With the NBA All-Star game approaching in roughly two weeks, it’s time to start evaluating the league’s best and the awards that they will receive.
Most notably, considerations for high honors will likely come from the teams who currently hold the best records: the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs. Right now, it’s rather easy to place dynamo guard, Steph Curry of the Warriors at the top of the MVP race. As the best player with the top record in the NBA, and the Western Conference, at 43-4, he’s the surest bet in the association. But what about the Most Improved player race? In comparison to last year, Curry’s points per game (ppg) average has gone up about six points from 23.8 to 29.7 ppg so far this year placing him as the frontrunner for the scoring title. His field goal percentage has bumped up to 51% so far this year, which is more than a 2% increase from his 48.7% field goal percentage of last year. It may not seem like a big deal, but for someone to launch jumpers from further than 30-feet out and maintain that percentage through more than half the season is an award-worthy feat in itself.
On the other hand, his toughest competition may come from Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, who has been voted in by the fans for his first All-Star Game appearance. On top of that, he’s leading the defending champions in ppg and steals at 20 a game and nearly 2 per game respectively. All this has contributed to the Spurs having the second best record in the league of 39-8, which is second best in the west and has them title-chasers while comfortably navigating under the radar as they normally do.
But one place Leonard can get some brownie points against Curry is in the Player Efficiency Rating (PER) category, which he was beating out curry at one point this season. At the moment, Leonard has his work cut out since he has some ground to gain with a PER of 25.72, while Curry is leading the league with a 32.49 PER. But to place in context, Leonard is 5th place to Curry’s first place, which could drastically change with a few triple-doubles, which Leonard is definitely capable of, or a few poor shooting nights from Steph.
To elaborate on the PER, ESPN’s John Hollinger developed the formula-based system using a per-minute and pace adjusted formula that evaluates a players positive contributions such as field goals made, free throws made, three-pointers made, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, and other positive contributions of an NBA player to his team that can be tracked quantitively. These contributions are placed against negative contributions such as missed shots, turnovers, personal fouls, and other categories that effect a team’s and player’s output.
But where Leonard always has a gold star in my book is when he made King James drop the F-bomb after checking back into a game during the 2013 NBA finals. That has to count for something since there appears to not be similar reaction on record for Curry!
Do you think either has the opportunity to snatch the Most Improved Player award from Reggie Jackson, C.J. McCollum, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, Noel and others, despite the exceptional skillset they already have?