper echelon' to form a truly elite group of mega stars. Notable examples of these players include Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant, to name a few.
Recently, the newest transcendent star has been LeBron James. James has become a near-immortal figure in NBA circles, to where we as fans have taken him for granted. It speaks volumes that the best player in the world did not finish in the top three for MVP consideration. James' talent and accomplishments have surpassed deserved recognition because it's what we expect from him now.
Stephen Curry has now ascended to that elite status. Prior to the beginning of last season, and fresh off the heels of two straight MVP awards, Curry was effectively ruled out of future MVP contention. Why? The NBA community assumed with the addition of Kevin Durant that Curry wouldn't maintain his MVP form. There is no real flaw in that logic. Adding a former MVP to an already stacked lineup would suggest Curry would have to take a backseat. And, to an extent, he did. However, Curry, like James, was not a name that popped up in the MVP conversation amongst the likes of Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard. Truthfully, Curry should have been seriously considered for a third-straight MVP award.
The case for Curry as the MVP
Curry's average per-game stats in his unanimous MVP season in 2015/16 were 30.1 points, 6.7 assists and 5.4 rebounds. In 2016/17, those numbers were 25.3, 6.6 and 4.5. Firstly, those numbers aren't a huge drop-off considering the Warriors' addition of Durant. But, if we focus solely on his numbers from 2016/17, those numbers are definitely MVP numbers. Curry finished sixth in MVP voting, behind Westbrook, Harden, Leonard, James and Isaiah Thomas. The case can certainly be made for many of those names to have finished above Curry. These players had incredible seasons. However, there is a glaring issue at hand; the top three are acknowledged, while James and Curry are forgotten.
It can be argued that James should have won, and that Curry should have placed higher on the list, but the issue lies deeper. MVP stands for 'Most Valuable Player', and at times, we seem to forget what that constitutes. For many years, James' value to the Cleveland Cavaliers has been grossly undervalued. Now, we are undervaluing Curry, too. The value of what the 29-year-old did for the Warriors in 2016/17 must not be understated. For a player like Curry, who reigned at the top of the NBA for two seasons to accommodate another former MVP and maintain MVP numbers, the impact is immeasurable. It certainly constitutes a big part of what made the Warriors so dominant right throughout the season, and especially in the playoffs.
Will Curry be excluded from future MVP conversations?
Since James' last MVP season in 2012/13, it has felt like he has been absent from the MVP discussion. Maybe, it is because the fans wanted to see something fresh. With the addition of Durant to the Warriors, Curry's situation certainly appears reminiscent of James'. After being so privileged as NBA fans have been to watch greatness for so many seasons now, it is easy to take what we have witnessed for granted. Curry could put up the same numbers from his unanimous MVP season and still likely fall out of the top three in the MVP rankings.
However, the silver lining in this for players like James and Curry is that their talent and accomplishments transcend those of the rest of the NBA. These players, like Bryant and Tim Duncan before them, don't need to be in MVP consideration to strengthen their legacies. James has surpassed the NBA's upper echelon for many years now, and it looks like Curry has fast-tracked to that standard of greatness too. It's possible that the 29-year-old will never be in serious MVP contention again, and that's okay because Curry is one of the few whose legacy can still thrive without more individual accolades.
Do you think Curry is receiving the LeBron James treatment and has now transcended the upper echelon of NBA talent, past and present? Comment below!