15 Dec 18
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OAKLAND — Stephen Curry seemed amused with the topic. He remembered how happy he feels when he either hoists a Larry O’Brien trophy or nails a 30-foot 3-pointer. So why should Curry care about pursuing what would be a third regular-season MVP award?
“It’s not something I’ve been saying I want to accomplish this year,” Curry told Bay Area News Group. “I’ve talked about my process night in and night out. I want to help my team win and play at a certain level.”
So does Kevin Durant, who joined the Warriors two years ago partly because he preferred holding championship hardware than collecting another regular-season MVP trophy. Two NBA titles and two Finals MVPs later, Durant has said he has not changed his mind.
“It’s cool to have your name in that stuff. It shows that you’re playing well and the team is successful, but we’re not getting up every day and grinding for that,” Durant said. “If it’s an add-in? Don’t get me wrong. If we can throw on top of what we have already, cool. But I think guys just want to work because they love the game.”
Curry and Durant maintain they are working for something more predictable and pure. The Warriors (20-10) could become the sixth team in NBA history to win three consecutive championships, and the first since the Los Angeles Lakers (2000-2002). Therefore, Curry and Durant stressed they are not exhausting their physical and mental energy toward winning another regular-season MVP trophy.
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(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
“They’re both naturally very competitive people. I don’t think you can get this far as they’ve come being MVP’s and champions without being ultra competitive,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “That’s not anything you teach. So they love to play and work harder than anybody on their games every single day. It’s a pretty good combination when you’re really talented, really hard working and you’re competitive.”
As a result, Curry and Durant are naturally in the regular-season MVP discussion anyway. Durant and Curry rank second and third, respectively, in the NBA in points per game (28.9), trailing only Houston’s James Harden (30.8). Curry has gone 50.3 percent from the field and 48.0 percent from 3-point range along with averaging 5.2 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game. Durant has shown slightly more efficiency from the field (51.1 percent) and become less prolific from the perimeter (35.9 percent) along with averaging 7.7 rebounds and 6.2 assists per contest.
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“If I were to sit here and say Steph doesn’t care about the MVP, I’d be probably lying and be inaccurate,” said Warriors assistant coach Bruce Fraser, who works with Curry and Durant in post-practice workouts. “He does care about that. So does KD. But if you said, do you want a championship or the MVP? They’d both say they want the championship. That’s what makes these guys special and makes them winners. The bigger picture is more important than the individual awards.”
Though Durant and Curry dismissed the early regular-season MVP race, they admitted they have monitored the earlier candidates. Curry said he has his eyes on “the usual suspects,” while Durant offered mores specifics. Durant argued “a lot of guys” deserve the regular-season MVP, including Curry, Harden, Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard, Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, New Orleans Pelicans Anthony Davis and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook.
(Randy Vazquez/Bay Area News Group)
All of those players top the league in various statistical categories. Following Harden, Durant and Curry, James (28.4 points), Davis (28.1) and Embiid (27.0) round out the top six in scoring. Embiid ranks third in rebounding (13.6), while Antetokounmpo ranks fifth (13.2). Westbrook has fared second in assists (9.9) and first in steals (2.21), while Harden leads the league in scoring and ranks fifth in assists (8.3).
“That’s why it’s so hard to make the MVP,” Durant said. “So many guys are playing amazing basketball right now.”
Curry and Durant are playing amazing basketball, too.
Curry’s longtime trainer, Brandon Payne, said that his offseason regimen became “more structured” with six consecutive weeks of training in the Bay Area. Curry mapped out this schedule since his wife, Ayesha, gave birth to their son, Canon, in July. During that time, Curry strengthened his ankles and knees as well as his core muscles with both strength and conditioning and pool workouts. Curry also completed a virtual reality workout, which tested his on-court decision making and vision without exerting extra pounding on his body.
Then, Curry opened the season with three consecutive 30-point games for the first time in his 10-year NBA career. He also set an NBA record by draining at least five 3-pointers in seven consecutive games. While missing 11 games with a strained left groin, Curry reported keeping his conditioning sharp during his rehab workouts. Since his return, Curry has averaged 28.9 points while shooting 48.1 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from the perimeter along with 5.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists.
“I talked a big game going into the year on how hard I worked over the summer and how I felt. I felt like I could get better and more efficient,” Curry said. “I’m obviously doing that and trying to sustain it. I’m feeling really good. That’s the way I can put it. I got to keep my foot on the gas pedal.”
Durant has had to temper with either putting his foot on the gas pedal during Curry’s 11-game absence or shifting gears to accommodate Curry’s presence. During Curry’s injury, Durant averaged 33.72 points while shooting 47.8 percent from the field. Otherwise, Durant has averaged 28.9 points on 51.3 percent shooting and 7.7 rebounds, which are in line with his career averages.
Plenty of attention has hovered over Durant’s uncertain future. He plans to opt out of his $31 million player option next summer to become an unrestricted free agent. That attention heightened when Durant and Draymond Green argued about the final play of regulation against the Los Angeles Clippers last month. Those issues have not compromised Durant’s production, however, regardless of Curry’s health.
“I just want to be up for every challenge that’s up there with every possession,” Durant said. “Whether it’s guarding a small player or guarding a big, switching on or contesting a 3-point line, I just want to be up for anything. In turn, that gets me up for any situation. If Steph is out, Draymond is out or Klay [Thompson] is out, we run a different play. But if I have to sit in the corner and be a decoy, I just want to be ready for any moment.”
All of which sets up an interesting series of questions. What variables should voters use in evaluating whether Curry or Durant should win the regular-season MVP award this season?
Will Durant have to match his production when he won the regular-season MVP with Oklahoma City in the 2013-14 season? Then, Durant averaged 32 points while shooting 50.3 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from 3-point range along with 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists. Will Curry’s output need to mirror his first regular-season MVP season in 2014-15 (23.8 points on 48.7 percent shooting, 44.3 percent from 3-point range? Or will Curry need to reach closer to his second MVP season in 2015-16 (30.1 points on 50.4 percent shooting, 45.4 percent from the perimeter).
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Both Curry and Durant conceded uncertainty on what factors media members should consider with their vote. Should they solely focus on the players’ production? Should they evaluate team success? Should they hand an award to a player who never has won already, or go with an established MVP?
Both Curry and Durant expressed uncertainty on how to weigh those variables. Durant strongly pushed back, though, on a few other talking points. Those involve whether Durant and Curry would cause voters to split their votes on one of them, or if Curry should be penalized for missing 11 games thus far.
“There’s going to be nights where James Harden gets 40 [points]. There’s going to be nights [Chris Paul] takes over. Are you going to hold that against James?” Durant asked, rhetorically. “There’s going to be nights Khris Middleton takes over the game or Eric Bledsoe. And Giannis might have 18 points that night. Are you going to hold that against them? It’s a team game. You’re not supposed to be expected to grab every point, get every rebound and make every play. Steph is producing at an MVP level. You look at his numbers, they’re at an MVP level. Why are you holding that against him because I’m on the team or vice versa? That doesn’t make sense.”
After all, Curry and Durant both logged 30-point performances in the same game three times this season. Durant also argued that Curry’s absence should bolster his MVP candidacy since the Warriors went 5-6 without him. Durant added his increased output during Curry’s absence helps his own cause as well.
“If you’re going to really sit here and try to find what those lanes are and describe what a true MVP is on a year-to-year basis, or determine two guys that are playing at an extremely high level on the same team and who’s the better one and who’s different, that’s all for you,” Curry said. “No offense to you all. You can have fun with it and all that type of stuff.”
“But in terms of how we play and how we approach the game? At the end of the year, it’s knowing that you had a hell of a season, did what you need to do to help your team win and chase championships. It sounds cliché, but it’s the truth on how you go about the process. With all of that other stuff creeping in, that’s where you can get distracted. We’re going to keep the main thing the main thing.”
As a result, that might boost the chances for Curry or Durant to win an MVP award anyway. If not, they gladly will settle for the bigger trophy.
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