Stephen Curry is the 2015-16 Most Valuable Player. The greatest shooter in NBA history put together one of the greatest ever individual campaigns whilst leading the greatest regular season team in history to an unprecedented level of success.
There is no doubt Curry should be MVP, nor would I have voted for anyone else instead of him, had the privilege of voting been bestowed upon me. But I am frustrated by the whole “first ever unanimous MVP” talk.
Yes, this is factually correct, but how much of this achievement is down to Steph being so much better than his competition and how much is down to the current voting system used to determine the MVP?
In 2011, LeBron James fell one vote shy of a unanimous victory - Gary Washburn voted for Carmelo Anthony. In 2000, Shaquille O’Neal also missed out by a single ballot - Fred Hickman voted for Allen Iverson. The closest MJ ever got to a unanimous vote, out of his five MVPs, was 109 out of 113 votes in 1996 - Penny Hardaway got two votes and both Hakeem Olajuwon and Karl Malone received one each.
The common theme amongst those ballots? The voting was anonymous. Both Hickman and Washburn revealed their votes following the announcement of the winner. Both caused an uproar. Hickman received death threats and, though nowhere near as severe, Washburn’s vote led to Adam Silver amending the voting process.
In a bid for “transparency”, Silver decreed that ballots would be made public. The general consensus was that this move was to prevent voters from choosing a player because he was “their guy”, but this line of motivation was apparently not the case in either 2000 or 2011. The worry now is that voters will be effectively forced to conform to a majority, or risk both their reputation and future if they represent a lone minority.
At the same time, the transparency of publishing who votes for whom is not a bad idea. It just needs to be coupled with some criteria being established around what the MVP award is. How do you determine an intangible quality? Go ahead, search the web for a definition of what defines an MVP. It’s the subject of much debate and no clear-cut answer.
So rather than chastise a voter for interpreting “Valuable” differently to his peers, would it not make more sense to set some ground rules first? Curry led the league in numerous categories this season – he was top dog in: points per game, field goals, 3-pt field goals, 3-pt field goal attempts, total steals, steals per game, free throw percentage, player efficiency rating, true shooting percentage, offensive win shares, win shares, win shares per 48 minutes, box plus/minus, offensive box plus/minus and value over replacement player (phew that was a lot). But how valuable was he to the Warriors?
Curry missed three regular season games this year, in his absence the Warriors went 2-1. So far in the playoffs, Steph has missed six games, still the Dubs have gone 4-2. That’s six games Golden State have won without their best player and all against playoff calibre teams, so how would you value that? By comparison, if you’ll allow me to go there, in the six games that LeBron missed this year, the Cavs went 1-5.
If we expand on this further, if Curry was hypothetically removed from the Warriors this season, how devastating would that have been to the team’s success? Certainly they would not have set the all-time wins record, but they would probably still make the playoffs. What would happen if the Blazers didn’t have Damian Lillard, the Celtics didn’t have Isaiah Thomas or the Pacers didn’t have Paul George? Arguably, their teams’ proportionate success would be decimated to a greater degree than the Dubs, yet their value is considered to be less.
So if we define Most Valuable Player as the best player on the league’s best team, Curry wins. I’m just surprised that 131 journalists, with differing opinions, all arrived at the same conclusion without a defined criterion as to what qualifies for the award. Even when everyone agrees, there is room for debate and there is definitely value in that.