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Curry's season-long work makes him our Kia MVP pick

In serving all season as the best player on the league's top team, Golden State's Stephen Curry made our choice easy.

POSTED: Apr 17, 2015 9:29 AM ET

By Sekou Smith

BY Sekou Smith

NBA.com

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Just a shooter, huh?

Nonsense.

Stephen Curry has become so much more than that during a transformative season that saw his star, and the fortunes of his Golden State Warriors, rise to epic proportions. The leading vote-getter during All-Star balloting, the No. 1 player on far and away the NBA's best team and the smiling face of a franchise that has remade itself with his image at the forefront, Curry is poised to claim his first Maurice Podoloff Trophy as the NBA's Most Valuable Player.

Kia Awards Nominee: Stephen Curry

The Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry is a nominee for the Kia Western Conference Player of the Month.

It's an honor he already has locked up here on the final Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, winning out over a loaded field that includes James Harden of the Houston Rockets, four-time MVP LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

And while Curry checks all of the MVP boxes -- he's an elite scorer, facilitator, game-changer and leader -- it's his complete game mastery, including his forced improvement on the defensive side of the ball, that truly sets apart his performance this season.

The Warriors' renaissance season, in which they won a franchise-record and league-best 67 games and ran away with the Western Conference's top seed weeks ago, came in large part because of Curry's brilliance (and not the other way around). This notion that Curry drafted off of the momentum of a star-studded ensemble cast is laughable when you understand that it's all been constructed around him.

The Warriors rank second in offensive rating and first on the defensive side, making them just the third team (1995-96 Chicago Bulls and the 2009-10 Orlando Magic) in the last 38 years to rank in the top two on both ends of the floor. The catalyst for all of this, as Warriors Steve Kerr pointed out to USA Today Sports, is Curry.

"Steph is one of the top few players in the entire league at his position defensively, and he's this offensive machine that we've built our whole attack around," Kerr said. "He has had just an incredibly efficient, productive year and led us to this great win total."

Nightly Notable: Stephen Curry

Stephen Curry notches nightly top honors after breaking his own NBA All-Time 3-point record.

Curry finished the season with the highest real plus-minus rating (8.87), which measures a player's impact when they are on and off the floor, followed by James Harden's 8.3.

Making a metric case for Curry, however, is not necessary. Fact is, you don't have to make a case against anyone else to make a case for him. His season, from his elite numbers (23.9 points on 48 percent shooting, 44.3 percent from beyond the 3-point line, 7.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 2.0 steals) to those mercurial nights when the league's best shooter got hot and went crazy (there were plenty of those) to his overall impact on a team that could have easily chased the 72-win mark, speaks for itself.

"Incredible," New Orleans Pelicans guard Eric Gordon, who will no doubt be tasked with trying to slow Curry down in the team's first round playoff matchup, said of Curry's play this season. "He's been incredible for them all season long."

Incredible is the most appropriate word for a player who led the league in 3-pointers made and attempted by a wide stretch, while also finishing in the top three in the league in 3-point percentage. Bottom line, Curry ranked sixth in the league in points per game, ranked first in free throw percentage (91.4), tied for the third in steals, sixth in assists and did all of this while waving a towel on the bench in countless fourth quarters as the Warriors manhandled the competition.

Just a shooter, huh?

Yes, the best shooter in basketball ... and so much more.

In other words, the MVP!

The rest of the final Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:

2. James Harden, Houston Rockets (2)

Kia Nominee: James Harden

The Rockets' James harden is a nominee for the Kia Western Conference Player of the Month.

In any other season, Harden would appear to be a lock for MVP. He battled into the final days of the season with Russell Westbrook for the scoring title, losing out to his former teammates in the end 28.1 to 27.4. But Harden's work leading the Rockets to a 56-win season, Southwest Division title and the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs in his best season as a pro, is the sort of resume that screams MVP. The fact that he did the bulk of his work this season without the Rockets' second best player, Dwight Howard, in uniform for basically half of the season must also be factored into the equation. In fact, it could be argued that no elite player carried a heavier burden this season than Harden did in driving the Rockets to the top of the standings, given all of the injury issues up and down the roster. Harden posted career highs in points, assists (7.0), rebounds (5.7), steals (1.9) and turnovers (4.0). He shot a wicked 87 percent from the free throw line, also a career-best, while leading the league in attempts at 10.2 per game. He concluded his case with his fourth triple-double of the season in the Rockets' finale, a blowout win over the Utah Jazz that secured that No. 2 seed, showing off the versatility and value you'd expect from the best shooting guard in the game.

3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers (3)

Kia Nominee: LeBron James

The Cavaliers' LeBron James is a nominee for the Kia Eastern Conference Player of the Month.

When LeBron decided to take his talents back home to Cleveland, he cautioned that there would be a process that needed to be completed before anyone could talk about championships. He didn't mention that the process would be accelerated after his early season rehabilitation hiatus. The final result, however, was exactly the kind of turnaround Cavaliers fans dreamed about when they found out he was coming home. The No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff chase and instant relevance after four years in the ether without him confirms it. No player in the game changes the fortunes of everyone around him the way LeBron does, and we're talking about everybody -- from his teammates, to the coaches to everyone in the arena. He didn't play up to the lofty MVP standard he set in any of the four seasons he walked away with the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, but he still finished the regular season with stats many rivals would want. And, he did all that while operating often as his team's chief ballhandler, facilitator and the resident savior of Northeast Ohio's sports identity.

4. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers (4)

The Association: Road to the Playoffs

Here's an all-access look at Chris Paul starting his workday, as he leads the Clippers in to the Playoffs with high expectations, starting his workday.

For all of the talk about Golden State's offense, they ranked behind Paul's Clippers in offensive rating (109.8) this season. Paul played all 82 games this season for the first time in his career, the benefits of which saved the Clippers' bacon after Blake Griffin and several other key rotation players on the roster fell victim to the injury. The league leader in assists (10.2), CP3 averaged 19.1 points on 46 percent shooting and 40 percent from beyond the 3-point line, his best work from distance in five seasons and the second-best mark of his career. Already universally regarded as one of the fiercest competitors in the game, Paul showed his toughness by dragging the Clippers to the No. 3 seed and home court advantage in one of the most competitive Western Conference playoff chases in years. All it did was earn the Clippers to go through the man (men), the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs in a first-round matchup, to be the man (men). In a season celebrating the best of the best at the point guard position, Paul earned his spot without all of the hype.

5. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder (5)

Westbrook Claims Scoring Title

Russell Westbrook claims his first NBA scoring title with 37 points against the Timberwolves.

Westbrook earned his first scoring title, edging out James Harden in the final days of the season to finish with a career-high scoring average of 28.1 points on 43 percent shooting (and 30 percent from 3-point range). The NBA leader in triple-doubles this season with 11, Westbrook did much more than score for an Oklahoma City Thunder team that was ravaged by injuries. Westbrook also averaged career highs in assists (8.6), rebounds (7.3), turnovers (4.4) and steals (2.1). The fact that Westbrook's best season as a pro ended after 82 games is perhaps the most disturbing development in the entire NBA season. If you thought Westbrook played a furious brand of basketball this season knowing he had to carry the Thunder without last season's MVP and scoring champ, Kevin Durant, you should brace yourself for what he'll have in store for us next season. And while TNT's Charles Barkley weighed in prematurely on next season's title favorite, he makes a great point about a healthy and motivated Thunder team being one of the most dangerous teams in the league.

6. Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks (7)

7. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans (9)

8. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies (8)

9. LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers (6)

10. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs (10)

The next five: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers; Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks; Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers; Pau Gasol, Chicago Bulls; Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

Sekou Smith is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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