clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Stephen Curry: The rise of the MVP

The face of the Warriors franchise is officially recognized as the league MVP, but the path to the league's top individual award wasn't exactly a straight line.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

June 25, 2009 was a day for Warriors fans to celebrate. That was the day Hall of Fame coach Don Nelson decided to pass up a trade for Amar'e Stoudemire and use the #7 overall pick on a sharpshooting tweener from Davidson College.

Stephen Curry didn't want to play for the Warriors; hell, no one did. According to the New York Times, Curry's father Dell (a 16 year NBA vet) said in a telephone interview,  "The Warriors had some questionable characters on their team, the Knicks really needed a point guard, and we felt that Stephen would fit perfectly with a coach like Mike D'Antoni, playing that fast, up-and-down style. He loved the idea of playing at Madison Square Garden."

Warriors GM Larry Riley didn't care. Before the draft, he was openly pursuing Curry despite the fact that Curry and his agent, Jeff Austin, made it clear that they didn't want to play for Chris Cohan's miserable franchise. NY Times columnist Harvey Araton wrote :

"Riley calls me and says, ‘Can I watch a workout?' " Austin said. "I said, ‘No, you can't.' He says, ‘Can I talk to him?' I said, ‘No, you can't.' I tell him that Stephen wants to be in New York. Stay away from him.

"Larry, to his credit, kept saying, ‘I'm still taking him.' There was nothing I could do to dissuade him."

Just wanting Curry and being persistent wasn't all that Riley needed though. As with most massive successes, there's usually a little bit of luck involved too. In this case, Minnesota Timberwolves GM David Kahn drafted two point guards (Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn) #5 and #6 overall, leaving Steph on the board when it came time for the Warriors got to pick.

The Warriors got their man. To his credit, Steph said everything right at his introductory press conference, and so did Riley and Nellie.

Most draft experts agreed. Golden State of Mind founding father (and new actual father- belated congratulations AB1!!) Atma Brother ONE put together a very comprehensive review of the draft grades and analysis, and just about everyone thought Curry was a great selection, though many thought that he'd be still be part of a package for Stoudemire. (BTW- the comment thread is pure gold... I'm glad I wasn't commenting yet or I would have likely been just as wrong as so many of the other members!)

Nelson, like usual, had his own ideas. Say what you will about the man, but Nellie was a basketball visionary who recognized perimeter talent better than just about any of his peers. "We drafted him because we think he's a terrific player, and he's the kind of guy that we want. He fits right in with our program... He can unpack his bags, go look for a house, and relax. He ain't going anyplace!"

However, on the first day of training camp, Monta Ellis famously had this to say about playing with Steph, "Us together? No... Can't. We just can't... Just can't... They (Warriors management and Nelson) say we can? Yeah. If they say it. But we can't. I just want to win. That's not going to win that way."

Talk about rolling out the red carpet. And that was on top of Stephen Jackson's trade demands!

According to Tim Kawakami, Ellis followed with, "I'm still going to be the franchise player. And I'm still going to go out there and give you 20 points a night."

True to his word, Monta put up per 36 numbers of 22.2 points, 4.6 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game on .519 TS% in 64 games. Curry's rookie numbers were even better, with per 36's of 17.4 points, 5.9 assists, and 4.4 rebounds on .568 TS%, and he finished second to Tyreke Evans for Rookie of the Year honors. Adding to the controversy, the Warriors went 19-45 with Ellis in the lineup, and 6-10 without him. People began to see Curry as the rightful face of the franchise. The team finished 26-56.

Then something magical happened. Chris Cohan, possibly the worst owner in pro sports, sold the team to an ownership group headed by Joe Lacob. The team added All Star David Lee and sent Don Nelson packing.

He's chicken curry right now. He'll become beef curry a little later on. -Keith Smart

The team improved a little under new coach Keith Smart, finishing 36-46, even though the team was relatively healthy all season. Curry's numbers improved, posting per 36's of 19.9 points, 6.2 assists, and 4.1 rebounds on .595 TS%, but coach Smart decided to bench him in crunch time in favor of veteran Acie Law.

Lacob made it clear that he expected more from the roster, and he replaced Smart with Mark Jackson entering the lockout shortened '11-'12 season. Curry played well again, and the team was 13-13 in the games he played. Unfortunately, he missed 40 games due to ankle injuries. The team decided to tank the rest of the season, making a trade where the principle pieces were leading scorer and fan favorite Monta Ellis for oft injured center Andrew Bogut.

Fans booed, but the move allowed the Warriors to keep the draft pick that became starter Harrison Barnes, added defensive stud Andrew Bogut, and moved rookie (and eventual All Star) Klay Thompson to the starting lineup. Perhaps most importantly, the trade cleared the way for Steph to be the franchise player.

Curry didn't disappoint. He averaged 22.9 points, 6.9 assists, and 4 rebounds a night on .589 TS%. More importantly, he played 78 games, averaging 38.2 minutes per contest, and he led the Warriors to a 47-35 record and the 6th seed in the playoffs. The team proceeded to dismantle the Denver Nuggets in the first round before succumbing to the Spurs in a hard fought six game Western Conference Semifinals.

The next season was even better. Steph averaged 24 points, 8.5 assists, and 4.3 rebounds on .610 TS%, elite numbers that names like Jordan and Lebron had approximated. Jackson chose to "hide" Curry on defense, having him defend the lesser of opposing teams' perimeter threats. The team's defense improved to 4th in the league, but the offense was a mediocre 12th in ORtg. The team went 51-31 and reached the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1992. They played valiantly, but were shorthanded and eventually fell in seven games to the Clippers.

If you twisted my arm today, I would probably vote for James Harden. And the reason why is because he singlehandedly has put that Houston Rockets team in position that they’re in today. -Mark Jackson

Joe Lacob wasn't impressed with the team's performance, and decided to replace Jackson with Steve Kerr, who quickly added coaching gurus Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams to his staff. They implemented a motion based offense and played Curry against opposing point guards on defense. The results have been staggering. #1 in DRtg, #2 in ORtg, #1 pace, #1 total points, #1 in team shooting (eFG%), and #1 in opponent shooting. And who do you think is leading this record breaking team? You guessed it... Wardell Stephen Curry II.

In the regular season, Curry put up per 36 numbers that the league has never seen before. 26.2 points, 8.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.2 steals on .638 TS%. Insane. He broke his own three point record, and led the league in total steals. The advanced metrics are even more impressive: 122 ORtg. #1 in VORP, WS/48, Offensive BPM, and RPM. #3 in RAPM, #2 in WAR, and #3 in PER. Oh yeah, and there's the on/off splits, where the team is nearly 18 points better per 100 possessions with Curry in the lineup, and they shoot, rebound, pass, and defend better with Steph on the floor. Not only does Curry post incredible statistics, he truly makes everyone else better.

And he's been even better in the playoffs.

All of that adds up to 67 wins and a 10.1 point margin of victory. The fans noticed, with Curry receiving the most votes for the All Star game and running away with fan MVP votes on every polling site nationwide. The players noticed, with Lebron James saying "Their [Curry and Harden's] record, what they've been able to do all season ... I don't think you can dispute that. Hopefully I continue to rack up some wins. But those guys [the Golden State Warriors] are rolling and that's because of him."

Finally, the media has noticed (except his former coach, apparently), and voted. For the first time since Wilt Chamberlain in 1960, a Golden State Warriors player has been chosen to receive the NBA's top individual honor. Stephen Curry is the Most Valuable Player in the entire NBA for the 2014-15 season.

And you know what?

He deserves it.

Congratulations Steph, and thank you from Golden State of Mind, and from each and every Golden State Warriors fan!

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Golden State of Mind Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Golden State Warriors news from Golden State of Mind