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Steph Curry Trails Shaun Livingston In The NBA Finals MVP Race

After beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 on Friday night, the Golden State Warriors are one win away from their second consecutive NBA championship. Moreover, regular-season MVP Stephen Curry finally had a big game, going seven for 13 on 3-pointers and scoring 38 points. In a series with few breakout performances, this may be enough to regain Curry the inside lane on the Finals MVP should the Warriors win in the days ahead.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I think Curry is the most valuable player on the Warriors, and would be no matter what. But if there’s going to be a silly award for contributing “value” over a small number of games — and we’re willing to give that award to the Andre Iguodalas of the sport when they step up — Curry’s uneven performance so far still puts him in a pretty sizable hole, especially relative to his backup, Shaun Livingston.

Granted, Livingston has averaged 10 points per game (compared with Curry’s 21.5), but he has done it on 16 of 25 shots, for an effective field goal percentage of 64 percent (the highest on the Warriors of anyone with more than 20 shots).

More importantly, in his 89 minutes of play (Curry has 131), Livingston has also been an extremely effective defender, with his opponents’ effective shooting coming in at a team-low 28 percent.

Livingston has been involved in fewer plays than many of his teammates, but his per-play contribution has more than made up for that deficit. Using qSI (amount scored above/below expectation for each shot) for shots taken and defended, we can sum up the total number of points added by each player on each side of the ball:

morris-finalsmvp-2

For all of his supposed offensive woes, Curry has a slight edge on total offensive contribution. But Steph has had an abnormally poor defensive outing. Thus, on a combined points-contributed basis, we can see that Livingston pretty much dwarfs the competition as it stands, having contributed 24.1 points to Steph’s 4.3 and Klay Thompson’s 3.5. Here’s a table with the combined points added for all the Warriors players who have averaged 15-plus minutes in the series, as well as their plus/minuses (from ESPN) and WPAs (per inPredict):

SHOOTER +/- WPA COMBINED POINTS ADDED
Shaun Livingston +31 +17% +24.1
Stephen Curry +12 -1% +4.3
Klay Thompson +11 +10% +3.5
Andre Iguodala +54 +19% +3.2
Draymond Green +36 +11% +1.6
Harrison Barnes 0 +18% -2.3
Who’s done the most for the Warriors?

Warriors averaging at least 15+ minutes per Finals game.

Source: NBA PLAYER-TRACKING DATA, espn, Inpredictable

Iguodala leads in plus/minus, and is the choice of some to repeat as MVP. But Livingston holds his own in those much more volatile stats while dominating the tracking metrics. And Curry trails across the board.

Of course, the player-tracking doesn’t capture all value contributed, nor does MVP voting hew perfectly to value. If Curry puts up big numbers in a Game 5 victory, he will almost certainly win the award; the same may be true of virtually anyone with the race seeming so wide open. But at this moment, the balance of evidence suggests that Curry’s mid-range-shooting backup has been the most on fire so far.

Benjamin Morris researches and writes about sports and other topics for FiveThirtyEight.

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