OAKLAND, Calif. -- Stephen Curry has won MVP because he unleashed a season that was dominant and, well, fun. The latter part is generally accepted -- Curry's style of play is as close as we can get to "objectively fun." The first part -- that dominance -- is still seeping into the public consciousness. It just doesn't make intuitive sense that someone that height (6-foot-3) and that slight build (190 pounds) can impose his will on the NBA.
And yet, Curry did it this season. He averaged fewer than 33 minutes per game and the Warriors outscored opponents by a whopping 920 points in his total floor time. While it's easy to say that stat redounds to having talented teammates, those teammates didn't perform nearly so well when Curry sat. (For example, the Warriors outscored opponents by 144 fewer points in fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson's floor time.)
Those who watched Golden State saw Curry's incredible impact. Opponents were forced to cope with guarding a player who could quickly, accurately score from anywhere inside 35 feet -- an area comparable to the square footage of most houses. On more than most nights, it broke those defenses. Maintaining such vigilance just isn't realistic. Either you slip and let Curry loose, or your defense fractures from the pressure of keeping him contained. Teams tried everything this season. They double-teamed Curry 40 feet from the basket, pressured him full court, switched their big men onto him above the arc, and it wasn't unusual to see him triple-teamed in transition. There was a raw, palpable fear to how these teams scrambled to evade Vine infamy.
MVP debates of the "if you take this guy off his team" variety could obscure how there has never been anyone quite like this in basketball. He's truly sui generis. Specifically, Curry's is a kind of dominance that's new because it's defined by the 3-pointer. Two-time MVP Steve Nash was potent behind the arc, but didn't leverage that threat to this staggering degree. Nash would shoot when open. Curry does the same thing, if only we defined "open" by one's ability to breathe air. The most astounding stretch came after the All-Star break, a period of time where Curry made 125 3-pointers in just 29 games. He did it while hitting 51.7 percent of his attempts.
That inexorable efficiency and the double teams it draws echoes the impact of another MVP, Curry's opposite in terms of body type. Curry doesn't boast the ultra physical version of dominance we associated with Shaquille O'Neal's tendency to cave in defenses, but his is dominance nonetheless. Shaq bashed defenses till they broke. Steph stretches defenses till they snap.
The double teams don't necessarily solve the problem for these foes. That extra attention is leverage, options for how to get points for everyone. Curry isn't just arguably the best shooter we've ever seen. He's nearly as good a passer, blessed with a high-level recall of where everyone should be on a play.
That improbable combination, augmented by improved defense this season, got Curry to a level few envisioned years ago. Curry himself is probably an exception to that lack of foresight, though. He's maintained that he saw something like this for himself, even back when he was an under-recruited high schooler.
"Confidence," is a word Curry uses frequently. He's a big believer in belief, as evidenced by shoes that read "Charged by belief" and "I can do all things." Curry hasn't quite done all things yet, but he has done a lot to make believers out of many who mistook his appearance for insurmountable weakness.
Of the nicknames bestowed, Curry's always stated a preference for "Baby Faced Assassin," a man whose looks belie his lethality. His ascent illustrates how we're now in an era where the seemingly harmless can be devastatingly potent. The 3-pointer, once a novelty, has become a necessity. It's an evolution that slightly levels a playing field once dictated by size.
Perhaps this outcome was inevitable. Once they created an area that counted for an extra point, it was only a matter of time before a guard mastered it like the big men of yore commanded the paint. The difference between the kinds of mastery is that the 3-pointer has a broader resonance. Not many kids can invest their hopes in becoming the next Shaq. Many kids can draw inspiration from Stephen Curry. Few can dunk, almost all can throw up a shot.
As Curry's exploits inspire future basketball players, the NBA tries to keep pace. The league shoots more 3s every season -- this season, again, saw more 3s than ever before. It only makes sense that its MVP just broke a made 3-pointer record that he had previously set. Curry as most valuable player conveys how 2014-2015 is the season when 3-pointers took center stage. And this evolution means guards now boast the dominant impact centers once claimed.