Stephen Curry claims MVP again: Five incredible feats from his historic year
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Stephen Curry celebrated early reports of his second consecutive MVP award by pouring in 40 points, including an NBA record 17 in overtime, to carry the Warriors to a dramatic comeback win over the Blazers. The victory pushed Golden State to a 3-1 edge in the second-round series, while Curry’s individual play marked perhaps the most iconic performance of his career as he returned from a knee sprain in spectacular fashion.
On Tuesday, Curry was officially crowned, becoming the NBA's first unanimous MVP in the award's 61-year history. Curry claimed all 131 first-place votes and 1,310 points overall. The Spurs' Kawhi Leonard finished a distant second with just 634 points. After that, LeBron James finished third (631), Russell Westbrook (486) came in fourth and Kevin Durant (147) was in fifth.
Over the last two years, but especially this season, Curry’s heroics and record-setting play have often defied comprehension. What did he just do? Where did he hit that shot from? How is he so dominant? Curry has a superstar’s ability to scramble the senses, leaving observers struggling to sort through his in-game actions and then, as they accumulate, his many accomplishments.
With that in mind, here’s a quick-hitting look to defining Curry’s 2016 MVP season. Struggling for ways to describe Curry’s greatness? Trying to comprehend how Curry was named unanimous MVP when the likes of Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Magic Johnson never were? This rundown has you covered.
1. Stephen Curry had by far the greatest three-point shooting season of all time
Curry set NBA records for most threes made in a season (402) and most threes attempted (886). In both cases, he smashed the previous marks.
Knowing those facts doesn’t quite do Curry justice. This chart comparing three-point volume with three-point accuracy should help. Every player who has attempted at least 500 three-pointers in a season is represented by a dot below, which corresponds to the number of threes he attempted and the percentage that he hit.
As you can see, Curry is in a stratosphere all by himself. Not only is his volume totally unprecedented (he’s so much further to the right than all the other dots), but his accuracy (45.4%) is also the highest among all shooters in this group. That’s absurd.
Here are a few esoteric tidbits to reinforce the insanity of Curry’s perimeter shooting. This season, he set records for:
- The most games with at least 3 threes: 67 (previous: 55)
- The most games with at least 4 threes: 54 (previous: 40)
- The most games with at least 5 threes: 43 (previous: 27)
- The most games with at least 6 threes: 31 (previous: 15)
- The most games with at least 7 threes: 24 (previous: 10)
- The most games with at least 8 threes: 16 (previous: 6)
- The most games with at least 9 threes: 7 (previous: 3)
- The most games with at least 10 threes: 4 (previous: 2)
- The most games with at least 11 threes: 2 (previous: 1)
Note that in most cases he’s more than doubling the previous record. Along the way, Curry hit a career-high 12 threes in a game against the Thunder, tying the NBA record.
2. Curry had the most impressive 50/40/90 season of all time
The “50/40/90 club” is the most hallowed tag for pure shooters. A minutes-qualified NBA player has managed to shoot 50+% from the field, 40+% from deep and 90+% from the free-throw line just 13 times. Only nine players have managed to do it: Curry, Larry Bird, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki, Reggie Miller, Mark Price, Steve Nash, Jose Calderon and Steve Kerr.
Although the vast majority of that list will eventually end up in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Curry’s first 50/40/90 campaign stands apart from the crowd for a few reasons.
- He took more than twice as many three-pointers as any of the other members.
- He joins Nash and Kerr as the only members of the even more exclusive 50/45/90 club.
- Most importantly, Curry’s 50/40/90 season was both the highest-scoring 50/40/90 season (30.1 PPG) and the most efficient 50/40/90 season (66.9 True Shooting %).
This chart shows how Curry stacks up against the rest from a volume and efficiency standpoint. Note that he’s more efficient than the other top scorers (Bird and Durant) while simultaneously being a much higher scorer than the other most efficient scorers (Kerr and Durant). Case closed: Curry had the best 50/40/90 season of all time.
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3. Curry had the most efficient overall season by a point guard of all time
Of course, Curry is far more than just a shooter. Indeed, he led the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating, Win Shares and steals in addition to many shooting-related categories.
For much of the season, Curry looked like he might set the all time, single season record for PER, which belongs to Wilt Chamberlain (31.8 in 1963).
Curry’s 31.5 ranks No. 8 all time in Basketball-Reference.com’s database, trailing only three players: Chamberlain (1962, 1963, 1964), LeBron James (2009, 2013) and Michael Jordan (1988, 1991).
Interestingly, Curry’s PER is easily the best ever posted by a point guard. Here’s the top five:
- 2016 Curry: 31.5 PER
- 2009 Chris Paul: 30 PER
- 2015 Russell Westbrook: 29.1 PER
- 2008 Paul: 28.3 PER
- 2015 Curry: 28 PER
4. Curry had the best “extended range” shooting season of all time
The most striking visual impact of Curry’s season came when he started regularly hitting shots from the center court logo. These shots were Curry at his most ridiculous. How could any defense be expected to extend out near midcourt to defend these long bombs?
While they seemed a bit audacious at first, Curry turned these deep looks into a real weapon. Indeed, this season he became the first player to launch at least 500 threes from 25+ feet, per NBA.com, and he somehow hit a sterling 44.6% on his 565 attempts. For comparison’s sake, league average on normal three-pointers was just 35.4% this year.
Here’s a chart that shows every player from the last 10 seasons who attempted at least 300 shots from 25+ feet.
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Once again, 2016 Curry simply blows away the competition (including his previous seasons) from a volume and efficiency standpoint.
5. Curry had one of the most positive impacts of all time
All those threes, all those points and all that efficiency translated into a No. 1 ranked offense for the Warriors and an NBA record 73 wins.
Monday’s dramatic Game 4 victory over the Blazers was a reminder of how drastically Curry’s presence can shift a game. When he entered midway through the first quarter, Golden State was down by 14 points. By game’s end, the Warriors had claimed a seven-point win in overtime and Curry finished with a +21 in 37 minutes.
This season, Curry and his partner in crime, Draymond Green, hit record levels when it came to plus/minus. In fact, Curry and Green were the first two players in NBA.com’s database (which dates back to 1997) to accumulate a plus/minus of +1,000 or greater.
In simple terms, that means the Warriors outscored their opponents by more than 1,000 points this season when both Curry and Green were on the court. To get that high, a player must not only make a major impact and play in quality lineups, he must also enjoy exceptional health and log plenty of minutes. This season, Curry appeared in 79 games, avoiding major health concerns (at least until the playoffs, in which he’s been sidelined with both an ankle injury and an MCL sprain).
Here’s how Curry and Green stack up against some of the best plus-minus performers of the past 20 years.
- 2016 Draymond Green: +1,070
- 2016 Stephen Curry: +1,022
- 2015 Curry: +920
- 2009 LeBron James: +870
- 2015 Green: +839
- 2016 Klay Thompson: +836
- 1997 Michael Jordan: +818
- 1997 Scottie Pippen: 807
- 2008 Paul Pierce: +785
- 2003 Dirk Nowitzki: +778
- 1997 Jeff Hornacek: +775
- 1997 Karl Malone: +768
- 2007 Tim Duncan: +748
- 2008 Kevin Garnett: +736
- 2015 Chris Paul: +734
- 2013 Kevin Durant: +721
- 2013 LeBron James: +720
- 2000 Shaquille O’Neal: +706
Note the frequency of Hall of Fame and future Hall of Fame talent on this list. Curry’s placement near the top is just one more reason his 2016 MVP campaign was a year to remember.