You know, the guy who singlehandedly transformed the Los Angeles Clippers from the laughing stock of the league into a team that nearly nabbed home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs?
CP3 4 MVP
Yeah, that Chris Paul. His presence has been the one significant difference between this season and last, between a team that lost 61 percent of its games and missed the playoffs and a team that won nearly 61 percent of its games and reached the postseason for the eighth time in franchise history, and only the fifth time since moving to L.A.
Mind you, CP3 helped to engineer such a massive turnaround during a lockout-shortened season, with all of two weeks to get acclimated to his new surroundings in training camp before the 66-game schedule began in earnest. Chauncey Billups, his most accomplished teammate and a fellow newbie to the team, went down with a ruptured Achilles' tendon in early February, leaving Mo Williams and Caron Butler (fresh off an ACL tear) as the next-most senior members of the squad as far as postseason experience is concerned.
Meanwhile, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the two young cornerstones of the franchise, actually showed some signs of regression. Griffin, in particular, took statistical steps back across the board, most notably at the free-throw line, though he still checked in as the league's seventh-most efficient player (23.4 PER, according to Basketball Reference).
Griffin's incompetence in crunch time left Paul to carry the load. According to 82games.com, CP3 averaged 40.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 8.8 assists per 48 minutes of crunch time, which is defined as "4th quarter or overtime, less than five minutes left, neither team ahead by more than five points."
But frankly, trying to make CP3's case from a purely statistical standpoint is a losing battle. Paul certainly has nothing to be ashamed of, not after averaging 19.8 points, 9.1 assists, 3.6 rebounds and a league-best 2.5 steals while ranking second in player efficiency rating, second in win shares, second in offensive rating and first in offensive win shares.
All while finishing well outside the top 20 in the NBA in usage percentage.
In other words, Paul did more with less than most.
What About 'Bron?
LeBron, on the other hand, had a statistical season for the ages. The Miami Heat superstar strung together per-game averages of 27.1 rebounds, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.9 steals on a career-high 53.1 percent shooting from the field. As far as advanced metrics are concerned, James finished first in PER, seventh in offensive and defensive rating, second in offensive and defensive win shares and first in overall win shares, all while registering the league's third-highest usage rate.
So, from a purely statistical standpoint, LeBron was the best player in the league.
But "best" and "most valuable" aren't necessarily one in the same. The Heat were the No. 2 seed in the East last season and are once again this time around, though their win percentage dipped (however marginally) from .707 to .697.
Surely, LeBron's efforts were highly valuable, especially given Dwyane Wade's recurrent injury problems, Chris Bosh's inability to do much of anything in the paint and the rest of the roster's general impotence.
Still, in the grand scheme of things, James' play didn't do quite as much to move the needle as did CP3's. LeBron had another great year, yet the Heatles couldn't quite sneak past the often-Derrick-Rose-less Chicago Bulls to snag the top seed in the East. Also, there's no discounting that Wade—when healthy—played a huge part in keeping Miami at or near the top of the heap, a fact to which his PER of 26.3 (third best in the NBA) is a clear testament.
Making the jump from second to first may be tougher than going from 13th to fifth, as the Clippers did with Paul, but the sheer size of the gap closed has to speak to CP3's superiority, however slight, with regard to MVP candidacy.
Love for the Durantula
What about Kevin Durant, then?
The star forward for the Oklahoma City Thunder won his third straight scoring title by pouring in 28 points per game, with career highs in field-goal percentage (.496), rebounds (eight per game), assists (3.5 per game) and blocks (1.2 per game).
Along the way, the Durantula registered the fourth-best PER, the 20th-best defensive rating, the third-most offensive win shares, the ninth-most defensive win shares and the third-most win shares overall with the fifth-highest usage rate.
As far as teammates are concerned, Durant had the privilege of playing with one guy (Russell Westbrook) who's one of the top 10 guys in the league, another (James Harden) who's arguably in the top 20 and a third (Serge Ibaka) who's one of the most impactful defenders in basketball.
In total, OKC's win percentage jumped from .671 to .721, landing them second in the West behind the San Antonio Spurs.
From a numbers standpoint then, Durant falls somewhere near CP3, though Durant's team, unlike Paul's, reached the playoffs in each of previous two seasons and made it all the way to the conference finals last year.
Ultimately, Paul's case for the MVP can best be made like that of your typical Coach of the Year (not including the job Gregg Popovich did with the Spurs this year). Like a coach on an up-and-coming team, CP3 came into a brand-new situation, with a team that hadn't so much as sniffed the postseason the year before, and constituted a significant portion of the difference between last season's mediocrity and this season's meteoric rise.
It's not often that a player wins the MVP in his first season with a new team, but with the way the Clippers have improved with Chris Paul in the backcourt, and given how little time he had to integrate himself, the MVP surely belongs to CP3.