By Kelly Scaletta

Stephen Curry is back, and my oh my is he on fire, reminding us of why he was the only unanimous MVP in the history of the league.

In the five games since he returned, his number are ridiculous. He’s averaging 35.2 points per game, shooting 57.4 percent from the field, 53.2 percent from deep, 89.7 percent from the stripe. He’s averaging 5.6 boards, 5.6 dimes and 1.4 steals. His true shooting percentage is an lol-worthy 79.2. His effective field-goal percentage is 75.0.

The Golden State Warriors offensive rating is 166.9 with him on the court in those games. Their defensive rating is plus-18.2. Without him, it’s minus-10.1. On the season, the Dubs net rating is 11.4 points better than it is without him. By comparison, they’re only 0.8 points better with Durant than without him.

The last month has given us the chance to see the Warriors without Curry and without Durant. While the Dubs got the Ws, going 7-2 without Curry, the Curry-minus-Durant version seems even better. Since Curry returned (with Durant out for three of the five games), the Warriors have topped 120 points all five games–a total they didn’t reach one time during Curry’s absence.

It is the only time since 1993 that a team has notched 120 points in five straight games. The other two times were both helmed by Curry in 2016.

You can make the argument Kevin Durant is the “better” player based on his defense and rebounding. But Curry is the more impactful player. His very presence alters defenses, even when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, and certainly when he does have the ball in his hands.

The Warriors with Curry and without Durant are better than they are with Durant and without Curry, and that’s really saying something considering how good they are with Durant and without Curry. But in that vein, Curry has made a clear case as being the Warriors’ MVP and that is moving him closer to the pole position for his third award.

1. James Harden still leads the NBA in Win Shares and Real Plus-Minus wins, in spite of being out. If he’s gone for two weeks, he can probably hold onto this top spot. If he is out for four, there will be some slippage. In some ways, though, his absence is helping his case. The Rockets offensive rating (which led the NBA with Harden running the show) is only 14th since he went down.

2. Stephen Curry (see above)

3. LeBron James is clearly the best player on the Cavs and still capable of being the best player in the world. Averaging 27.2 points 9.0 assists and 8.2 rebounds at 33 years old is just insane. On the other hand, the Cavaliers’ defense really sucks. I don’t mean they’re struggling. I mean they’re outright puke-eating awful, and LeBron has to own some of that.

4. Kyrie Irving’s numbers are slowly getting better. He’s up to 24.1 points per game and 5.0 assists on the season. Those still aren’t great for an MVP but they’re getting closer, and the Celtics are the top seed in the East right now. So, Irving getting those non-first-place votes seems like a real possibility. He’s good enough to finish in the top five, but not enough to win.

5. Jimmy Butler is LeBron James regular season father. The Timberwolves are also closing in on the San Antonio Spurs for the No. 3 seed as the offense increasingly runs through Jimmy and the improving defense is anchored by him.

6. DeMar DeRozan’s scoring is down two points, but his effective field-goal percentage is up 4.1 percentage points and he’s averaging a career-high 5.0 assists as he proves his adjustment to the “culture change” is for real.

7. Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 28.7 points, 10.2 boards and 4.7 assists per game with a 62.1 true shooting percentage. The complete list of players to go for 25/10/4 splits on 60 percent true shooting includes only Charles Barkley (x2) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, according to Basketball-Reference.com. Also, I owe the entire basketball world an apology for brain-farting and leaving him off last week’s list. Unfortunately, the Bucks’ team success prevents him from being higher on the list.

Honorable mention (and why they’re not higher): Kevin Durant (Curry), LaMarcus Aldridge (numbers aren’t there), Russell Westbrook (team isn’t good enough).  

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Kelly Scaletta

Kelly Scaletta writes for Vantage Sports, Bleacher Report and BBALLBREAKDOWN. He has the crazy notion that watching games and understanding stats are not mutually exclusive.

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