I had planned to do one of these weekly links posts because I like doing them and it's nice, as a long-time fan, to bask in all the national attention the Golden State Warriors are getting — for me, at least, well beyond my wildest dreams during the time when the team couldn't even muster 20 wins in a season, much less 20 in a row.
But then Stephen Curry did his thing again in Charlotte.
And it was good.
And this sort of turned into a(nother) tribute to Steph.
Not that I actually have any new words to describe him, but some people have found more eloquent ways to express their lacking words. And one slowly emerging storyline that might be the best way to capture what's going on here is that Curry might be a legitimate candidate for two major league awards this season: Most Valuable Player and Most Improved Player.
Folks here at Golden State of Mind and on Twitter have been discussing this for a while. And Harrison Barnes even broached the idea during an ESPN appearance a few weeks ago.
Even when Barnes said that, he added a very Barnesian chuckle, seemingly a recognition that even though he knew that there was merit to his claim that it sounded absolutely absurd. How can we live in a world in which the reigning MVP can also be Most Improved? Well, that's what happens when a player transforms from the class of elite, possibly Naismith Hall of Fame, talents to what Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News described as, "...NBA Elvis. Today's Jesse Owens. He's the new thing that blows away all existing limits and boundaries...But as a cultural barometer, the specific Curry Moments -- most recently, his incredible 28-point third-quarter performance Wednesday in Charlotte -- are essentially stand-alone landmarks."
And I don't think one word of what Kawakami wrote there is hyperbolic. We really do have to realize that what we're witnessing here is a cultural shift in how even casual observers will perceive NBA basketball as a brand, superstardom generally, and maybe even sports culture as a whole.
We're talking about a guy whose performance on the court quickly made the announcement of Kobe Bryant's retirement tour old news because we know this show will not only bring us joy but add to a narrative that has yet to unfold and may not yet be near its climax.
It is all of this — maybe particularly the juxtaposition to a superstar like Kobe, who Curry demolished shortly before the official retirement poem — that makes the case for Curry as Sportsman of the Year, as I think SI's Lee Jenkins described well: he's on his way to defining an era not only for his sport but quite possibly what we all want a superstar to be. There's of course the immediate temptation to begin comparing Curry to Michael Jordan, but forget that — the only way I'm interested in comparing the two is that Curry might become his own cultural category, as Jordan did, if he keeps this up.
That's some improvement, right?
Yet as nice as all of that sounds, it's not exactly an argument that will move voters while voting for an award that has typically been given to mere mortals. But Grant Hughes, a National NBA Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report, did a good job of laying out the case for Curry's MIP candidacy on Tuesday by looking at specific improvements Curry has made, comparing him to the other more "traditional" MIP candidates, and examining what the true spirit of the award is. But he concludes with the point that I actually think will be most important in Curry-for-Most-Improved campaign:
But there's also a key distinction that gives him an added edge: Curry has improved from great to greater, which is a far steeper climb than the decent-to-good or even good-to-great ascents the award typically recognizes. The degree of difficulty is markedly higher for Curry because it's objectively hard to improve on what he did a year ago, and because each neuron in every opponent's brain is devoted to stopping him from even touching the ball.
No other MIP candidate faces a focus like that. And even with such scrutiny and scheming in his way, Curry has still improved more than anyone—past award winners and current competitors included.
I think reasonable people can debate the merits of this point, but it is the point that I think we have to wrestle with when discussing this award this season. And I think that takes us beyond the quantitative arguments that can have the effect of narrowing our focus to output when the MIP award debate probably begs a more expansive dialogue around the following question: which player showed the most improved skillset this season?
Whereas I would normally use that argument to make the case of the player who lept from below average to above average in one season, this is the first time in my memory when it has clearly favored a star player. Curry, as Hughes and others have described, is simply charting entirely new territory here. And I don't think anyone really knows what to do with him at this point...but let's see what Kemba Walker thinks.
It's really difficult to fully capture the extent of what Curry has done this season, but thankfully I found this new internet site named Twitter that forces people to express themselves in 140 characters or less and it seems like it might help us in succinctly understanding the phenomenon that is Stephen Curry, Alien Invader.
Just dropped on @SportsCenter: Steph Curry is on pace to make more 3s in his last 2 seasons than Larry Bird did in his entire 13-yr career.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) December 3, 2015
like: everyone expected that curry had plateau'd last season, but it looks like he's still just improving. steadily & linearly.— a shrill of hope (@theshrillest) December 3, 2015
Steph Curry is 4-of-10 on 30+ ft shots. CLE, HOU, LAC, LAL, ATL, BOS, BRK, CHA, DAL, DEN, MIL, NOP, ORL, PHX, SAS, UTA and WAS are 4-of-119.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) December 3, 2015
Curry broke Ray Allen's record in Game 82 of 12-13. He set it again in 14-15 Game 79. He is on pace to break his record again ... in Game 57— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) December 3, 2015
Stephen Curry earns 4th career Player of the Month Award, 7th such honor for a Warrior player (award began in 1979) pic.twitter.com/94DN3cUeKn— GSWStats (@gswstats) December 3, 2015
I mean, it's sort of crazy that his Player of the Month award is almost a footnote in all this that has happened for this team this season when it seems like it would have been major breaking news for any Warriors player to do so any time in the last...well...35 years or so.
Benjamin Morris at FiveThirtyEight.com also made a significant contribution to the debate about Curry-as-MIP with his outstandingly detailed article defining the Curry revolution statistically. The following pieces sort of make the case for him as MIP even as he remains the front-runner for MVP.
This year, Curry is making his 2014-15 MVP season seem practically pedestrian. Curry is playing better in a number of ways — among other things, he is on pace to set career highs in stealing and rebounding, and he has his best defensive rating to date. He is also hitting a career high in shot attempts per 100 possessions (29.0 this year vs. 25.1 last year) and 3-point attempts per 100 possessions (15.5 this year vs. 12.1 last year). Most importantly, even though he’s taking all these extra shots, his shooting efficiency has gone up!...Curry has taken on additional shot-making responsibilities throughout his career, yet his true shooting percentage has been getting better and BETTER.
And while the reality is that you probably can't stop Curry, Coach Nick at BballBreakdown suggested a few ways that a team could stop Curry's Warriors. Coach Nick included the Indiana Pacers, who the Warriors play next Tuesday.
Another team out there that is equipped to handle the Warriors is the Pacers, believe it or not. Paul George is almost as good a defender as Kawhi, able to disrupt what the offense wants to do by himself, and George Hill is extremely solid and very smart. Combine that with Ian Mahinmi and they’ve got the tools to handle the Warriors offense – on paper, at least...As far as individually guarding Curry, you must be physical with him...Each year this tactic seems to work less and less, as Curry has gotten used to it, but it is still the best way to disrupt his rhythm on his shot.
Everybody Loves Draymond
Clearly, Warriors fans have been ahead of the curve on Draymond Green, but his value to his undefeated team is so unmistakable at this point that everybody is in on the best kept secret of the 2012 NBA Draft.
I wonder why people have a hard time seeing how important Draymond is for the Warriors, independent of Curry— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) December 3, 2015
Mika Honkasalo of Vantage Sports wrote about Green's considerable ability as a facilitator: "John Wall was famous last season as a great corner-three creator, but this season, Green has the most assists to the corners so far, a remarkable feat for a big man. Green has assisted on 15 made right-corner threes and 7 in the left corner." So I'm just going to throw this out there: where should Draymond Green stand in Most Improved Player discussions?
Matt Moore of CBS Sports laid out an extensive case for Draymond Green being an All-Star. Wait...sorry, that doesn't do his argument justice. Ahem...Matt Moore of CBS Sports laid out an extensive case for why Draymond Green must be All-Star. And I will stand with him by boycotting the game, which I don't enjoy watching anyway, if Green is not selected. A lot of this is stuff we've already talked about around here before, but I think Moore might have put together the most comprehensive look at Green thus far this season. But his most interesting point might have been this:
I didn’t go super in-depth but point I raised here is interesting: How many teams WOULDN’T be better with Draymond? https://t.co/IIR1ckSWcw— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) December 3, 2015
Luke Walton wins NBA Coach of the Month
After some speculation about whether Luke Walton would eventually be allowed to have the wins that he has won, he did in fact win NBA Coach of the Month for November (h/t Critical Roach for posting it here at GSoM first as a FanShot).
Les Carpenter wrote a great article for The Guardian describing what makes Walton such a good coach worthy of praise for his team's 20-0 start rather than a high-profile stand-in for Steve Kerr. He describes the art of coaching, which Walton may be on his way to mastering, perfectly: "The biggest challenge of any NBA coach isn't dissecting game tape or designing plays, it's making multi-millionaires believe you aren't wasting their time, that they have reason to believe that you can somehow make them better. In Walton's case the demand is even greater. He's had to get a team that won the title last spring to play as hard as they did last season."
Warriors have won Coach of the Month (Luke Walton) & Player of the Month (Stephen Curry) in the same month for the 1st time in team history— GSWStats (@gswstats) December 3, 2015
With a win tomorrow in Toronto, Luke Walton will have led the Warriors to the greatest start to a season in the history of U.S. professional sports.
Folks, I cannot reiterate this enough: savor this season. If you've been rooting for this team since the Cohan/Webber era — and maybe especially the Joe Barry Carroll era — you probably already are savoring it. For those unable to put this in full perspective because your fandom is still in its early phases, hopefully this season doesn't ruin the NBA for you forever.
If you are a Warriors fan, it's very difficult to watch other teams play. But Dubs fans, which teams do you still find entertaining?— Joe Kaiser (@JoeKaiserSports) December 3, 2015
Since I'm closing in on 2000 words, I'll stop reviewing the week here. But feel free to continue by dropping articles or videos that caught your eye in the comments below. Or write up a FanPost/FanShot to share with folks if you have more extended thoughts to share.