After another stellar season in yet another city the 36-year old point guard has seemingly been dismissed in MVP talks when, in reality, he should be running away with the trophy
Chris Paul was traded to the Phoenix Suns with the hopes of getting the franchise out of a decade-long playoff slump and solidifying the culture change that has been growing over the past few years. After 71 games with Paul on the team, it’s obvious the trade was well-worth everything the Suns gave up because not only are they completely healthy entering the playoffs with a home-court advantage but they are feared by almost everyone.
Now that the season is coming to a close and the Suns carry the second-best record in the entire NBA it is glaringly evident that Paul’s addition alongside All-Star Devin Booker and a rising star in Deandre Ayton is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
After the Suns’ ecstatic 8-0 bubble performance last year it was obvious that they were just one or two pieces away from truly making a playoff run and putting the memories of 19 and 21-win seasons in the past, and when CP3 came to town it was clear almost immediately that he was the missing puzzle piece.
So why is Paul, who was nominated to his 11th All-Star game this season, getting such little buzz when the MVP talks arise? Obviously, Nikola Jokic has played out of his mind this season, leading his team in points (26.4), rebounds (10.9), assists (8.4), and steals (1.3) per game, but his team–which reached the 2020 Western Conference Finals–was not 26-39 going into the bubble last season, nor was his team dismantled and rebuilt year-after-year like the Suns have been since 2016.
And sure Joel Embiid (28.5 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 1.4 bpg) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (28.4, 11, 1.2) are in the conversation but their stats come with asterisks like their missed games totals (Giannis – 10, Embiid — 20) and their stellar defensive teammates Ben Simmons and Jrue Holiday (both averaging 1.6 steals/game) helping demolish teams early and keep them trailing.
Paul has done nothing but improve the culture, boost an increasingly dangerous offense, and bring the Suns to a #2 ranking in the playoffs (only 1.5 games behind Utah for #1), all while playing every game (other than the one missed for Kobe’s memorial) and averaging over 31 minutes at the ripe age of 36–over 9 years older than the top three MVP candidates.
This is also not the first time he has influenced a team like this. Just last season the Oklahoma City Thunder traded for him while they were collectively tanking as a franchise and accumulating draft picks galore for the next few seasons to build on. Instead of falling to depths that Phoenix has hovered around since 2011, the Thunder achieved a 44-28 record and a 5-seed in the Western Conference.
It shows with every city Paul resides in as well, increasing the Rockets win percentage by .+122 (10 wins), and the Clippers by +.216 (8 wins) before coming to Phoenix and boosting their win percentage by +.234 (15 wins). His presence is clearly synonymous with winning, playoff appearances, and overall better play by everyone around him…which is exactly what an MVP is supposed to be synonymous with.
If the MVP award is going to the player who impacts their team the most, and who would be missed more by the team if they were unable to play, then the answer is clear: it’s Chris Paul.
Don’t believe me? Just look at the Houston Rockets who were one win away from defeating the Golden State Warriors in the 2018 Western Conference Finals before Paul injured his hamstring. After Paul’s departure the Rockets could not score more than 92 points, they were unable to hit their threes (22-for-83, .265 3PT%), and their ability to defend the deadly shooting of the Warriors dropped drastically, ultimately losing the next two games and ending Paul’s best run at a Finals appearance.
When Paul is on the court there is no doubt that he influences every aspect of the team he’s on and the players he’s playing with–Booker and Ayton having the best seasons of their careers is not a coincidence–and the selfishness that the Suns often showed before Paul’s arrival is all but gone thanks to his leadership abilities and his commandeering of the floor whenever he has the ball.
So what if Jokic and Embiid score more? They are typically under the basket and have great playmakers around them helping to get them the ball in open space. If there is any reason why Paul should not be the ’21 NBA MVP it isn’t because of scoring, just go back 16 seasons to the Suns’ last MVP Steve Nash.
Nash, much like Paul, was not the biggest player on the court, nor did he score much (Nash was the 4th-highest scorer on the team–15.5 ppg), but their ability to win close games with their leadership and their passing abilities (Paul is currently 3rd in assists per game in the NBA–8.9 apg) is what sets them apart from the rest of the field.
If there was ever a year where MVP voters should vote with their heart and their eyes, not with stat-sheets based solely around PPG or triple-doubles in a season, it should be this season when Chris Paul emulated the selfless, effortless star power of Nash, Bob Cousy, Wes Unseld, and even Bill Russell–all of whom won MVP without leading their team in scoring.
No matter who ends up with the MVP at the end of the season it won’t matter to Chris Paul who is still looking for his first NBA Championship title, something he could easily achieve if Phoenix continues to play as dominantly and smoothly as they have for most of the season. Especially if Booker and Ayton have another bubble-like streak of games where neither seems to miss and the rest of the team follows suit.