Chris Paul has been spectacular this season. Chris Paul has also been great in his previous years with the Los Angeles Clippers, but this year it has meant more. Blake Griffin missed 45 games this season, and in that long, dreary stretch the Clippers went 30-15. While other Clippers stepped up as well, Paul was the unquestioned leader and best player on the team for that time, the first extended period without Griffin since Paul joined the Clippers in the 2011 season. It was Chris Paul's lone burden to be the best player on the court for his team every single night, a burden no other top MVP candidate had to share.
Now, this is not a knock on the other contestants for the MVP ballot. Steph Curry has had a ridiculous season, and is a well-deserved consecutive winner of the award. He is doing things no other NBA player has ever done, and doing it for perhaps the greatest team of all time. Everyone else though..... I think Paul has them beat. Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, and Draymond Green (the rough consensus top 7 outside Curry and Paul) have all been terrific. They are award-worthy players. But none of them has meant has much, been as valuable, as one Christopher Emmanuel Paul.
The Clippers are the 4th seed in a West that, while not as deep as previous years, is still a tough conference, and have done so without their best or 2nd best player for over half the season. They should easily clear the 50 win mark yet again, and have been the sixth best team in the entire NBA over the course of the season. The Clippers had one All Star this year, and only two other healthy players would start on most NBA teams. Their bench is shaky at best, a disaster at worst. Fortunately for the Clips, that lone All Star is Paul.
CP3 is averaging 19.9 points per game, his most as a Clipper (in the fewest minutes per game) and his highest in seven seasons. In fact, his points per 36 minutes is the absolute highest of his career. His usage% is the 2nd highest of his career and way higher than any other season as a Clipper: his workload has increased hugely. While his true shooting has decreased somewhat compared to last season, it isn't that much lower, and is still an extremely good mark, especially for a point guard. Increasing usage substantially without sacrificing much in efficiency is remarkable, particularly for a 30 year old with as many miles as Paul has accumulated.
While Paul's defense is not near where it was four or five years ago, he is still among the best defensive players at his position. Some games he goes easier than others, but he never takes plays off like James Harden (or even LeBron). When CP goes up against other top point guards he dials up the volume accordingly, and during the playoffs he will be going full throttle all the time. The only point guard substantially better on that end is Ricky Rubio (who needs more praise for his work), but Paul is right there in the 2nd tier. Considering his size and how much work he does on the offensive end, the fact he still does so well on defense is honestly somewhat stunning.
The area where Paul remains the best in the business, however, is the most important aspect of being a point guard: making plays. There is still nobody who can control a game like the Point God. His assist to turnover ratio of 3.5 remains the envy of ballhandlers league wide, and he makes fewer careless decisions than perhaps anyone in the NBA. His assist percentage of 52.5 leads the Association, and with Blake out he has had to shoulder almost all playmaking duties for the Clips. He always knows exactly how much time is on the clock, and is a master of game management. Chris Paul simply runs his team better than any other point guard. While Steph Curry is the better overall player, Paul is still the model for lead guards everywhere.
So much for why Paul deserves consideration for MVP. But why does he deserve it over all these other superstars having great years? Well, let's go through one by one.
LeBron James is still amazing, and might have the best game to game upside of anyone in the NBA. It is hard to vote him for MVP, however, considering some of the struggles the Cavs have faced this season. David Blatt was fired mid-season and the team has performed worse behind the James-approved Tyronn Lue. There have been rumors floating around about his discontent and the possibilities of trading his two co-stars, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. He also takes games off, especially on the defensive end, and his outside shooting has fallen off a cliff. The Cavs are the best team in the East, but are not nearly as good as a look up and down their roster suggests they should be.
Draymond Green's improvement is absurd. He would be a good candidate for Most Improved Player, in fact. However, like all the Warriors, it becomes hard to separate how much Green does from what Steph Curry does. Yes, everything Draymond accomplishes on defense is his own. His shooting and passing are terrific. But it is questionable if he would be quite as valuable on any other team. A lot of his assists are results of 4 on 3 basketball that wouldn't happen if Steph wasn't on the floor as well. He is extremely valuable, yes. More than Chris Paul, no.
Here is where it gets really tough. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are both producing incredible statistics. Russ is maybe the most explosive guard in NBA history, and is a walking triple double. This has been his most efficient season scoring the ball, and despite some poor performances, his improvement in shot selection and decision making is noticeable. Durant is ridiculously efficient, an effortless scorer who actually might be underrated as a well-rounded player. But the fact remains that Oklahoma City has somewhat disappointed as a team this season. The Thunder have gone through prolonged down streaks, and their defense remains a severe weakness. While their supporting cast could use work, one would think that a team with two top 5 MVP candidates would be somewhat better. Finally, while they take away from each other in terms of pure scoring, neither would be putting up the numbers they are without the other. Durant clears so much space for Westbrook drives, and Russ has gotten much better at setting up KD for open looks. Its hard to say either of them has meant more individually to their team than Paul has this year.
The toughest obstacle to CP3 drawing 2nd place, however, is Kawhi Leonard. He has transformed from a defense only player to a "3 and D" player to an overall star to absolute superstar. He is the best defensive player in the league and somehow one of the better outside shooters as well. Nonetheless, take him away from the Spurs and they would still be good. Not "one of the best teams of all time" good, but they would still make the playoffs. Take Chris Paul away from the Clippers this season and they probably don't win 30 games. A lot of that is Blake's injury, of course, but that's the point. Kawhi has LaMarcus Aldridge at his side, another top 15 NBA player (he has come on very strong the 2nd half of the season). Kawhi can afford to have an off night. Paul can't. So while Leonard is, in fact, the better player, Paul is still more valuable.
Chris Paul has been magnificent this season carrying the Clippers to 50 wins and homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. At age 30 Paul is shouldering the largest load he has in his entire career, and doing it night in and night out. He continues to dazzle and amaze, but more importantly has had to do so. While other things haven't worked out for the Clippers this season, it has been a joy to watch Paul play. To watch him dominate.