With game one of the NBA Finals tonight, could it potentially determine who is officially the league’s best player?
By Chip Murphy
LeBron James and Stephen Curry can deny it all they want. The 2016 NBA Finals is all about them. The success of Curry’s Golden State Warriors and James’ Cleveland Cavaliers depends on which of them is the better player during the series.
Curry has won back-to-back Most Valuable Player Awards inciting a debate as to whether he has surpassed James as the NBA’s best player.
It’s hard to imagine considering someone better at basketball than LeBron James right? When it’s all said and done he should be on every NBA fan’s Mount Rushmore.
Well no one is saying that Stephen Curry is a better player, just that maybe he’s the better one right now.
It’s a perfect narrative. The two players couldn’t be more different.
Curry is a science experiment on which we are yet to scratch the surface. He’s an analytical darling who symbolizes vast controversial change in the sport.
James is a warrior who wreaks havoc on his opponents in every possible way. His game is old school and that won’t change.
Over 55 percent of Curry’s FGAs during the playoffs have been three-pointers.
James has rarely strayed from the paint, with most than half of his shots coming from inside the restricted area.
For the sixth straight season LeBron has mastered the Eastern Conference and gone to the NBA Finals. Once again he did it with little difficulty too.
James dominated the plebeian Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks, and Toronto Raptors en route to statistical dominance.
The King is in the top ten during the playoffs in points, assists, and steals, while leading in PER and win shares. If you really want evidence of James’ greatness, look no further than Channing Frye’s magical playoff run.
According to Basketball-Reference.com, James has shared the court with Frye for over 150 minutes producing incredible numbers for the stretch big man.
In 13 games, Frye has made a stunning 57.8 percent of his three-point shots and leads the entire NBA in offensive rating with a staggering 148.5 points produced per 100 possessions.
As great as he has been on offense, James has been just as impressive on defense. He’s lowered opponent’s field goal percentages by a stagerring -12.7%, and an even better -22.4% on shots within six feet of the rim (via NBA stats).
Even the staunchest of LeBron haters can’t ignore his value to the Cavs during the playoffs. He’s leading the team in minutes and alternating back and forth between each forward position.
The team is almost plus 20 points per 100 possession with him on the court, and conversely minus 4.7 without him.
Now that we’re mentioning value we might as well talk about Curry. As great as the Warriors are, they can barely breathe without their superstar.
When their point guard’s not on the court the Warriors falter.
During the playoffs, the Warriors are plus 7.4 points per 100 possessions with Curry on the court. His net rating is plus 11.7 points per 100 possessions, meaning the Warriors are minus 4.3 points per 100 possessions when Curry isn’t in the game.
Curry’s 2015-16 campaign was arguably the best shooting season by any player in NBA history.
Curry was the first player to make over 400 three-pointers in a season, 402 breaking his own record of 286 from 2014-15.
At the conclusion of the regular season he became just the seventh player to join the 50-40-90 club, shooting 50.4 percent from the field, 45.4 percent from three-point range, and 90.8 percent from the free throw line.
A sprained MCL in the playoffs hasn’t slowed him down. Curry is leading the Warriors in points and player efficiency rating.
With plenty of help from backcourt mate Klay Thompson, Curry has brought the Warriors to the Finals for the second straight season.
The result of this epic finals rematch will inevitably determine which star is the league’s best player going into 2016-17.
Can LeBron reaffirm his status as the league’s top dog by bringing a championship to the city of Cleveland? Or will Curry push the King aside and finish off this historic season with a second straight championship?
James nearly downed Curry and the mighty Warriors last year all by himself. He put up an MVP performance in defeat, averaging almost a triple double for the series. This time James’ Cavs will be at full strength.
It may not matter though as Curry’s Warriors are riding the emotional high of their epic series comeback against the Thunder.
If Curry remains healthy (as he clearly is right now) and the Warriors execute it’s hard to imagine them losing.
On the flip side, the defending champs have shown that they can be beaten.
For the first time we really saw a chink in the armor against the Thunder. In Golden State’s three loses they shot a combined 32.6 percent from three-point range, and 44.1 percent in the four victories.
So the recipe for victory is to stop the greatest jump shooting team of all team from making jump shots. Well if anyone can pull his team together to do it, it’s LeBron.