L.A. Clippers' Dominance Proves Chris Paul Should Be NBA MVP Favorite
Except that I'm not.
The Los Angeles Clippers currently have the best record in the NBA, are winners of 17 consecutive games and are one of only two teams to have a top-five ranked defense and offense. Yet without Chris Paul, none of this would have been possible.
Though arguments can be made for Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook, Paul is the NBA's best point guard. One improbable winning streak later, it's also become clear that he should be the favorite to win the league MVP award.
Both Kevin Durant and LeBron James have performed admirably this season, but neither of them have had the profound impact on their respective teams that Paul has had on the Clippers.
Paul has single-handedly reversed the misfortunes of an entire franchise. Under his direction (sorry, Vinny Del Negro), the Clippers have gone from league whipping boy to one of the Association's most lethal convocations.
There are those who will point to the combined 207-282 record of Los Angeles' opponents during this win streak in an attempt to downplay the feat and diminish the impact that Paul has had on this team.
Those people are wrong.
Say what you will about the magnitude of the Clips' winning streak, but Paul's performance is untouchable.
Sure, his 16.3 points and 9.4 assists on 47.2 percent shooting per game aren't career numbers, but he leads the league in steals per night (2.7), and he's the only player in the league averaging at least 15 points, nine assists and two steals per game.
Impressed? Of course you are. Now, prepare to be astounded.
If Paul is able to sustain such production for the duration of the season, it will be the sixth time he has done so, putting him in the company of John Stockton as the only two players in league history to reach such marks six times in a row.
More important than Paul's personal stats, though, is the impact that his performance has on this Clippers team.
With Paul on the floor, Los Angeles' offense scores 11.5 points more per 100 possessions than they do when he's riding the bench. He's assisting on 45 percent of his team's field goals when in the game (second behind Rajon Rondo) and is second in win shares (6.3) behind Durant. Paul is also holding opposing point guards to a PER of 11.2 per 48 minutes.
Even Del Negro admitted (via Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com) that the Clippers wouldn't win without Paul:
Chris is all about winning. He deserves it. Blake's had it. When you win, good things happen, all the accolades come, but Chris is about team first and winning and that's why he's one of the top players in the league.
Do you think that Los Angeles would be where it is—or even close—without Paul?
Of course not. Blake Griffin is a superstar, but a large part of his success is predicated on Paul's presence. In fact, he scores more points and boasts a higher field-goal percentage per 36 minutes with Paul on the floor.
Is that just sheer happenstance?
No. Rather, it's a tell-tale sign of Paul's value to his team. The Clippers don't have another star who can carry them the way he has.
As ESPN.com's J.A. Adande implores us to understand, this Los Angeles team was nowhere before Paul and would be handed a one-way ticket back to nowhere without him:
The Clippers franchise won only 19 games the 2008-09 season. The delayed debut of Blake Griffin gave them hope and excitement, but nothing close to a winning record. The trade for Chris Paul reset the standards and gave them grandiose visions. In quiet conversations they’ll tell you they are targeting a championship this season, and the only reason more people aren’t agreeing with them is because they’re the Clippers.
Paul, not Griffin, "reset the standards" for the Clippers. He instilled—and continues to instill—life in what was a dying franchise not too long ago.
Simply put, without Paul as their backbone, the Clippers wouldn't even toil with the prospect of a playoff berth, let alone championship contention.
I understand that much of the same can be said for star athletes like LeBron and Durant. At this point, however, can either of them lay claim to what Paul has accomplished?
There's no denying that James and Durant are the two most important players on their team, but LeBron has essentially furthered the name of an already storied franchise, and Durant is afforded the luxury of a top-five playmaker in Russell Westbrook.
Is this to diminish what either of them are capable of?
Not at all, but it does accentuate the necessity of Paul in Los Angeles.
This is a player who is posting the third-highest PER rating (26.2) in the league. The same player who forces turnovers on 4.3 percent of his team's defensive sets, the highest mark in the league. The same player who has led his team to a perfect December.
And the same player who has transformed a perennial laughing stock into an unbeatable force.
"That shows our depth," Paul said (via Beth Harris of the Associated Press) after the Clippers recorded their 17th straight victory. "Our bench stepped up amazing. On any given night it can be another guy."
Who has been the NBA's MVP thus far?
Paul's right. On any given night, it could be "another guy."
But it's not.
Instead, game in and game out, it's him. Los Angeles' weapons are as lethal as they are because of him. The Clippers are winning at an historical pace because of him.
And that, in itself, is enough to render him a deserving favorite to win MVP honors.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of December 30, 2012.
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