In what has become an annual tradition, ESPN reporter Tim Bontemps conducted a straw poll of 100 media members from around the country to get a sense of the standings for league MVP roughly 30% of the way through the season. The results, tabulated between December 3-6, were not close.
Curry led the way with in a lopsided count with a staggering 94 first place votes, making him far and away the favorite through 25 games. He is second in the NBA in scoring at an average of 27.5 points per game, according to Basketball Reference, and has a legitimate chance to finish the year at the elite 50-40-90 mark — 50% shooting from the field, 40% from the 3-point line and 90% from the foul line.
Curry has also dished out 6.3 assists per night to go along with 5.5 rebounds and 1.7 steals, the latter of which is good for 10th place in the league. Curry’s defense in general is at an entirely new level this season, as the Dubs’ point guard is third among active players with a defensive rating of 100.1, per StatMuse.
Beyond all of that, the Warriors currently reside alone atop the NBA standings with a win/loss record of 21-4, despite being without five-time All-Star shooting guard Klay Thompson and second-year big man James Wiseman for the entire season to this point.
Should Curry win his third MVP, he will be the third-oldest player ever to do so at the age of 34 (Curry turns 34 in March 2022, before voting is finalized). Karl Malone, of the Utah Jazz, was 35 years old when he won in 1999. Michael Jordan, of the Chicago Bulls, was also 35 when he claimed his sixth, and final, MVP award in 1998.
Curry won the honor in back-to-back seasons (2014-15, 2015-16) at the ages of 28 and 29, respectively.
Hard Case for Anything but Second Place
When laid out brick by brick, it is hard to see how any player can make a case above Curry. Though, if there was one who could, it would be former MVP and current Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant. He has one the award once in his career, back in 2013-14.
Durant leads the league in scoring at 28.4 points per game on nearly 53% shooting from the field, nearly 38% shooting from deep and just over 87% shooting from the free-throw line, according to Basketball Reference. Durant is also grabbing 7.7 rebounds each night and dishing out 5.4 assists, while averaging 0.7 blocks and 0.7 steals per game.
Much the same as Curry, Durant has carried his team all season. Nets guard Kyrie Irving remains sidelined more or less by choice, refusing to comply with the NBA’s virus protocol. Fellow former MVP and Nets teammate James Harden has also been less than his expected self this season. That is due in part to a lingering hamstring injury that appears to have rendered Harden more tentative and less mobile in the early going, as well as NBA rule changes this season making it harder for him to draw fouls and maximize his points per game value at the free-throw line.
As a result, Durant has shouldered the burden through 25 games, and done so quite effectively. The Nets led the Eastern Conference with a record of 17-8 heading into a nationally televised Friday night showdown on the road against the Atlanta Hawks.
The Rest of the NBA Field
Based on the point system Bontemps employed in an effort to make the mock MVP vote as accurate as possible, Curry found himself in first place with a total of 978 points and 94 first-place votes. Durant was second with 610 points and two first-place votes. Coming in third was Giannis Antetokounmpo with 471 points and three first-place votes.
The only other player to earn a first-place nod was reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, of the Denver Nuggets. He finished the straw poll in fourth place with 256 points. Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul finished fifth with 160 points but did not come in first on a single ballot.
The ballot Bontemps sent out to voters included a ranking system of 1-5, assigning a certain number of points for each vote each player got in each slot. Other players who received points for landing somewhere in several voters’ top-five lists included the Bulls DeMar DeRozan, the Suns Devon Booker and Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler, among several others.
James has averaged 25.5 points, 6.9 assists, 5.9 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 0.7 blocks per game on the year, according to Basketball Reference. However, he has also missed almost half the season, playing in 14 of a possible 26 games to date. The Lakers are currently in sixth place in the Western Conference with a record of 13-13, just one spot out of the NBA’s postseason play-in tournament, of which Los Angeles was also a part last year.