HOUSTON (CBS Houston): “I voted for Steph Curry. He’s the best player on the best team.”
That’s what I was told when I asked someone from out of town who had an NBA MVP vote who they voted for. I have to admit, I was a bit stunned, because I don’t see how playing for the best team and having the best teammates makes you the MVP of the league. So I asked this person for a further clarification.
“Curry was the best player on the best team. I made that vote so I don’t have to explain my vote to anybody.”
Ok. Wait. What?
So a voter made a vote because they were afraid of having to explain why they made a pick, so they tried to go the route of safe and simple? Are you kidding me? That’s the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard. They made a thoughtless pick so that they could avoid having to explain or express actual thought. I was beside myself.
I came to find that this particular voter wasn’t alone in their sentiments, but that this was a common theme. I could only comprehend this one way: voters vote scared.
They don’t want to have to explain why they made a pick that required actual thought. They don’t want to spend time to do any research on their decision, just play it safe and easy.
I’m not trying to disparage Steph Curry, who not only had a terrific season but is also one of my favorite players to watch. However, the idea he is somehow the ‘runaway’ MVP of the league is ridiculous.
No one meant more to the success of their team than James Harden. A strong case can be made that Harden’s season was superior to Curry’s. Harden averaged more points (27.4 to 23.8), more rebounds (5.7 to 4.3) and more blocks (0.7 to 0.2) while being nearly identical to Curry in steals (1.9 to 2.0 for Curry), while Curry had a modest edge in assists (7.0 for Harden to Steph’s 7.7) . (stats provided by BasketballReference.com)
Harden was superior in offensive real plus/minus (8.7 to 7.8) and in Wins Above Replacement, or WAR (20.09 to 19.76). (stats provided by ESPN.com)
So how is it that despite Harden being statistically better in so many categories, Curry is the safe and easy vote for so many people? Well, the Warriors won 67 games and the Rockets only won 56.
It’s the simplistic way of looking at the season again, but let’s peel the onion back a little more.
Curry played on a team that was relatively healthy the entire season, whereas Harden shouldered far more of the load because the Rockets suffered significant injuries. Many people seem to gloss over this point, but let me show just how drastic this actually is.
The Warriors starting 5 of Steph Curry (80), Klay Thompson (77), Draymond Green (79), Harrison Barnes (82) and Andrew Bogut (67) combined to play in 385 of a possible 410 total games. The Warriors had their starting 5 for 94% of the season. By contrast, the Rockets starting five of Patrick Beverley (56), James Harden (81), Trevor Ariza (82), Terrence Jones (33) and Dwight Howard (41) combined to play only 293 of a possible 410 total games, or 71%.
The Warriors had their starting 5 players intact for 23% more of the season than the Rockets did. That’s approximately a total of 19 regular season games. The Warriors finished with 11 more wins that the Rockets. It’s very realistic to project that the Rockets could have won 11 of those 19 games in the differential, which would have essentially left them with the same record as Golden State. Considering Houston finished the season with a win percentage of .683, if they continued at that pace in those 19 games, they would win 13 of those games, ending with 69 wins and the #1 overall seed. That is how big the difference in man-games lost was for the Rockets statistically. 13 wins.
The burden on Harden to perform at an elite level was far greater than it was on Curry, as a result of the injuries sustained by the Rockets.
How much greater a burden? Let’s take a look: (all stats from basketballreference.com)
Above we have the 3 players who took the most shots for their respective teams this season. Curry took 1341 shots, Klay Thompson took 1299 shots, and Draymond Green took 765 shots. Curry took 51% of all shots between the 2 highest shooters on his team, and 39% of all shots among the top 3 shooters on his team. The distribution of offensive responsibility was shared fairly well.
By contrast, Harden took 1470 shots, Trevor Ariza took 910 shots, and second unit player Donatas Motiejunas was 3rd on the team with 700 shots. Harden took 62% of all shots between the 2 highest shooting players on his team, and 48% of all shots among the 3 highest shooting players on his team. His shot percentage is much higher, because the burden to score was greater.
Curry’s season average in points is only 2 points higher than Thompson’s. Harden’s season average in points was 14.6 points higher than the team’s next highest scorer. That’s a disparity of 12.6 ppg. Curry would have needed to average over 36 ppg to have the same level of offensive burden that Harden carried this season compared to his next best offensive teammate over the course of the season.
Now, using the advanced metrics of Wins Shares, Harden accounted for a greater percentage of his team’s success than Curry did. What is more telling, however, is that the disparity between Curry’s totals, and the team’s next 2 best players is significantly less than the disparity between Harden’s total and his team’s next best 2 players.
Curry had a greater WS than his second highest ranked teammate, Thompson, by 6.9. Curry was higher than Green by 7.2. Green and Thompson combined to post a total Win Share 17.3, which is 1.6 more than Curry alone.
Harden had a greater WS than Ariza, his second highest ranked teammate, by a whopping 9.8! Harden was higher than Motiejunas by 11.7! Combined, Ariza and Motiejunas totaled a WS of 11.3, that’s 5.1 WS LESS than Harden alone!
Clearly, Harden was forced to carry a much greater burden for his team’s success than Curry was, and still managed to put up a statistically superior season despite the extra responsibility.
Anyone who took a few minutes to review and analyze their decision for MVP could easily see that Harden, with all he did and everything he had to overcome, was the superior choice to the ‘runaway’ winner, Steph Curry.
But why put in any effort and have to explain your thought process when you can just vote safe and easy?
Patrick Creighton is the host of “Nate & Creight” Sundays 2-5p on Sportsradio 610. Follow him on Twitter: @PCreighton1