Curry vs. Harden. Who really should have won the MVP?

Although we’ve known for sometime, it became official yesterday, Stephen Curry is the 2014-15 Kia NBA Most Valuable Player. Across a panel of 129 sportswriters and broadcasters who voted (along with the fan vote) Curry received 100 out of 130 first-place votes, 75 more than second-place finisher, James Harden, who finished with 25 first-place votes.

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Although it was one of the tightest races for MVP in recent memory, Curry in the end ran away with the award thanks to dazzling performances on National Broadcasts, along with night-to-night consistency against a historically tough Western Conference. He led his team to a franchise record 67-win season and was the leader of one of the best regular season teams in NBA history. In simpler terms, he was the consensus best player on the best team this season.

So why argue otherwise? Well…because I’m about to be “that guy” who is going to argue otherwise. Because for as much as I want to let it go, I can’t. You see, I’m the guy that will drive home the argument of “best player” and “Most Valuable” player, which annoyingly enough, the majority of the NBA community accepts as synonyms.

I’m not saying Stephen Curry doesn’t deserve the MVP, he absolutely does. I just have a serious problem with the title of the award, among other things. In some years, the award goes to the player who truly was more valuable than his other counterpart candidates. An example would be in 2010-11 when Derrick Rose won the award convincingly, even though LeBron probably had a better season, on an overall more talented team, Rose was the driving heart of that Chicago team.

Then you get seasons like this one. And while I absolutely love the discussion and arguments over multiple candidates, as opposed to a consensus overall winner, when the true winner doesn’t win, it drives me nuts.

So, yes. If you gave me a vote I would have 100% would have inked in James Harden. Remember, not because I don’t think Curry is not deserving. It’s just that James Harden was more valuable. Here is why.

For comparative purposes, I will only keep this between Curry and Harden. Although, if you gave me a few days, I could have probably argued that Anthony Davis should have won the award for his historic season at the age of 22. Alas. 

Statistical Comparison

All stats are final from 2014-15 Regular Season via NBA.com and NBA Basketball Reference 

Stat line reads as follows: (Highlighted sections are to show who won the category) 

PPG. / APG. / RPG. / True Shooting / SPG. / Win Shares / PER / Estimated Wins Added (EWA) / Value Over Replacement

Stephen Curry:

23.8 / 7.7 / 4.3 / 63.8% / 2.0 / 15.7 / 28.06 / 22.2 (EWA) / 7.9

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James Harden:

27.4 / 7.0 / 5.7 / 60.5% / 1.9 / 16.4 / 26.76 / 24.1 (EWA) / 7.8

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Harden is the future of the NBA, also known as the “Analytical Messiah.” Driving to the basket, shooting three’s and living at the free throw line.

 

If we strictly go based off of statistical comparison, the MVP race (as far as votes go) should have been about 75 votes closer than it actually was. Their Value Over-Replacement is nearly a wash and Harden beats out Curry in Estimated Wins Added and Win Shares which are arguably are some of the most “valuable” NBA statistics out there.

Some other stats to keep in mind, (depending on which you deem more important) Curry broke his own record for most three-pointers made in a season with 286 and shot a total 44.3% from behind the arc. James Harden on the other hand led the league in total minutes with 2,981. He also attempted the most Free Throws with 824 (170 more than 2nd place) and most made with 715 (169 more than second place) which averages out to 8.8 (made) 10.2 (attempted) and making nearly 90% of them. That’s basically 9 free points EACH NIGHT. That’s value and production.

Team Performance

This is where it may get tricky, depending on what side you value more. Curry’s Warriors were without a doubt the most fun team in the NBA this season. The combination  of the “Splash Brothers” and the rise of my favorite Michigan State player in the 21st Century in Draymond Green, throw in the brilliant addition of Head Coach Steve Kerr, turning them from a really good, to great team. They definitely led the league in, “Oh my god HE DID WHAT?” type moments, here are a few in case you somehow forgot:

Poor Chris Paul ankles…

And don’t forget that time Klay Thompson went bonkers…

I don’t care who you root for or what colors you wear, few things are more fun than when the Warriors go into “Showtime Mode” where they shut the building down and light it on fire. There is nothing like it in the NBA today. With all that being said, the MVP is an individual award no matter how many times the winning guy tells you it’s about his teammates.

The Warriors have one of the most dynamic and talented rosters in the NBA, certainly thus far have proved that their’s tops all. And as mentioned before, won 67 games, went 39-2 at home and earned the #1 overall seed in the West.

Meanwhile in Houston, James Harden turned rocks into diamonds. Dwight Howard, Houston’s other “Superstar” was sidelined for half the season (played 41 games total) and Houston was already thin on the front line. They would acquire Josh Smith from a Detroit team that paid him to leave and towards the end of the season they lost Patrick Beverly for the rest of the year.

In a ridiculously deep Western Conference, where every night was a battle that involved playoff implications, Houston came into the playoffs sitting in…2nd.

It didn’t matter that Joey Dorsey was starting at Center and Terrence Jones was getting his first serious NBA minutes of his career. It didn’t matter that Houston played the entire season without a legit point guard, switching off between Beverly and Jason Terry. The Beard was a miracle worker.

Any hardcore NBA follower will tell you that James Harden (and Houston for that matter) is probably the most predictable NBA player. He shoots plenty of 3’s, drives to the basket where he is an incredible finisher (see chart above) and if he doesn’t finish, gets to the charity stripe where he is money. No team had an answer for him regardless of the predictability.

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I understand that everyone would rather watch Curry shatter Chris Paul’s ankles and hit 7-straight 3’s, part of the decision-making process is how entertaining a guy is, regardless of whether a voter will admit it or not, subconsciously it factors in. Sure it may be a little boring that James Harden only does two things the majority of the time, but it’s fascinating that no one could stop him from dropping eight 40-point games, and 50 twice, this year.

I understand it is the classic comparison, but it holds completely true in this instance. If you replaced Curry with an average starting Point Guard in the NBA (say Reggie Jackson) the Warriors would still be a playoff team in the West and probably a top-4 seed too. Say the same with Harden, switch him with Aaron Afflalo and the Rockets are golfing right now (although they may very soon with performances like last night) and enjoying their offseason. For better or worse, Harden sparks Houston and is their catalyst.

I have no problem with Stephen Curry winning the MVP. He is the #1 reason the Warriors had a historically efficient season on both sides of the ball. He will most certainly go down as the best 3-point shooter ever (barring anything unusual) and his MVP season was as superb as they come by. Judging solely off of the 2014-2015 season, he was most likely the best player in the NBA this season.

But he wasn’t the most valuable, that goes to Analytical God. Please change the name of the award for instances like these, I’m losing my mind over it.

dm_150123_Harden_Buzzer_Beater299

 

-Goat

 

 

 

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