Ever heard of a racehorse named Twice a Prince?
Ever heard of a young woman from Nevada named Nia Sanchez?
Or how about the poker player Joshua Beckley, who had a whole bunch of TV time in November.
Any of those names ring a bell? Probably not … and you know why?
They all finished second.
Twice a Prince finished a mere 31 lengths behind the legendary Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Sanchez, despite a controversy over whether she qualified for Nevada residency or was a closet Californian, finished second in the 2014 Miss Universe pageant behind Paulina Vega of Columbia. And the unfortunate Mr. Beckley went all in with a pair of 4s when he was heads up with Joe McKeehen (a Sixers fan) at the final table of the 2015 World Series of Poker. McKeehen had A-10, and when a 10 came on the flop, Beckley was toast.
All of this is relevant to this latest edition of the MVP rankings because everyone in the NBA not named Stephen Curry is vying for second place.
Barring a season-ending injury, the most prolific shooter in NBA history is going to win the award unanimously. Yes, that is a mouthful to be saying as we begin the second full week of December with the season only at the quarter pole, but c’mon. What Curry is doing is so off the charts, it actually deserves a chart showing just how much he is dominating the league’s major statistical categories — to say nothing of the undefeated record Golden State brought into Tuesday night’s game at Indiana.
|Curry League Leaders||Number||League Rank|
|Points Per Game||32.4||1|
|Made Field Goals||236||1|
|Offensive Win Shares||4.8||1|
|Win Shares Per 48||.379||1|
|True Shooting %||70.7||1|
|Effective FG %||66.2||2|
|3-Point FG %||47.2||4|
|Steals Per Game||2.2||5|
|Free Throw %||91.2||5|
As noted by Shlomo Sprung in his column quantifing Curry’s quantum leap this season, Curry is on pace to shatter his own record for 3-pointers made in a season (286 last year), and at this rate would break Wilt Chamberlain’s 53-year-old record for single-season PER and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 44-year-old record for win shares per 48 minutes in a season, according to Basketball-Reference. He’s also close to Tyson Chandler’s 2011-2012 record for single-season true shooting percentage and could end up with a top 10 historical season in terms of offensive rating.
Which brings us to back to our theme: silver medal territory. And that is where these rankings will be focused as we move forward, presenting a tricky journalistic challenge that I will attempt to tackle in ways I have not yet had the courage to ponder. (Note to self: Can I somehow squeeze in a reference to Al Gore, who finished second to George Bush in the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election despite winning the popular vote nationally. Or do we really need to get into Electoral College explanations and Supreme Court decisions that included the term “consideration is limited to the present circumstances.”)
Hey, sometimes there is no shame in finishing second. Rondo Rousey is probably going to triple her career earning by virtue of the fact that she finished second in her last prize fight. LeBron James has finished second four times in the NBA Finals, and nobody is disputing his position as the best all-around player in the game.
And even the aforementioned Mr. Beckley took home $4.4 million and change for his runner-up finish at the WSOP. In the end, that latter pair of 4s — the ones with the dollar sign in front of them — will make for a comfortable lifestyle unless Mr. Beckley decides to start making repeated six-figure Money Line bets on the Sixers for the remainder of this season.
So with a nod to those not-so-famous runner-ups from the past, let’s have a look at how I see this season’s race shaping up. Feel free to agree/disagree in the comments section.
1. Stephen Curry, Warriors. The wonder child missed three consecutive free throws in Brooklyn the other night, and his teammates missed another six — all in the first quarter. There was a smattering of applause from the Nets faithful after they closed the first half with a burst, but the crowd was most definitely cheering more for Curry than for the team coached by the soon-to-be-fired Lionel Hollins. Yes, I am going off on a tangent, but does Nets GM Billy King have the cajones to hire a coach who can get his team into the playoffs? My brain says “no.” My gut says “Yes.” And no, that person is not named Luke Walton.
T2. Kawhi Leonard, Spurs. When was the last time the Spurs had an alpha dog? You could say Tim Duncan has been that guy, but a closer inspection reveals that he has always had a player among his supporting cast who has been more than a beta performer. Not since the pre-Duncan days of the franchise, when the Admiral, David Robinson, was their Mr. Everything, have the Spurs relied so much on one player. Leonard is doing it on both ends, and his 50 percent 3-point shooting leads the NBA.
T2. Paul George, Pacers. His numbers and production by themselves are astounding in their own right, but to think that he is doing this on a surgically repaired leg that was bent at a 90 degree angle at his shin .. it just boggles the mind. Columnist Chris Bernucca delved deeper into George’s ascension into an even better player than he was pre-injury, and it is recommended reading. His Pacers are right in the thick of the logjam at the top of the Eastern Conference standings, and he is third in the NBA in scoring with a better 3-point percentage (.454) than Kevin Durant and many others, including Kyle Korver.
4. Russell Westbrook, Thunder. I never thought I would think this thought, but I am starting to come to the belief that he is the most important player on the Oklahoma City roster. Kevin Durant’s numbers are slightly better across the board in scoring, minutes, field goal percentage and FT percentage, but Westbrook is the NBA’s top rebounding guard and is second in the league in assists. Then there is the x-factor: He is as fun to watch as he is insufferable to listen to.
5. LeBron James, Cavs. He is on a three-game losing streak as we go to press, and as I said in the video above, he really doesn’t even belong in the MVP conversation as long as he is the unquestioned leader of an underachieving team. He has set the bar so high in recent seasons, it is almost disappointing to watch him practically go through the motions. But it is December, he is playing without Kyrie Irving, and he will pull things together before it’s all said and done. That is as much of a certainty as Donald Trump being bombastic to the point of revulsion.
Chris Sheridan, publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com, is an official MVP voter. Follow him on Twitter.