With a 3-2 series lead, the Golden State Warriors are on the brink of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy for the first time since Rick Barry graced the hardwood. Of course, LeBron James and the rest of the Cavaliers will have something to say about that as they attempt to force a Game 7 on Friday night. With the series coming to an end either Tuesday night or Friday night, it’s about that time to start getting the Finals MVP ballot situated.
It’s essentially a three-man race between the World’s Best Player in LeBron James (as proclaimed by, well, LeBron James), this year’s regular season MVP Stephen Curry, and super-sub Andre Iguodala. My pick will come at the end, but first, let’s review the case for each of these candidates:
Why LeBron James deserves the MVP
Stats: 36.6 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 8.8 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.6 bpg, 3 tpg, 39.9% FG, 34.4% 3PT, 71.2% FT
When it comes to the NBA awards, the word “valuable” is purposely left for loose interpretation. If you think the Finals MVP should go to the player who was most important to his team’s success, LeBron James should win this award in a landslide. Heck, he IS Cleveland at this point, with an absurd usage rate of 41.3, and an assist rate of 53.3% to go along with his base numbers.
The Cavs’ offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) falls to 54.6 with LeBron on the bench. You want crazy? In the Finals, the Cavs have only made two — TWO! — shots in the half-court with LeBron on the bench. Speaking of the bench, LeBron hasn’t had the luxury of being on the bench for rest; he’s played 228 of 250 minutes in the series so far.
Even beyond the numbers, you can see how much LeBron is needed in order for Cleveland to have any sort of success. He splits duties with Matthew Dellavedova bringing the ball up court, but more often than not LeBron ends up with the ball at the top of the key or at the left elbow, starting an isolation or post possession. If LeBron doesn’t score draw a foul, or kick it out after drawing an extra defender, the Cavs offense gets nothing — unless you’re fine with some Timofey Mozgov postups (which have done fairly well, but play into GSW’s hands by getting the ball out of LeBron’s hands), JR Smith heat checks, and Dellavedova floaters that oddly look like Blake Griffin’s impersonation of Austin Rivers. He’s been used as a ball-distributing battering ram for most of the postseason, but his workload and impact is unlike anything I’ve ever seen to this extent.
Somehow, with no Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love, the Cavs are only two wins away from defeating a 67-win, top-3 offensive AND defensive juggernaut in Golden State. Despite having Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, and Klay Thompson consistently thrown at him with extra help waiting behind them, LeBron is still putting up historic Finals averages — even with the shoddy efficiency. He’s the best player in the world, and has been the best player in the series as well, regardless of how the series turns out.
Why Steph Curry deserves the MVP
Stats: 26.2 ppg, 5.8 apg, 5 rpg, 1.6 spg, 0.2 bpg, 5 tpg, 44.7% FG, 40.7% 3PT, 94.4% FT
This might just be me, but a pretty sizable part of whether I consider a player a superstar or not depends on how they impact games when they’re not lighting it up. I mean, raise your hand if you’ve ever watched a game featuring Kevin Durant or LeBron James, you feel like they haven’t really made an imprint, only to later see they had a “quiet” 27-7-5 or something of the sort.
I’ve watched every second of this Finals, and haven’t felt like Steph Curry has really been Steph until the 4th quarter of Game 5, where he helped close the deal that Andre Iguodala simply couldn’t do from the free throw line (more on him later). Just from the “eye-test” (shout out to Skip Bay- nevermind), it doesn’t feel like Steph has been the dominant offensive force he was in the regular season. There were graphics of Matthew Dellavedova’s defense for a reason; physical play and off-ball defense made it difficult for Steph to break loose. With all that said, Steph is still averaging 26 & 6 while draining 40% of his threes.
The Cavs have thrown the kitchen sink at Steph Curry (and to a lesser extent, Klay Thompson) to avoid being torched by the Human Torch, but it hasn’t really worked. Steph has been trapped in pick-and-rolls, guarded by Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson (oof), and LeBron James in spurts, and it just hasn’t worked.
If it wasn’t clear before, it definitely is now; that man has ascended into superstardom.
LeBron James has been the best player in the series, and Steph Curry has the best numbers for Golden State. But as I mentioned earlier, this is essentially a three-man race. As of right now, I’m currently leaning towards the third candidate — who isn’t the sexy choice at all.
Why Andre Iguodala deserves the MVP
Stats: 14.6 ppg, 6 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.4 bpg, 54.9% FG, 40.7 3PT, 33.3% FT (6-18; 2-11 in Game 5)
If you haven’t closed down the tab, thrown your laptop or smartphone in frustration, or did your best Reggie Miller impersonation (ARE. YOU. KIDDING. ME), allow me to explain why I’m currently leaning towards Iggy.
Again, I know LeBron has been the best player in the series, and superhuman in general. But adding to the natural exhaustion that comes with the workload LeBron has is Andre Iguodala, who has defended LeBron masterfully. Through five games, LeBron has shot 25-70 from the field (35.7% FG) when guarded by Iggy.
LeBron is scoring, but it isn’t without a whole lot of energy being expended thanks in large part to Iguodala’s aggressiveness, constantly swiping at the ball as LeBron tries to chew up valuable clock to slow the game down. Despite giving up two inches and nearly 40 pounds, Iguodala has fought hard in the post, absorbing contact when backed down or when LeBron drives to the basket, doing a great job baiting LeBron into, and smartly contesting perimeter shots. There’s a reason that, via SportVU, LeBron has only taken 20 shots defined as wide open (closest defender six feet or further away) in the series.
On the offensive end, Iguodala has done his best to make Cleveland pay with their attention being focused more on limiting the Splash Brothers. Cleveland has dared him to shoot, and he’s responded by making nearly 41% of his threes. He’s made countless plays as a cutter, either converting at the basket or making beautiful passes for the dime (behind-the-back bounce pass anyone?) or to keep the Warriors machine moving in search for a better shot.
Iguodala, a Finals high +48, has been the constant for Golden State’s series lead. He’s been their most consistent player on both ends on the floor, even if his per-game numbers scream “Kawhi Leonard!” — much to the chagrin of LeBron fans who witnessed him win Finals MVP last year.
So no, I’m not arguing Iguodala is the best player in the series like LeBron is — even though he’s done a great job guarding him. If you’re against giving LeBron the award in the event the Cavs lose the series, Iggy will have the edge anyway.
No, I don’t think Iguodala is better, nor does he have better numbers than his teammate Stephen Curry. However, in terms of his two-way impact and consistency throughout the series, Iguodala has Curry beat considering his “slow” start to the series. Iguodala started and capped many Golden State runs off the bench, and Kerr’s decision to start Iguodala over Andrew Bogut the last two games has helped Golden State push the tempo a bit, which further helped Steph Curry get into his rhythm.
A lot can change in Game 6, and potentially Game 7. As it stands right now, Andre Iguodala is my Finals MVP.
In other words, I say we all #GetIggyWithIt.