LOS ANGELES -- He won’t win the award. In fact if he cracks the top two at this point it would be a minor miracle, but truth be told he deserves it more than anyone else.
Chris Paul should win the NBA MVP this season but chances are he will watch a more hyped player on a more hyped team with a far better supporting cast raise the trophy sometime next month.
After narrowly losing the award to Kobe Bryant in 2008, Paul is used to being overlooked by now. The only thing he remembers about that season is losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the playoffs and trying to get back to that point ever since then.
“It’s all good and well but it’s more about our team,” Paul said. “I was the runner-up in 2007-2008 but I’d rather have a championship than the MVP any day of the week.”
Chances are Paul won’t win a championship this season, not with the supporting cast he has on the Clippers, but the fact that the Clippers are even in that conversation should be enough for Paul to win the MVP. Anyone who can single-handedly will the Clippers to as many wins as Paul has this season shouldn’t have to play second fiddle to LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Bryant in the MVP conversation.
Paul has not only had arguably one of the best seasons of any player in the league this season, he has had one of the best seasons of any player in NBA history. He is one of only five players in NBA history with a season of at least 19.0 points, 9.0 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game. He currently ranks first in the NBA in steals, second in assist-to-turnover ratio and third in assists.
On Sunday night, with the Clippers down 13 points in the second half to the New Orleans Hornets, Paul scored 24 of his 33 points in the final two periods, including 13 points in the fourth quarter. Paul finished with 33 points, 13 assists and 8 steals to lead the Clippers to a 107-98 win over the Hornets that clinched the franchise’s best winning percentage ever and put them in position to possibly win the franchise’s first division title as well.
Paul is doing all this with a supporting cast that for the most part has no playoff experience and has never played meaningful games past February. Although Blake Griffin is the No. 2 option on the team, until he develops a mid-range game and can consistently hit his free throws, he’s not the ideal go-to scorer Paul would like to have late in games.
Against the Phoenix Suns on Thursday, Griffin had 16 points but only scored two points after the first quarter, leaving Paul to do the heavy lifting down the stretch. Paul scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half and led the Clippers with eight fourth quarter points. The same thing happened on Sunday during the Clippers’ comeback as Griffin only had six points after halftime.
“It’s only going to get better when we complete pieces around him,” Clipper coach Vinny Del Negro said of Paul. “Anyone who watches basketball knows how valuable a player he is and what he brings to a team and organization. He’s competitive. He had eight steals today. He’s playing until the last buzzer. He’s dominant player and a star player in this league. He changes the complexion of the game.”
Where Paul changes the complexion of the game most is at the end as he quite literally puts the team on his back and carries them to a win. The Clippers now have an NBA-leading 14 wins this season when they have been trailing by 10 points or more, and Paul has emerged as one of the league's top finishers during those games. This season, in the last five minutes of games with the Clippers within 5 points, Paul has an NBA-high 137 points. Paul’s 358 points in the fourth quarter this season is the third-highest total in the league and his 358 fourth quarter points account for over 30 percent of all of his scoring. Dating back to 2007, Paul also leads NBA with 10 game-winning shots in last 10 seconds of games.
“I think Chris is so used to getting everyone involved,” Del Negro said. “But then there comes a point where he’s like, ‘OK, I’ve tried to do it that way, its time for me to be more aggressive.’ When he’s aggressive he changes the complexion of the games with his scoring. Then the opponent has to put so much attention on him that other guys are open. He makes a couple of plays to Randy Foye for a three and Mo [Williams] got a couple of open ones.”
There are times when Del Negro would like Paul to be that aggressive earlier in the game but Paul would rather see his teammates push them to a 10-point lead and get involved rather than put up the gaudy numbers that make him a more likely MVP candidate.
“I’m always going to see how the game is going,” Paul said. “I’m a point guard before anything. I’ve been doing it long enough to understand it.”
He’s also been doing it long enough to know that style might not win him an MVP right now but could one day win him a championship if he gets enough pieces around him.