Stephen Curry is the NBA’s Most Improved Player 2016

April 13, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) celebrates after making a three-point basket against the Memphis Grizzlies during the first quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
April 13, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) celebrates after making a three-point basket against the Memphis Grizzlies during the first quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors should be — but probably won’t be — the NBA’s Most Improved Player for the 2015-16 NBA season.

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Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors is the NBA’s 2015-16 regular season Most Valuable Player. While it remains to be seen whether the voters consider him to be the unanimous MVP, no one doubts that Curry’s performance this year has been nothing short of extraordinary, helping to lead his team to a regular season record of 73-9 — the best win/loss record in NBA history.

Per @ESPNStatsInfo on Twitter, Curry is just the third player in league history to shoot 90 percent from the line, 50 percent from the field, and 45 percent from 3-point range this season, adding him to the exclusive 50-40-90 club. He also made 402 three-pointers this season, nearly doubling his previous record of 286, which he set last season.

And speaking of last season, Curry averaged 23.8 points over 80 games on his way to his first MVP. Some critics felt that wasn’t impressive enough to warrant MVP honors, so he decided to shoot a little more this season, going on to average 30.1 points over 79 games for his first NBA scoring title.

He stretched defenses out past the half court line due to his new ability to pull-up from the mid-court logo, and per, Curry still ranked 8th in 2-point field goal percentage (56.6) behind DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard, Hassan Whiteside, Enes Kanter, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Marcin Gortat.

Despite a 1.0 decrease in his assist numbers, Curry remains in the top-10 league leaders in assists, and as evidenced by his league leading 19.7 player impact estimate, his importance to his team remains just as significant as last year.

To sum things up: Curry went from being a potent player to an omnipotent player, and for that reason, he SHOULD be named the NBA’s Most Improved Player for the 2015-16 season. But he probably won’t be.

The most notable player competing with Curry for Most Improved honors is C.J. McCollum of the Portland Trailblazers, and it’s easy to see why. Last season as a sophomore in the NBA, McCollum posted averages of 6.8 points, 1.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 0.7 steals. This year, he averaged a whopping 20.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.2 steals.

McCollum’s rise to prominence was key in helping the Blazers secure the 5th seed in the Western Conference after losing core guys like Wesley Matthews, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Nicolas Batum. Alongside Oakland’s own Damian Lillard, McCollum has established himself as one of the most intriguing young players to keep an eye on moving forward, and many expect him to keep the Blazers pushing forward.

But as with most of the regular season awards voted on by the media, the Most Improved Player award is subjective — that is, influenced by an individual’s personal tastes or opinions.

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ESPN’s Zach Lowe gives us two broad categories: “the second-year guy who thrives with increased playing time, and the superstar who somehow becomes even better.” While Lowe continues on to reveal that he chose McCollum as his Most Improved Player due to his gravitation toward “mid-career guys who make an overall leap, or hone one key skill that unlocks other parts of their game,” the original two categories he mentioned gives us a much wider pool of names with which to explore.

In the first group (second-year player who thrives with increased playing time), Lowe names guys like Gary HarrisDoug McDermottClint CapelaRodney HoodJaMychal Green, and Jerami Grant, all of whom would have been deserving of an honorable mention for Most Improved. In the second group (superstar who somehow becomes even better), Lowe names just two guys: Kawhi Leonard, and Steph Curry.

Despite now being in his third year, McCollum fits into the first category due to him seeing a 19.1 increase in minutes per game thanks to Wes Matthews taking off for Texas. That is, however, in no way meant to infer that McCollum’s growth was solely correlated to his increase in playing time. In fact, I find myself in complete agreement with Lowe, who said the difference between McCollum and the rest of the guys in the first category is that “he’s pulling this as the second-best player on a playoff team.”

Furthermore, Lowe goes on to state that the “Blazers don’t rise from the ashes without McCollum maturing into a borderline star.” To sum up Lowe’s thoughts: there’s is no way in hell the Blazers lose their core and STILL make the playoffs without McCollum balling out.

In addition, not only did McCollum’s traditional stats (points, rebounds, assists, etc) increase with more playing time, but so did his efficiency: his field goal percentage went up by 1.2 percent despite taking 12 more field goal attempts per game, his 3-point percentage went up by 2.1 percent despite taking 3.7 more threes per game, and his player efficiency rating increased by 4.6.

But what is more impressive: a young player growing to become a star, or a superstar defying all logic and expectations to secure his name among some of the best players ever?

If you find yourself believing the first option is more impressive than the second option yet still believe Steve Kerr wasn’t Coach of the Year last year because he inherited his team, you’re being hypocritical. Many believed Mike Budenholzer of the Atlanta Hawks to be Coach of the Year last season because of how his team exceeded expectations, that because they went from a good team to a great team, that Budenholzer should win Coach of the Year despite Kerr’s historical rookie year.

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If that award is all about who exceeded expectations, who honestly believed the Warriors would go 67-15 in 2015? Who expected the Warriors to secure the first seed in the West and the best record in the NBA that after getting eliminated by the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the playoffs just the year prior?

I’d bet roughly a handful of people went on record to say they expected any one or all of those things to happen, and even then, there is no possible way they could have presented any evidence to support their opinion short of a crystal ball. Not many believed the Warriors would get that much better with a new coach at the helm, let alone go from a great team to a historical team.

McCollum was on his way up in 2015, and many expected him to show some improvement within his role in 2016. To be fair, he exceeded those expectations, and then some. A good player became a great player.


Marty McFly and Doc Brown could have visited you in their time-traveling DeLorean and told you Curry would do all these things by season’s end, and I swear on my life you would have had a difficult time believing them. In fact, people that have actually witnessed Curry up close and personal have a difficult time processing what he does on a game-by-game basis, so imagine two people who claim to know the future coming up to you and saying Curry actually improved on the historical year he had last season. No way, Curr-ay.

To quote Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes discussing the Most Improved Player award:

"“This award should belong to Curry. The leap from great to historically, sport-alteringly transcendent is a heck of a lot bigger than the one from decent to pretty good.And think about it this way: If you watched McCollum or Crowder in the playoffs last year and imagined their upside in 2015-16, you could have foreseen something like what they ultimately achieved. Never in a million years would you have conceived of Curry, an MVP, getting this much better.The guy set the three-point record last year and topped it by more than 100 this season. More than 100! He transmogrified from man to god, and that seems like it’s worth an award.”"

And just to be clear, Curry did all of this with the same group of guys he had last year. The only difference is he played 1.5 more minutes this season, and his team won six more games. He’s in the same role, plays the same exact position, maybe shot a little bit more, but still the same Curry from the block.

He was just more effective, more efficient, than he was last season, shattering all expectations put on him by the media, by the fans, by his peers. If an award like Most Improved Player is all about exceeding expectations, then there’s no doubt Curry fits that criteria. There are many good players in the NBA. It’s not every day there’s a great player that ends up securing his place in history with two of the best seasons ever.

But even the Warriors lost nine games. Guess you can’t win ’em all.