Mariotti: If Warriors star is no-brainer MVP, why such a hot debate? 

So, what’s the hangup? Does he not look the part? Too skinny, too pretty, too amiable? Is it about not having a big wooly beard, or because he doesn’t refer to himself as The King and declare that he wants to conquer Hollywood, or because he doesn’t show up at Fashion Week wearing outlandish outfits and turquoise-framed sunglasses indoors? Is it because he’s a shooter, the most prolific three-point bomber in basketball history, which somehow penalizes him as less of a complete player?

It’s now bordering on the preposterous, this mindlessness that anyone but Stephen Curry should be Most Valuable Player of the NBA season. Not only is he the leader, stimulus package and best player on one of the more dominant regular-season teams ever, he has continued to elevate his deadeye game. He has done so even though every coach, player, fan, media person and human being on the planet knows what’s coming — except Chris/Cliff Paul, who’s still peeling himself off the floor — when he’s dribbling, contemplating, waiting for a pick, spying an opening, then locating it with a reflexive darting blur and rapid-fire release that belongs in a museum if Oracle Arena ever wants to loan him out.

“We tried to mix up our coverages a little bit because he came out making shots from everywhere. It pretty much didn’t matter,” said Portland star Damian Lillard, dazed the other night after Curry’s 45-point explosion. “He made shots with a hand in his face, off balance, deep, everything. He just had it going on.”

Steph Curry has had it going on all season, his season.

Every pundit wants to advance a personal definition of MVP. Some think it’s the player who accomplishes the most with the least talent around him, which is the James Harden argument. Some think it’s the player with transcendent skills and numbers, which is the Anthony Davis argument. Some think it’s the player with the most dynamic ability to control a game and overcome the loss of the previous year’s MVP, which is the Russell Westbrook argument. Some think it’s the finest player in the world, period, which is still the LeBron James argument.

I say it’s the player who, when all variables are weighed, ultimately defines a season in a hybrid of production, value, metrics, buzz and, most of all, games won. That would be Curry and the Warriors, who are 65-15 and a lockdown 37-2 at home. He has made better than 50 percent of his three-point attempts since the All-Star break and has shot the Warriors to whopper leads so often that he typically sits out the entire fourth quarter. In that sense, he is a victim of his own supremacy, which dilutes his numbers. Lest anyone believe Harden deserves the award based on sheer offensive statistics — 26.7 points, 6.9 assists and 5.9 rebounds a game, along with 34 30-point games, 10 40-point games and two 50-point games — allow me to counter with a metric that reflects TEAM mastery, not individual brilliance.

No one in the league has amassed a more pronounced point differential while on the court than Curry. Harden, in the same category, ranks 28th. And for those who say Harden doesn’t have nearly as much talent around him, I submit that Curry does a better job of maximizing his teammates and staying true to the grand plan — a powerful piece of criteria — than The Beard.

“There’s nothing left to say,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr, “except that he’s the MVP.”

Oh, but others still have plenty to say, including the candidates themselves. If it seems the political machinery has pushed aggressively for Harden in recent days, the campaign intensified when The Beard himself said he’s the man. Just as Oscar nominees should not stump for votes, basketball stars should not. He didn’t get the memo.

“I feel as though I am the MVP,” Harden told NBA.com. “I think the MVP is the most valuable player to your team. Obviously, you have to be winning and be one of the top teams in this league, and we are. I’m not taking credit away from anybody else in the league. But I’ve been consistent all year.

“Yeah, I think I’ve done enough. … If I had to choose one, that’s who I would choose.”

His comments came after Davis, the prodigious New Orleans big man who won’t win MVP this season but will very soon, cast his public vote for Harden. “I mean, the things he does and has been doing. He’s just ballin’,” Davis told ESPN.com. “It’s going to be tough, Russ [Westbrook] is playing out of his mind, Steph [Curry] is playing out of his mind ... But if I had to choose, I’d have to give it to James.”

Blake Griffin — No. 1 enemy of the Warriors’ most heated rival, the Los Angeles Clippers — also supports Harden. “Not taking anything away from Steph, I just think James has done so much with less,” Griffin said. “He’s had a lot of guys injured, and they’re sitting at No. 2. You can’t go wrong with either one.” Griffin’s opinion was not surprising.

What was surprising, if not shocking, was Mark Jackson’s take that he favors Harden. This is the same Jackson who, after his firing by Warriors owner Joe Lacob last year, was publicly supported by a frustrated Curry. As a media person, Jackson is encouraged to have an honest, unimpeded view. But a pro-Harden stance seems to reflect an anti-Warriors bitterness that leaves Curry as an innocent victim. “If you twisted my arm, I would probably vote for James Harden,” Jackson, back with ESPN this season, told syndicated radio host Dan Patrick. “He’s single-handedly put that Houston Rockets team in the position they are in today.”

Understandably, Curry was wounded. “It’s his opinion, obviously,” he said. “Surprised me he said that. But, it is what it is. … Obviously, I wasn’t shy about trying to defend him last year when things were rumbling outside of our locker room. But for him to ... it’s kind of a different situation, but it is surprising that he didn’t.”

A publicist would suggest Curry do more self-lobbying in the media. I like how he’s staying true to his unassuming manner and not saying much. “He never talks about it. He never says anything about it, but you better believe that he wants it,” said Kerr, Curry’s biggest bullhorn locally and nationally. When I asked Curry point-blank recently if he’s the MVP, he paused and made sure he came across as a team-first, Steph-fifth-or-sixth guy.

“I want to be,” Curry said at the team practice facility. “That’s a huge honor to have in a year when a team is winning with you having a big impact in it. For me, that’s my mission, to win as many games as possible and have an impact on every single game on both ends of the floor. In doing that, not only myself but other guys on the team should be acknowledged for their efforts. Being MVP would be a special accomplishment for a lot of reasons. It’s not my mindset to go out, have 30 [points] a night and have it boost my MVP resume. But if I channel that drive into doing my job, good things will happen. So far, they have.” Which begs another point: Shouldn’t humility and selflessness play a role in who wins MVP? Harden talks about Harden. James talks about James, who, when asked for his MVP favorite, responded, “Myself.” Curry talks about Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, all of his teammates. The other night, recognizing that Thompson has been in a shooting slump, Curry kept feeding him the ball. Eventually, the shots started falling.

“He’s our MVP,” Thompson said. “He should be for the league.” That rationale would make too much sense.

Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.

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Jay Mariotti

Jay Mariotti

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Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.
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