Why Steph Curry's injury hasn't removed him from MVP consideration
With 2:55 left in the 3rd Quarter, it looked as though Stephen Curry’s night was over. He had dropped 35 points and hit nine threes to give the Warriors a 103-87 lead. In unanimous MVP fashion, Curry did this all in 22 minutes of play. But their lead diminished in the fourth quarter, and with five minutes to go, Curry checked back in, gets Marc Gasol on an island and goes to work.
Cross, cross, snatch-tween, splash, filayyyy! Steph leaves Gasol at the nail and stomps it into the coffin.
After missing eleven games due to an ankle sprain, Curry's return was emblematic of what he means to the Warriors. Without him, they were still able to win 9 of 11 games behind Kevin Durant, but their change in play was evident. The Warriors pace dropped from 103.94 down to 98.94 without Steph. This is largely due to the Warriors sticking to a slower offense, consisting of post-entries that lead to off ball cutting. With Steph in the lineup, there’s more room for improvisation, and it’s encouraged as well. The shots he puts up from three not only keep the defense guessing, but they have a 40% chance of going in, and the byproduct is easier shots for everybody else.
There was a silver lining to Curry’s injury. Before his absence, the Dubs led the league in both offensive rating (114.6), and net rating (12.9). Without Steph at point, Steve Kerr plugged in lengthier guards like Patrick McCaw and Shaun Livingston. The Warriors ORTG dropped to 17th in the league, at 105.9, but their DRTG became the best in the league at 98.7. This isn’t all due to Curry being out though. Zaza Pachulia injured his shoulder in the same game that Steph hurt his ankle - he returned two games before Steph. This left significant minutes on the table for rookie Jordan Bell, who got to show off his defensive potential, even starting in their Christmas matchup against the Cavs.
The Warriors, and Curry, hope to see the defense continue to dominate, and if it does, Curry should see more MVP consideration. Steph is still the team' leading scorer at 26.8 ppg, and leads the team and the league in plus/minus at +288 - even more impressive considering the games he missed and the fact that he’s playing the least amount of minutes per game of his career. (not counting 2010-2011 when he had ankle surgery after 26 games). After a month of rest and a hot start to the new year, Steph should be able to explode offensively while the defense gives him opportunities to push the break, and continue to do so at a high efficiency.