Word often leaks of the NBA's MVP winner in the first week of May, with the final result often a foregone conclusion. The 2015-2016 winner of the Maurice Podoloff Trophy will again come as little surprise, but there is some intrigue as to the number of first-place votes the winner will get from the roughly 130 sportswriters and broadcasters.
Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors have taken a massive blue, gold, and white eraser to the NBA’s record books this season, prompting whispers that the 28-year-old point guard and league-leading scorer will become the first unanimously chosen MVP. Behind Curry’s career-best 30.1 points per game, on top of a record-busting 402 three-pointers, the Warriors set a new single-season bench mark of 73 regular season victories and the reigning NBA champions appear poised to claim back-to-back titles.
Every category and indication seems to make Curry a shoe-in for MVP for the second-straight season and the first ever unanimous selection, but history and a number of other worthy candidates suggest otherwise.
After Curry, the list of MVP candidates is rather long. There’s four-time winner LeBron James, who lifted the Cleveland Cavaliers atop the Eastern Conference as they appear headed for the NBA Finals for a second-straight time. James’ numbers were once again stellar: 25.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, 6.8 assists and a 52.0 percent field-goal percentage.
Then there’s San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, who already picked up his second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year award and helped the Spurs post a largely unheralded 67-win season with his career-best 21.2 points a contest. Going a little deeper, Leonard should be credited for ushering San Antonio out of the Tim Duncan-Tony Parker Era and into a brand new one that could dominate the league for another decade.
Curry, James, and Leonard, along with Oklahoma City Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, each have cases for league MVP. Couple their respective accomplishments with MVP voting history, and it seems unlikely Curry will sweep every ballot.
When James claimed his fourth MVP in 2013 with the Miami Heat, he came one vote shy of a unanimous selection despite helping Miami claim 62 wins. And back when Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal won the only MVP of his career in 2000, he came up one vote shy, as Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson earned a vote. Sports anchor Fred Hickman famously denied O'Neal the title of "unanimous MVP" with Hickman later recounting receiving death threats for his subjective reasoning of defining a player's value.
The debate of "most valuable" is expected to come again in a matter of days, and Curry will remain in good company if he is prevented from receiving a unanimous selection.
Perhaps the most blatant reason why Curry is a long shot to get every MVP vote goes back 20 years. The 72-win Chicago Bulls squad, led by six-time MVP Michael Jordan, was the talk of the 1995-1996 season as they successfully broke the Lakers' long-coveted 69-win record from 1971-1972. Still, Jordan came up four votes shy of an MVP sweep. If the sports media was willing to deny Jordan, it's hard to believe they won't pay Curry the same courtesy.
Curry, who collected 100 of the 130 votes last year, will certainly receive the honor again this year. But the sharpshooter can expect James and Leonard to siphon off some votes to keep the title of "unanimous MVP" still unclaimed.