The NBA's MVP race is as straightforward as it gets...
Lee Jenkins: Stephen Curry
Last year, there was a debate, which ran all the way past Easter. This year, there is a coronation, which might as well be held at the All-Star Game. Stephen Curry captured MVP last season, but he is far more prolific now, while retaining peak efficiency. No one is better from the perimeter, of course, but in a switch, few have been better around the rim, either. The Warriors are obviously loaded, but their entire attack starts with Curry, and the fear he inspires the moment he crosses half-court. His shot, or the threat of it, sets up everything else. Kawhi Leonard could possibly challenge in the second half, but only if Curry gets bored.
Ben Golliver: Stephen Curry
Care to guess what Golden State’s record is in the last 82 regular–season games in which Curry has appeared? 72-10. That pretty much says it all, but there’s so, so much more. The reigning MVP has dramatically improved his scoring, Player Efficiency Rating and True Shooting Percentage compared to last season, he spearheaded an NBA-record 24-0 start, he’s on track for what would be the most impressive 50/40/90 shooting season of all time, and he’s on pace to smash his own record for most three-pointers in a season. Curry continues to captain the NBA’s No. 1 ranked offense (by a lot), he mesmerizes audiences night in and night out like a true icon, and he has carried the Warriors through the absence of coach Steve Kerr and the loss of Harrison Barnes to an ankle injury. The advanced numbers love him too, as the league’s leading scorer ranks first in PER, first in Win Shares and second in Real Plus-Minus. Curry is the only possible candidate for first-half MVP.
Rob Mahoney: Stephen Curry
This race has gotten a mite closer since the first month of the season, but Curry still projects a bigger impact on the game than any player in the league. Golden State’s offense is astronomically good when Curry is involved, which is to say that Golden State’s offense is astronomically good whenever Curry is on the floor whatsoever. The best scorers in the league seem unguardable. Curry is among them, but so profound is his influence on the game that he imbues that same unguardable aura to every Warrior on the floor. No player single-handedly forces a defense into more rotational failures and more gut-wrenching compromises. Give the man his trophy and be done with it.
Matt Dollinger: Stephen Curry
Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard deserve consideration, but this is Stephen Curry’s award to lose, and the Warriors guard rarely misses big shots. The reigning MVP and league champion has the biggest target on his back in the league, yet he’s torching opponents and catching them off guard like he’s still an unassuming guard from Davidson. He’s upped his scoring average by six points (league-best 29.9) per game and is shooting a higher percentage from the field (50.9) and three-point range (44.9) than last year. He’s simultaneously doing more (32.5% usage rate, up from 28.9) and being more efficient (league-best 67.7% TS%), making him the most frustrating opponent in sports. He’s the most valuable player by every definition.
DeAntae Prince: Stephen Curry
At this point, suggesting Stephen Curry isn’t the obvious choice for MVP would be asinine. The Warriors star spearheads a team unlike any we’ve seen in years past and continues to change how basketball looks on a nightly basis. Never before have we watched a player shoot from midcourt and considered it a decent shot, but there is no bad shot for Curry, as he will tell you in a heartbeat. The numbers prove his point: Curry attempts 54.7% of his shots from three and is a more efficient player as a result. Curry averages 29.9 points and 6.5 assists, but also raised his player efficiency rating (32.2) and true shooting percentage (67.7) to all-time highs.
Jeremy Woo: Kawhi Leonard
At risk of being completely disrespectful to our roundball demigod-in-the-flesh reigning MVP, give me Leonard, who has expanded his offense to another level while remaining the only guy in the league who can guard literally anybody and everybody. The Spurs’ suffocating, league-best defense stems from team principles but firmly begins with Leonard shutting down top scorers every night. It gets better: Leonard has quietly evolved into one of the NBA’s deadliest spot-up shooters. He will reel in rebounds, pound two dribbles and initiate breakneck three-on-twos that I’ve yet to see anyone effectively stop. He might be the best all-around player in the league at age 24, and the Spurs might be the league’s best team (it's close). But will he actually win the award? Wait…I think I hear Steph Curry’s music…