It has been the Summer of Steph, with Stephen Curry leading the unofficial NBA clicks counter (non-Cavaliers drama category) by doing everything from besting a few professional golfers at their own sport to vanquishing inflatable defenders in a version of basketball. We saw him lead a contingent of Golden State Warriors onstage to pick up an ESPY and watched him imitating LeBron James' dance moves at a wedding. The only place Curry hasn't shown up is in the chatter regarding next season's most valuable player contenders.
Curry didn't crack the top six in ESPN's Summer Forecast MVP rankings, falling behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard, among others. This category carries more weight than most predictions because actual MVP voters are among those surveyed. It's a peek into the mindset of those who will determine the award. When you factor in Curry's sixth-place finish in the 2016-17 MVP results, it's becoming clear that he's no longer considered one of the very best players in the league. Keep in mind he's coming off an NBA Finals in which he averaged 27 points, nine assists and eight rebounds per game.
Curry is in an unusual paradox: His status is both rising and falling. He had the top-selling NBA jersey for the second straight season, while Warriors games were the most-watched national TV broadcasts in the league, attracting an average of 2.8 million viewers. And yet he went from earning all 131 first-place votes in the 2016 MVP balloting (the first unanimous winner) to getting no first-place votes in 2017 -- even though his scoring average was higher than it was during his initial MVP season (2014-15).
Most valuable player is a narrative-driven award, and it's easier to remain the best player than it is to be the best story. Just ask LeBron James, who posted the highest rebounding and assist averages of his illustrious career last season and still didn't finish among the top three in the 2016-17 MVP race.
LeBron reached some new statistical heights, but he didn't push boundaries. That's what voters want to see. Breakouts and breakthroughs.
There's no new territory for Curry to explore. He built a lunar colony during the Warriors' historic 73-win season in 2015-16, attempting 886 3-pointers and sinking 402. No one had even tried 700 or made 300 before that.
Not only did he come back to orbit Earth in 2016-17, he found the space a lot more crowded. Curry was the only player to get up more than 600 3-point shots per season from 2012-13 to 2014-15. Last season, an unprecedented six players shot 600-plus 3-pointers.
There also seems to be a one-year punishment imposed on superteams. Again, check with LeBron, who finished behind Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard in MVP voting in 2010-11, his first season with the Miami Heat, even though he averaged 27-7-7. James bounced back and won the 2012 and 2013 MVP awards while playing in Miami.
Kevin Durant joined the Warriors this past season and didn't get much MVP consideration (two fifth-place votes), even though it became evident early on that Durant was a necessity rather than a luxury. Curry paid a price, too, as evidenced by his ramped-up effort during Durant's injury absence: He improved from 24.8 points on 47 percent shooting (40 percent 3-point shooting) and 6.3 assists before Durant was injured in the 61st game to 26.7 points on 47 percent shooting (43 percent 3s) and 7.6 assists after the injury.
Curry's plus/minus remained almost the same with and without Durant: 12.9 to 12.8. That was the highest in the league. Plus/minus is a messy stat that doesn't account for many variables. Still, there's something to the fact that no player enjoyed a higher point differential than Curry, regardless of whether Durant was on the floor.
Durant appears to be off probation now and is the preseason MVP favorite, according to the ESPN Summer Forecast. We'll see whether James Harden takes his place on the punishment list now that the Houston Rockets have added Chris Paul.
Curry appears destined to remain in the "others receiving votes" pile. The storyline spotlight has moved elsewhere, even if he still commands the full attention of defenses.