Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry hoists the MVP trophy at Oracle Arena. Photo by Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports/Reuters
The final vote wasn’t even close. In a Most Valuable Player race that essentially boiled down to two contenders as the NBA season went on, the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry ran away with the Maurice Podoloff Trophy that is given to the regular season MVP.
The 27-year-old point guard got 100 out of a possible 130 first-place votes, and a total of 1,198 points from a panel of 129 writers, broadcasters, as well as fan voting on NBA.com.
In second place was Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden with 25 first-place votes and 936 points, followed by Cleveland’s four-time MVP LeBron James with five first-place votes.
After leading the Warriors to a team-best 67-wins, the Pacific Division title, and the overall number one seed in the playoffs, it was clear to most that the son of former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry was ready for the spotlight in this 2014-2015 season. Despite having Mark Jackson replaced as Warriors head coach in the offseason and the team needing to learn a new system under Steve Kerr, Golden State improved in the standings and added a defensive mentality to an already explosive offense.
And at the heart of it all was Curry.
Drafted seventh overall by the Warriors out of little-known Davidson College in North Carolina in the 2009 NBA Draft, there were questions about Curry’s size, ability to take the NBA’s hits, and his willingness to play the point guard position. Like his father before him, “Steph” had already built a reputation as a shooter and gunner in college, and with his relatively skinny frame, some doubted if he could survive the physicality of the NBA game.
In his rookie year, Curry averaged 17.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 1.9 steals while being unanimously voted to the All-Rookie First Team. He finished second to Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans in Rookie of the Year voting as Golden State finished out of the Playoffs with a 26-56 record.
Even after Don Nelson was replaced by Keith Smart as head coach, the Warriors didn’t fare much better the following season, as a 36-46 record still wasn’t enough to earn a Playoff spot in the Western Conference. In spite of that, Curry began turning heads for his shooting, won the Skills Challenge at the 2011 NBA All-Star Weekend, and was given the 2010-2011 NBA Sportsmanship Award.
The arrival of former Rookie of the Year and broadcaster Mark Jackson as head coach of the Warriors did not yield immediate results for the team from Oakland, California in part because of the lockout-shortened schedule. Getting surgery for torn ligaments in his right ankle in mid-2011, he would suffer several injuries to his right knee and right ankle through much of the year. By the end of the 2011-2012 season, Curry would only end up playing in 26 of 66 regular season games. Despite the injuries, the team was willing to stake its future on him, signing him to a four-year $44-million rookie scale contract extension.
A star is born
The gamble would immediately pay off as Curry would find the ideal backcourt mate in Klay Thompson and the duo dubbed “The Splash Brothers” would gun their way to international consciousness.
Jackson allowed the two to shoot from anywhere, and by adding newly-drafted Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes, Golden State would finally return to the postseason with a 47-35 win-loss mark. Curry would break Ray Allen’s record for most three-pointers scored in a season, nailing 272 from beyond the arc. The Warriors went on to win a series, eliminating the Denver Nuggets in six games before the powerhouse San Antonio Spurs would do the same to them in the Western Conference Semifinals.
No longer the secret hidden in the Pacific Division, Curry and the Warriors had become primetime attractions with their run-and-gun style and high-volume scoring. As a result, Curry was voted as a starter for the West in his first NBA All-Star Game and finished the season averaging 24.0 points and 8.5 assists.
Another Playoff appearance ended in the first round though as the Warriors were defeated by their bitter rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers, in seven games. Unfortunately for Jackson, he was soon ousted as Warriors coach by team owner Joe Lacob in favor of former player, broadcaster and Phoenix Suns executive Steve Kerr.
World Cup success, adjusting to Kerr
The duo of Curry and Thompson still had a busy offseason as both were chosen to be part of Team USA for the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain. International competition seemed to only benefit the two Warriors as they went on to defend their World Cup title to win gold in Madrid.
Curry was very public in his support of Jackson leaving many to wonder how he and the rest of the team would respond to Kerr, someone who had never been a head coach at any level.
Yet Kerr, someone who won championships as a player for both Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, would prove to be a big catalyst in pushing Golden State to even greater heights. The team’s defense picked up as Green became a force on that end together with a re-emerging Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala. They set a new team record for consecutive wins with 16 by December of 2014.
A month later, on January 23, 2015, Thompson established a new record for most points scored in a quarter with 37. By the end of the regular season, Curry broke his own record for most triples scored in a season with 286. Even as Curry earned the most votes to earn another All-Star starter nod, he went on to top teammate Thompson to win his first Three-Point Contest.
Curry vs Harden
It has been argued that Curry did not have to do as much as Harden did for their respective teams this season. After all, Harden had long stretches where Dwight Howard was injured and he carried the Rockets while averaging 27.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, and seven assists. Meanwhile, Curry averaged 23.8 points, 4.3 rebounds, 7.7 assists, and two steals per game while playing lesser minutes.
Yet the Warriors obliterated so many teams that Curry could afford to sit in 17 fourth quarters of an 82-game regular season. It wasn’t the case for Harden, as every point he scored was needed for Houston to eke out a second seed in the West with a 56-26 win-loss mark.
Personally, I’m of the mind that the best player on the best team needs to win the Most Valuable Player award. After all, Curry was the centerpiece for the spectacle that was Golden State. It was his ball-handling and magnificent passing that was on highlight reels and Vine videos all season long. It was his near-impossible triple to tie Game Three of their first round series with the New Orleans Pelicans (where no foul was called) that people were talking about days after the fact. It’s been Curry that Under Armour latched itself onto as the new face of the brand with the fast-selling Curry One shoes.
The skinny kid from a Division II college has become a bona fide NBA superstar and is now an MVP. If the Warriors are going to win their first NBA Championship since 1975, or even their first Western Conference Finals since 1976, the key will obviously be Wardell Stephen Curry II.
Kerr and his teammates have proven to be a great combination, but the newly crowned MVP will need to be as brilliant as he has been all season long if Oakland will truly be the center of the basketball universe.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.