For better or worse, discussion of the MVP award dominates NBA discourse throughout the season. Sometimes that rightly glorifies a just winner, and that’s likely going to be the case this season with Nikola Jokic, but Steph Curry‘s incredible season is demonstrating that we need to move beyond the mere traditional MVP.
The limitations on the MVP award are significant. In general, it’s awarded to the best player on the best team, at least when possible. This season is a bizarre mutation of a campaign compared to usual, though, with plenty of players missing games due to injuries, COVID infections and health and safety protocols. This has effectively removed Joel Embiid, James Harden and LeBron James from the conversation, and of course, players like Steph Curry are completely out of the realm of possibility for consideration.
This isn’t a slight on Embiid, Harden or James, nor is it to Curry. It also doesn’t diminish Jokic’s magnificent season. It’s just how MVP consideration works, and discourse surrounding the NBA’s most prestigious award suffers as a result.
Steph Curry is the best example of why we need a Most Outstanding Player award
Take Steph Curry’s season for example. He’s putting up career numbers this season, which is an astonishing thing to say. The two-time MVP and three-time NBA champion is having the best season of his career from a statistical perspective. He’s leading the league in scoring with 31.4 points per game. He’s shooting 49.1 percent from the floor and 43.1 percent from 3-point range on an astounding 12.1 attempts per game.
Curry is putting up career-high usage at 33.7 percent, and in spite of having a lesser supporting cast than in past glory days, his true shooting percentage is third-best in his career at 66.5, just a touch behind 2017-18’s 67.5 and 2015-16’s 66.9.
His Golden State Warriors have needed his efforts just to stay alive in the Western Conference. They’re 6-2 in their last eight games, but that only gets them to .500 with a 29-29 record, sitting in the nine-seed. They’re on the playoff fringe, and firmly inside the play-in tier.
Check out Curry’s numbers over the last eight: Averages of 41.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists, while shooting 56.0 percent from the floor and 53.3 percent from 3-point range. He’s doing this on exceptional volume, attempting 15.0 3s per game. He’s simply been nothing shy of astonishing.
Due to the nature of the MVP award, the best player on a .500 team clearly has no shot, and rightly so. We know the criteria, and Steph Curry doesn’t meet it with this team.
Some commenters and media personalities try to insert names like Curry’s into the dialogue for the award, but given its history, you can’t really bend the rules that way. Their efforts are surely noble, but the only response to “We should be talking about Steph Curry as an MVP candidate” is “No, we shouldn’t.”
So let’s find a new way to recognize players doing the incredible things Curry is doing. The MVP doesn’t need to be abolished or replaced, but the time has come to introduce a Most Outstanding Player award alongside it. It’s not an unprecedented award in the basketball world, as the NCAA basketball tournament also awards a MOP rather than an MVP. Of course, it’s a bit different than the arrangement that the NCAA has because they don’t also have an MVP.
This new award would recognize those significant and spectacular contributions like what Curry has put forth this season. He’s not the NBA’s Most Valuable Player according to the historic definitions and precedent, but he absolutely has an argument to be the league’s Most Outstanding Player.