At one point this year, Steph Curry was the odds-on favorite to win his third MVP award. The Golden State Warriors were cruising, Draymond Green’s back was totally healthy, Andre Iguodala was providing veteran leadership off the bench, James Wiseman was coming back any day now, and Andrew Wiggins was making his free throws. Why wouldn’t the sweet-shooting baby-faced assassin be the winner, one year after drawing five first-place votes while finishing third in the race?
Well, a lot of things happened, including Steph’s jumper taking an extended mid-season hiatus, back problems across the roster, and a delicate balancing act between developing young players and winning games that threw Curry’s usual minutes rotation into chaos. He still started the All-Star team, still ran the offense, and still lifted this banged-up, weirdly-constructed to a 46-22 record. Where are his MVP odds on March 14, 2022, Chef Curry’s 34th birthday?
He’s down to +2200, meaning if you bet $100 on Curry to win MVP, you’d win $2200. The current favorite is Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers at -120 (meaning, you have to bet $120 to win $100). The Sixers are currently second in the East, which is a big part of Embiid’s case, plus he has a good shot at the scoring title, unless LeBron James continues to take every defensive possession off to try and win it. Last year’s winner, Nikola Jokic, might be having an even better season than he did last year, but his odds are only +260 - maybe because his Denver Nuggets are in sixth place, though record-wise they’re only two games worse than Philly. Rounding out the top three is the 2019 and 2020 MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose Milwaukee Bucks are in a virtual tie with Embiid’s Sixers for second in the East.
The standings matter a lot! Up until Russell Westbrook’s triple-double season in 2017, you had to be on one of the best teams in the league. From 1977-2016, the league MVP was on a team that finished no worse than third in their conference. Even being on the third-best team usually required something extra, like when Michael Jordan won in 1988, finishing third in the East but winning the scoring title and Defensive Player of the Year.
What else matters? The all-elusive “narrative.” Because sportswriters are storytellers, and because people get bored giving the award to LeBron James or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar every year, it’s important that an MVP has some kind of “story” behind his campaign. For Steve Nash in 2005, it was the pure weirdness of Phoenix’s madcap offense destroying the league, plus Nash’s ascension after the Dallas Mavericks discarded him. For Kevin Garnett in 2004, it was the Minnesota Timberwolves finally having the best record in the league. Who cares if KG’s stats were virtually identical to the previous year, and the Wolves’ success was due to finally putting competent players around him (for one single season)? The NARRATIVE demanded Garnett get the trophy.
You also can’t win three years in a row. Unless you’re Larry Bird or Wilt Chamberlain. I guess if a modern player averaged 24 and 24 while playing 46 minutes per game, they’d probably win, too. But Giannis had absolutely no shot to win the award last year, both because the Bucks disappointed in the playoffs and simply because it’s too boring to give the award to the same person. Even Michael Jordan had to watch Charles Barkley and Karl Malone take MVP trophies away from him during the Chicago Bulls’ six-title run, which he then used as motivation to thoroughly destroy them in the NBA Finals later.
So how can Curry climb back into the race? First, he needs to start scoring a ton. Currently, he’s scoring 25.5 points per game, 11th in the league, trailing Ja Morant (27.5 PPG, +1000, 4th-best MVP odds) and DeMar deRozan (28.1 PPG, +1200, 5th-best MVP odds). He needs to get ahead of DeRozan at least, which means for the Warriors’ final 14 games, Steph needs to average 40 points per game. He should also average 5assists per game, which should get him into the top three in the assist standings. It goes without saying that the Warriors also need to finish ahead of Morant’s Memphis Grizzlies, who currently sit one half-game ahead of the Warriors for second place in the West. Even if the Warriors win all 14 of their remaining games, they probably won’t catch Phoenix for the top seed.
Second, the Warriors should win all 14 of their remaining games. “But that doesn’t make any sense!“ you might say. “They’re focused on the playoffs, and they’re trying to re-integrate four or five injured players back in the lineup!” Well you know what also doesn’t make sense? MVP voting. If Curry truly wants a veritable narrative avalanche, try closing the season on a 17-game win streak.
Third, Curry needs to dominate Ja Morant individually when the Warriors play in Memphis two weeks from today. Clearly they need to win, but Curry needs to drop 50 points, steal the ball from Ja a few times, shoot from the Grizzlies logo, and make Dillon Brooks cry. This would be a great time for Curry to deliver his one dunk of the season. It goes without saying that Joe Lacob needs to buy a block of courtside seats and fill them with the most adorable children possible, clad in #30 jerseys, ideally all with life-threatening diseases. Also he should hire a fan to fake a heart attack, so that Curry can rescue him by performing CPR.
Finally, Steph needs to stop wearing clothes that his wife Ayesha picks out for him. We know this isn’t a huge factor, but sometimes it’s hard to take Curry seriously as an all-time great when he’s dressed like Ronald McDonald visiting the Matrix. It’s probably too late for this, but if Ayesha could announce a surprise pregnancy in early April, that would also be huge for his candidacy.
Is that enough? Maybe not. Curry probably needs Embiid to do something to torpedo his own candidacy. And faking his vaccination status won’t be enough - Aaron Rodgers still won an MVP award and signed a record-breaking contract. To truly lose the top spot, Embiid would have to openly support Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, refuse to stand for the national anthem, declare that James Harden’s flops are perfectly legitimate basketball plays, and then say something disparaging about Beyonce on Twitter. And even then, he’d have to commit the cardinal basketball sin of Philadelphia - passing up an open dunk because he’s scared to shoot free throws.