NBA preview 2019-20: Can Stephen Curry win a third MVP?

The lone superstar on a much-changed Golden State Warriors team, we assess Stephen Curry's hopes of winning a third MVP award.

Stephen Curry with his two MVP awards.   -  Getty Images

When Stephen Curry takes to the Chase Center court on Thursday, he will be all alone.

He'll have team-mates, coaches, a tough opponent in the revamped Los Angeles Clippers, as well as hordes of screaming fans packed into the Golden State Warriors' lavish new arena but, in terms of superstars, he will be the lone representative for a Dubs team in the unfamiliar position of starting a season without the prohibitive favourites tag.

With Kevin Durant gone and Klay Thompson on the sideline, perhaps for the entire season, with a torn ACL, this is unequivocally Curry's team. Of course, it always was. Durant conceded he never felt like "one of the guys" at Golden State, which already had a tight-knit core led by Curry when the Warriors recruited the 2014 MVP to the Bay Area, and that was likely a huge factor in his decision to join the Brooklyn Nets this off-season.

Though D'Angelo Russell, acquired in the sign-and-trade deal that sent Durant to Brooklyn, will share some of the load, Curry will not have to cede possessions to anybody. The offence, freed of the need to accommodate Durant, will revolve around two-time MVP Curry, who will carry the majority of the burden of leading an undermanned Warriors team to the playoffs.

Curry will relish the pressure on his shoulders, and he should also see a season in which there is a lot less expected of the Warriors as an outstanding opportunity to claim a third MVP.

With the Warriors roster lacking quality depth, Curry can expect to spend significantly more time on the floor, bolstering hopes of putting up the kind of numbers that will put him firmly in the conversation for the Maurice Podoloff Trophy.

What will he need to do to become only the ninth player to win three MVPs? To answer that question we looked at the Stats Perform data from his previous two award-winning seasons and the competition he will likely face in 2019-20.

BACK-TO-BACK MVP YEARS

Curry won back-to-back MVPs in 2014-15 and 2015-16, as he proved instrumental in helping the Warriors claim a first NBA title since 1975, which they then followed up with a record-breaking 73-9 regular season, only to lose to the Cleveland Cavaliers in seven games in the NBA Finals.

The point guard produced incredible statistical seasons to take the most coveted individual prize in the league in successive seasons. In 2014-15, he averaged 34.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 11.1 assists per 100 possessions while playing 32.7 minutes per game. He also shot 44.3 per cent from three-point range.

In the following campaign, as the Warriors did the unthinkable and surpassed the mark of 72 wins set by the Chicago Bulls in 1995-96, Curry became the first unanimous MVP as he laid waste to defences across the league. He joined the 50-40-90 club, shooting 50.4 per cent from the field, 45.4 per cent from beyond the arc, and 90.8 per cent from the free-throw line.

 

Per 100 possessions, Curry averaged 40.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 9.1 assists while playing 34.2 minutes per game. He will need similar numbers if he is to reclaim the prize.

THE COMPETITION

Since Curry's last MVP, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo have received the honour.

It is Antetokounmpo's win that provides the biggest indication of what Curry will need to do statistically to take it from 'The Greek Freak'.

Last season, Harden averaged a whopping 48.2 points, 10 assists and 8.9 rebounds per 100 possessions and still did not repeat as MVP.

Instead, Antetokounmpo was rewarded for leading Milwaukee Bucks to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Per 100 possessions, he put up 39.3 points, 8.4 assists and an incredible 17.7 rebounds.

With Westbrook joining up with Harden at the Houston Rockets, LeBron James and Anthony Davis forming a potentially formidable duo for the Los Angeles Lakers, and Paul George teaming up with reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers, Antetokounmpo appears to be Curry's primary competition as the sole superstar on a contending team.

 

The level to which Antetokounmpo can dominate in every facet of the game means Curry will have to reproduce his 2015-16 brilliance to have a shot of dethroning him, and — as Harden can testify — even then it may not be enough.

However, that Warriors team had the likes of Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa and Andre Iguodala on the bench, with their presence allowing Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green to get plenty of rest.

In 2019, Curry does not have that luxury. He will likely have less rest, but more of a window to put up the Harden-esque numbers needed to challenge Antetokounmpo. If he does so and the Warriors perform better than anticipated, Curry may be delivering another MVP acceptance speech come the end of the campaign.