Stephen Curry is the most improved most valuable player.
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And he has the Golden State Warriors playing like the most improved NBA champion.
Warriors center Andrew Bogut says Curry, the league MVP last season, could be in consideration for the league’s most improved player award this season. And he wasn’t joking.
Against the Nets on Sunday night, Curry again showed why he just might be the perfect player (with an almost unstoppable handle and prolific touch) in the perfect system (an up-tempo offense predicated on ball movement) on the perfect team (which improved to 22-0).
“When he’s rolling,” Warriors interim coach Luke Walton said before the game, “there’s not much defenses can do to stop him.”
That was the case in the third quarter Sunday night as Curry scored 16 of his 28 points to propel the Warriors to a 114-98 win over the Nets. Curry finished 11-for-19 from the floor. He hit five of his nine three-point attempts. On one, Shane Larkin unwisely went under a screen, Thaddeus Young failed to switch and Curry didn’t hesitate to launch from about 30 feet.
“When he needed to, he stepped up and put the dagger in us,” Nets coach Lionel Hollins said. “He’s a great player.”
Coming off a season in which he hit an NBA-record 286 three-pointers, Curry already has made 116 threes this season (an average of 5.3 per game) with 60 games to play. The entire Nets team has 93. At his current pace, Curry will wind up with 434.
“If I shoot it in the moment, I think it’s a good shot and I have confidence, and I expect to make it,” Curry said. “So that’s the approach I have every time I shoot. And I’ll live with the results whether I miss and Coach shakes his head or I make it and everybody claps for me.”
There was a lot of clapping for him Sunday night in Brooklyn.
Curry has turned pregame warmups into a batting practice-like spectacle, with fans showing up early to watch his dribbling and shooting routine.
The show carried into the game as Curry delighted the crowd with his quick release threes, his high-arching alley-oop lob to Festus Ezeli, and his maneuverability through the narrowest of spaces to finish acrobatically at the rim.
“I have great imagination on the floor, whether it is my shot or trying to get other guys involved, or with my ballhandling,” Curry said. “I am not the fastest guy. To be able to blow by somebody, I have to be deceptive and find different ways to make it happen . . . So creativity and imagination, seeing the play before it happens, is kind of something I rely on.”
The Warriors’ winning streak lives on, but Curry’s streak of games with at least 40 points ended at two as he hardly played in the fourth quarter.
On Saturday in Toronto, he made nine three-pointers and had 44 points, his seventh game this season with at least 40. On Wednesday in Charlotte, he scored 28 of his 40 points in the third quarter, spoiling (at least for the Hornets) a night in which Curry’s father, former Hornets guard Dell Curry, was honored by the team.
He entered Sunday night’s game leading the league in scoring at 32.6 points per game, up from 23.8 last season. His three-point percentage has increased from 44.3 percent last season to 46.8 percent this season.
“He’s the MVP of the league; he’s got a lot of freedom,” Walton said of Curry’s three-point shooting volume. “When you shoot the ball as well as he does, none of those are bad shots . . . defenses have to put two guys on him 25 feet from the basket, it allows our other guys to get open looks and driving lanes. It’s not like we went to Steph and told him to shoot more threes. He’s just gotten better and he’s choosing to do that.”
As the league’s most valuable player somehow becomes one of its most improved.