Who is really the NBA’s most valuable player? By definition, Stephen Curry must be considered | Jones

He’s supposed to be just a shooter. The greatest long-range shooter ever, sure. But still a just a shooter. That’s what Steph Curry is known for, right?

I don’t see him that way at all. I see him as the greatest mover of the defense in the history of basketball. In every fashion possible, Curry makes it difficult to guard not only him but everyone on his team. He moves the ball. He moves himself. He induces movement in his teammates. And so, the defense must constantly shift and stop and start and navigate screens and see events they can’t possibly anticipate. He makes his team so difficult to defend. And that’s why, at age 33, there is Curry not just leading the NBA in scoring but making an otherwise lousy Golden State Warriors team a threat to make the playoffs.

There was a play in the Warriors’ 107-96 win on Monday night in Philadelphia in which Curry played chess three moves ahead, moving the 76ers around like pieces he was controlling. Yes, everything he does stems from that 3-pointer – either the shot itself or the threat of it. But he branches so many other moves from it.

Late in the first quarter, he used a Draymond Green ball screen on the Sixers’ Danny Green to jab left near the top of the circle. He could have simply cast up a 25-foot three and easily cleared the slow-closing Dwight Howard. But that would’ve been no fun. Instead, he faked the three, and put Howard on a trampoline.

Again, the obvious move was to drive through the cleared space right of the lane and maybe shoot a pull-up 10-footer. Nah, pedestrian. Curry fired a pass left to Damion Lee to draw the defense and then immediately cut hard to a vacated hoop. Like a good jazz musician riffing off a lead, Lee immediately flicked a quick return bounce pass to complete the give-n-go lay-up.

Beautiful basketball doesn’t just happen. It must first be imagined. Then conceived and composed in improv by virtuosos. There are only so many of them. I just wish Curry had better partners to play with.

Later, with a tie game on the line, Curry reverted to that for which he’s revered and began torturing Sixers’ guard Seth Curry. Can you imagine what demoralization this young man has endured in driveways and schoolyards just by the misfortune of being born as the little brother of Stephen Curry? It’s not just unfair, it’s Frank Sinatra Jr. unfair.

At this point, the maestro reverted to the simple ball screen and pop because, well, he’s been on a roll lately. And four consecutive threes of ridiculous length hit bottom in the game’s final four minutes. They weren’t all over Seth. The last one, his 10th of the game, was launched after Curry shed George Hill with a jab step and step-back. Hill was playing his first game in three months, with a new team, so it was, again, not a fair fight.

That last one made it 72 triples in a 10-game stretch for Curry, the most in NBA history. It was also his 6th 10-trey game this season. Nobody else has more than five – in a career.

Look, I know Denver’s Nikola Jokić is the favorite to win this season’s NBA Most Valuable Player award, and there are good reasons he should – many of them the same reasons I’ve cited as Curry’s most compelling assets. Jokić does the same things in a different way. The massive 6-11, 284-pound Serb is perhaps the best passing big man since Arvydas Sabonis – who was only the best ever. He uses his interior and pop-out-trey threats to exploit defensive movement he creates to make his Nugget teammates better.

And others might endorse the 76ers’ post-up terror Joel Embiid or Portland guard Damian Lillard. Jokić will probably win because of his formidable stats – practically averaging a triple-double (26.4 pts, 11.1 reb, 8.8 ast).

Further, Curry is fighting the irrational convention that took hold a generation or so ago that somehow mandates MVPs may only come from big winners. The Warriors are a mere 29-29, struggling merely to make the playoffs.

I don’t care. If Curry keeps this up through the remainder of the season, he must be considered. And not simply as some sort of career achievement concession but because he’s dragged this otherwise sorry-ass Golden State team into playoff contention without his injured wingman Klay Thompson and most recently with young prodigy James Wiseman scratched for the season with a torn meniscus suffered early this month.

Curry has not folded up and cruised through the remainder of what surely is a futile task. Instead, he has cranked his game to 11 and fought. He is playing, in many ways, the best basketball of his career with some of the worst support. That’s a competitor. That’s value.

I don’t know how else to judge what an MVP is other than by the definition of its very acronym. Curry is the most valuable to his team of anyone I can see. The Warriors would be stuck in the standings sludge below the Rockets and Timberwolves without him.

With him, playing at his best against all odds, they have a shot against anyone. Probably not in a series, but on any one night.

Earlier this season, Curry passed Wilt Chamberlain for the Warriors’ career franchise scoring lead, which got some talk going comparing the two players. Of course, they were nothing alike in many ways. The 7-2 Chamberlain was the largest man in his game, both in stature and presence, overpowering opponents with sheer athletic gift. Curry does what he does not because his body is imposing; at 6-3 and 185 it is anything but. Instead, he uses unparalleled ball skills, vision and guile to manipulate that which he cannot possibly overwhelm.

But one similarity the disparate pair has is the way they have changed the game. Chamberlain altered the very rules, forcing a widening of the lane and the creation of offensive basket interference. Curry has changed the manner in which his successors will play, expanding the frontcourt to the entirety of its 47-by-50-foot boundaries. Every inch must now be monitored by defenders attempting to check bombers such as Lillard and Trae Young and all of those who will follow

Because Curry expanded the limits. Not just of shooting range. But of imagining the game.

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