The numbers suggest he’s fallen off a bit from the record pace he set last season, that Stephen Curry is not the same threat he was before Kevin Durant’s arrival in a Golden State Warriors’ uniform.
Interpreting those numbers, though, can get you caught up in minutiae that doesn’t allow one to see the true beauty of what Curry, the two-time (and reigning) Kia MVP, and the Warriors have going this season.
Everyone understood the sacrifice needed to accommodate another player with the letters MVP on his resume (i.e. Durant), and no one had a bigger adjustment to make than Curry. He became the face of a franchise and one of the NBA’s biggest stars over the course of the past three seasons.
Having to share that space with Durant, not to mention fellow All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, requires a certain kind of star to make it work. And the fact that the Warriors are just three games off the pace of their record-breaking regular season of a year ago is a testament to the work Curry has done this season.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr called the expectations on Curry, the Western Conference Player of the Week after averaging 31.8 points, 5.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds during the first week of the New Year, “outrageous.”
Curry and the Warriors are off until Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day showdown with Cleveland at Oracle Arena. That will be yet another game where the expectations on Curry will surely be outrageous, given he and the Warriors’ recent struggles against the Cavaliers.
Still, Curry is trying his best to keep a healthy perspective on this season. He acknowledged his shooting struggles and made it clear that he comprehends where he’s at right now. But also that the Warriors’ season will be a long one — long enough that his numbers can still get where many expect them to be.
“It doesn’t matter what the numbers say,” Curry recently told ESPN.com. “If we’re winning, and I’m doing my job, my teammates know I’m doing my job. That’s all I’m worried about.”
Now to this week’s KIA Race to the MVP Ladder:
1. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Last week: No. 1
With all the talk this season of triple-doubles, don’t overlook the fact that “The Beard” has 19 straight double-doubles, the longest such streak in the league since Dwight Howard’s 33 straight during the 2010-11 season. (30.2 points, 11.0 assists, 9.2 rebounds, 1.0 blocks, 1.0 steals in his last five games).
2. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Last week: No. 2
Westbrook collected his 18th triple-double of the season in a win over Memphis Wednesday, tying his total from last season. Even more impressive is the Thunder’s 15-3 record in games that Westbrook notches a triple-double (31.8 points, 12.4 rebounds, 10.0 assists, 2.0 steals in his last five games).
3. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
Last week: No. 3
Could Durant look any more comfortable than he does blending in with the Warriors’ share-the-ball style? He’s rebounding and facilitating as well as he ever has in his career … and is still shooting a wicked (and career-best) .537 overall (27.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.4 blocks in his last five games).
4. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Last week: No. 4
The Cavaliers have hit a rough patch, relatively speaking, complete with LeBron complaining about the way he’s (mis)treated by the referees. If recent history is any indication, it’s only a momentary hiccup for the Cavaliers and LeBron (28.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.8 steals in his last five games).
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Last week: No. 5
After missing Sunday’s loss to the Wizards and playing just nine minutes in Tuesday’s win over the Spurs due to illness, Antetokounmpo is surely chomping at the bit for tonight’s game against Miami. He is, after all, on a collision course with the All-Star starting five (19.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.8 blocks, 1.0 steals in his last five games).
6. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
Last week: No. 7
Thomas has scored 20 or more points in 22 straight games heading into tonight’s showdown with the Hawks at Philips Arena (8 ET, ESPN). It’s the longest such streak for a Celtics star since Kevin McHale piled up 28 straight such games during the 1986-87 season. (31.2 points, 6.0 assists, 3.6 rebounds in his last five games).
7. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
Last week: No. 8
Sure, he’s off the pace from his outlandish MVP campaign of a year ago. But don’t confuse what Curry is doing this season as some sort of slump or step back. He’s still playing at an ultra-elite level (30.6 points, 6.4 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals in his last five games).
8. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Last week: No. 9
Leonard led the Spurs with 31 points on just 13 attempts (and 8-for-9 from the free throw line) in a 40-point rout of the Lakers on Thursday night. He’s clearly over whatever ailed him recently, having scored 30 points in back-to-back games for the first time since the start of the season (25.8 points, 4.2 assists, 2.8 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 1.4 steals in his last five games).
9. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
Last week: No. 10
Three straight games with 36 or more points, including 41 in Tuesday’s win over Boston, and just one made 3-pointer (in three attempts) is another reminder that DeRozan is one of the only elite scorers who doesn’t utilize the long ball. Don’t mess with success (32.4 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.2 steals in his last five games).
10. Paul George, Indiana Pacers
Last week: Not ranked
George powered the Pacers to five straight wins and back into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff chase before the wheels came off in London Thursday in a loss to the Nuggets. George and Jeff Teague finally appear to in a groove, which is great news for the Pacers (21.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.0 steals in his last five games).
Next five (listed alphabetically): Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls, DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings; Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans; Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies; Kemba Walker, Charlotte Hornets
An inside look from a Western Conference scout at C.J. McCollum:
“You look at Portland right now compared to where they were say three or four weeks ago and the difference has been C.J. He’s been cooking lately (28.6 points on .502 shooting in his last 10 games). There’s no doubt that he had to be much more aggressive when [Damian] Lillard was out of the lineup, but it’s more than that. He’s just one of those guys who defies dimensions. He’s not the biggest or fastest guy out there, but he’s so crafty with the ball and he can shoot it from anywhere. In my eyes he’s one of the more underrated scorers in the league. And he’s a good all-around player. He works on the defensive end, takes good care of the ball and is a better passer than he gets credit for. Terry Stotts has other issues to sort through on that team. They’re not defending the way they did last season and I really felt like they reached on some guys, their own included, over the summer. But McCollum and Lillard as a tandem, they can be as good as they want to be. They’re a little undersized as a duo, but they make up for it with their ability to score the way they both can. And McCollum has been flat-out spectacular the last month or so.”
Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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