We’re one month into the new season and some people are still talking about whether Stephen Curry or James Harden was last year’s most valuable player. Add the fact that James Harden won the MVP award from the NBPA Awards and you’ve got a controversy that just refuses to die.

Now, whenever people talk about MVP candidates, the conversation inevitably turns into personal production. And why shouldn’t it? After all, the Most Valuable Player Award of the NBA is defined as the award that goes to the “best performing player of the regular season”. So, simplistically, the player with the best stat line should win the Most Valuable Player Award. 

The problem starts when you have to evaluate what seem to be equally sterling regular season performances against each other. Take, for example, the top three vote getters for the NBA MVP in 2014-2015.

Stephen Curry
286 (NBA record)
James Harden
Lebron James

Now, while eventual MVP winner Stephen Curry has a distinct edge in three pointers made, three-point percentage and free throw percentage and a slight edge in assists per game and steals per game, are those really enough to say that he was the clear cut most valuable player among the three?

And if we take into consideration other categories, like individual defense (in which James is head and shoulders above either Harden or Curry) or free throws made (Harden’s total is more than twice James and Curry’s free throws made combined) and whatever edge Curry may have had over the other two becomes purely mathematical.

However, when it came to the actual MVP voting, Stephen Curry won by a veritable landslide, getting 100 first place votes while Harden got a mere 25 (James got the remaining 5 votes). This disparity in votes when compared to stats seems totally unwarranted…unless some other factors came into play.

So, if two or more players have equally impressive regular season stats, what other factors would have been used to break the deadlock and establish one’s right to be called the NBA’s most valuable player?


In the 2014-2015 season, Curry’s Warriors finished with a 67-15 record, clinching the best record in the league as well as home court advantage throughout the playoffs. The year before that, the Warriors went 51-31, so the 16 win improvement was extremely significant in measuring the value of Curry’s improved statline.

The Rockets, on the other hand, finished with a 56-26 record, 11 wins behind the Warriors. This was only as slight improvement over the 2013 record, in which they went 54-28, but it should be noted that it was a bad injury-year for the Rockets, with Dwight Howard missing a total of 37 games. Still, for a team with notable players like Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer, Josh Smith, Jason Terry, and Terence Jones, more was definitely expected from the Rockets.

The Cavaliers finished with a 53-29 record, which should have been amazing instead of disappointing, (after all, they were a very dismal 33-49 the year before). Their turnaround was marred by all the issues that hounded the team right from the start While the Cavs hoped that their version of the Big Three would be more potent than the Heat version, it lacked one very distinct ingredient: friendship. Dwayne Wade and Lebron James were best friends off the court, which meant they had each other’s back both on and off it. Their personal chemistry made the transition to a Big Three system a bit easier. That’s not the case between James, Irving, and Love.  Which is why their entire season became a soap opera of sorts, with storylines revolving about Love’s role in the offense, Irving and James’ compatibility and even David Blatt’s ability to coach the team.

The Warriors’ 67 wins was not only a franchise best, it was also their first time since 1976 that the Warriors had the best record in the NBA. That season also featured several other franchise records, such as best start (10-2, currently obliterated by their even hotter start in this season), longest win streak (16, currently under threat by this year’s aforementioned hot start) and longest home win streak (19 home wins). Add to that Curry’s record setting 286 threepointers made and what you’ve got is a season for the ages, when both Curry and the Warriors were basking in accomplishments left and right.

The Rockets managed to claim their first ever Southwest Division title and their first division crown since 1994, as well as logged the franchise’s third best record in history.  Harden made some news on his own, becoming the first Rockets player since Hakeem Olajuwon to score 50 points in a game and becoming the first Rocket in franchise history to score 50points or more multiple times in a season.

The only thing of note to happen to the Cavs would be trading the season’s ROY in Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love and recovering enough to win the Central Division.

This is as simple as imagining these scenarios:
How would the Warriors do without Curry? You’d end up with a starting lineup of Leandro Barbosa, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut, which is respectable. Their strength might actually be their bench, with Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Festus Ezeli, Shaun Livingston and Mareese definitely better than most teams’ benches. But is this team championship material? Far from it. But they would be capable of making the playoffs. The question would be how far could they go in the loaded West. My guess is, without Curry, they fall in the first round, especially if they face someone like the Clippers or The Spurs.

How would the Rockets do without Harden? A starting lineup of Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer, Trevor Ariza, Terence Jones and Dwight Howard is actually not bad, especially on defense. They’d lock down on most teams and can actually score from inside and outside. The bench can actually be dominant on offense against other second units, with Josh Smith, Jason Terry, Donatas Motiejunas, Kostas Papanikolau, and K.J. McDaniels being more than serviceable role players. Good enough to make the playoffs, maybe even get to the second round if they were matched up favorably (like against the Mavs or the Pelicans) but not good enough to win a championship.

How would the Cavs do without Lebron? A starting lineup of Kyrie Irving, JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, Kevin Love and Timofey Mozgov may be much, much worse than a team that featured Irving, Smith, James, Love and Mozgov but then again, you take away a Lebron James from any lineup and the remaining lineup will always be much, much worse. On its own merit, the Cavs’ lineup would have been a good mix of offense and defense, with Irving, Smith and Love providing the firepower and Mozgov and Shumpert providing the tough D. Their bench is a bit shaky on the offensive side, as Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao aren’t really offensive juggernauts, Matthew Dellavedova is a capable back up but can not carry the offense, and James Jones, Mike Miller and Shawn Marion are all bare shadows of the players they used to be. The most glaring need of this lineup is actually a distributor, a playmaker. Irving is a scorer, so are Smith and Love. Someone has to pass the ball and in this prospective lineup, only Dellavedova is inclined to do that. In the weaker West, they’d maybe make the second round.

Stephen Curry propelled his team to 16 more wins than the previous year, set a bucketload of records (both teamwise and personally) and his team wouldn’t get out of the first round of the playoffs without him.
James Harden’s team improved by a couple of games, set a couple of records personally and could still make the second round of the playoffs without him.
Lebron James’ team improved a lot but, then again, they were expected to, didn’t perform as well as they could and could still make the first, maybe the second round without him.

And that is why Stephen Curry won the NBA MVP Award by a landslide.

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