Steph Curry doubles up, defies expectations during MVP season

Now that Stephen Curry has won his second straight MVP, now that he is firmly ensconced in the pantheon of great American sports celebrities, it's easy to forget just how unexpected this all was.

It's a development so unexpected, it was initially outright rejected.

The 2014-15 season gave the NBA world a shock. Suddenly, the fairly good Warriors became great, led by a man who looked like a teenager. He danced farther and farther away from the basket in a game in which the primary goal has forever been getting to the rim.

"Steph Curry wasn't just novel. He was different in a way that couldn't be stopped. He wasn't a force to be reckoned with. He was a force that couldn't be reckoned with."

To some, the revolution smacked of novelty. This was an aberration, it was "lucky," and it couldn't possibly continue. Curry was never feted for superstardom, so therefore the 2015 MVP had to be his high-water mark. After that, it was time for him to step aside and cede the mantle to an ascendant athletic freak such as Anthony Davis, or back to a standard-bearer such as LeBron James.

That's probably why Curry finished fifth in MVP projections, tied with Russell Westbrook, in the NBA's preseason GM poll. It was the weakest projection for anyone coming off an MVP season in the history of that poll. In ESPN.com's own NBA Forecast, Curry also finished fifth, behind James, Davis, James Harden and Kevin Durant.

"You know everything is always a year or two out," Warriors forward Draymond Green said back in October. "After one year, everybody's not just going to change and say, 'Steph Curry's the best player in the league.' It's just not how it usually goes."

People around the league didn't trust what had just happened, which might have something to do with why players voted Harden as their MVP in July 2015, despite Curry's lead in advanced stats and Golden State's superior season.

It wasn't expected that Curry would validate his great 2014-15 season with a monster 2015-16 performance, even when he burst out of the gate in the preseason, looking a step faster when going at half speed. The gimmick wasn't going away. It had merely been sharpened into a deadlier device.

If hitting 286 3-pointers last season seemed silly, his 402 3-pointers this season seemed unfair. If 67 wins had been surprising, 73 spoke to a more fearsome, enduring command of the league. Steph Curry wasn't just novel. He was different in a way that couldn't be stopped. He wasn't a force to be reckoned with. He was a force that couldn't be reckoned with.

Like Green told him at the start of the season: "Man, you acting like this your league."

And he was gaining converts every game. Ironically, the very thing that caused people to discount Curry sparked his burgeoning popularity. His youthful appearance resonated with kids, who started swarming to road arenas during Golden State's 24-0 start. Curry's pregame practice routine became an event, with thousands showing up just to watch a real-life myth shoot over invisible foes. This is the season when Curry's peach-fuzzed visage became the face of the league.

One play back on Jan. 18, immortalized on Vine, symbolized how the basketball zeitgeist had transferred. James began by leveraging his strength in a post-up on Andre Iguodala. Out of nowhere, Curry whipped past, swiping the ball and running with it as James' face registered a mournful recognition.

Like that particular steal, Curry seized this award and ran with it. Long after he'd sewn up the achievement, he added some emphasis with a February road trip unlike any the NBA had ever seen. Right after the All-Star break, over a seven-game journey, Curry averaged 36.4 points in 33.6 minutes, with 6.9 made 3-pointers per game. He shot 56.1 percent from the field and, implausibly, 56.5 percent from deep. After the Warriors initially stumbled in the first game of the trip, Curry just wouldn't let them lose the remaining six. Against the Magic in Orlando, he scored 51 points, including a half-court shot, which has become an oddly routine kind of thrill.

Two nights later, in Oklahoma City, Curry delivered a crescendo of incredible highlights that ended with a bang (or, by Mike Breen's call, a "Bang! Bang!"). His 46 points were capped by a 37-foot game winner that Curry eased into, as though that was the plan all along.

The NBA at large might not have expected this phenomenon, but now it misses it. We await the return of the man who defined this season, as he recovers from a knee sprain that momentarily threatened to end Golden State's saga. If he comes back from that fall, in fine form, and leads the Warriors to another championship, this season might not just be surprising, or even unprecedented. It could be the best.