New Orleans Hornets: Chris Paul for MVP
Let's face it the 2007-2008 New Orleans Hornets have made for one of the most surprising stories in sports this year.
The emergence of Chris Paul, as everyone knows, has been and continues to be the key to this team's success.
In just his third professional season, CP3 has developed the ability to score from almost anywhere on the court. He has an exceptionally high basketball IQ and an uncanny eye that predicts plays before they happen.
He performs with ardent passion and, most importantly, Chris Paul puts his teammates in the best possible positions to succeed.
This last characteristic immediately evokes memories of Isiah Thomas and is the definition of a true point guard. He is a leader who makes everyone around him look good.
Let's start out with No. 30. One figured that David West looked the part. He is a big, strong, and physical player with a decent amount of athleticism and a consistent mid-range game.
Yet, thanks to Paul's efforts and the increasing attention given to him by other teams this season, West has improved his interior play. He has also benefited from having more chances to convert those open opportunities into points.
West has almost perfected the 17-foot jumper thanks to the attention teams give Paul everywhere on the court, and Peja out on the perimeter.
After all, Paul calls David the "17-foot assassin." But make no mistake, without Chris, it's doubtful that West would have made this meteoric rise from decent NBA power forward to bona fide Western Conference All-Star.
Tyson Chandler has undoubtedly benefited from CP3 as well. People always expected big things from Tyson, yet he still seemed to underachieve while in Chicago.
Coming out of high school, Chandler looked like a sure thing. He was 7'1", fast, strong, and played with a passionate fire not found in every high school athlete.
He had great hands and a great ability to box out almost any opponent and bring down the rebound. Like West, Chandler looked the part.
Yet upon first entering the league, teams found that Chandler wasn't much of an offensive threat. His jumper was mediocre at best, and he wasn't particularly physical, fleet of foot, or disciplined on defense.
As most know, Chandler had little success in Chicago. He still appeared to be a young kid trying to learn his way through professional basketball. He wasn't surrounded with many great players during those years either.
But like West, Chandler is now regarded as one of the league's premier centers. How did this happen? Well, he has matured quite a bit since his years in Chicago.
Chandler does still tend to argue with referees far more than he should, and he still lets his emotions get the best of him once in a while. But this is a far cry from the immature and overrated player he once seemed to be.
A change of scenery had to have invigorated Chandler. He seems to thoroughly enjoy playing with this squad in New Orleans, and he seems to enjoy being around his teammates.
Every time I see him practicing on the court and talking to his coaches and to others in the organization (including the lowly intern that I am), he constantly sports a smile on his face and seems upbeat about the forthcoming game.
Of course, winning helps everyone's mood. But it does seem as though Chandler is becoming more at peace with himself. Perhaps this comes simply from getting older and more comfortable with the landscape of professional basketball and the NBA.
But Tyson Chandler's success on the basketball court, like West's, has most benefited from the intelligent and unselfish play of Chris Paul and the high-octane, up-tempo style of play enacted by Coach Byron Scott.
Chandler's Baby Bulls were more Wisconsin Badgers than North Carolina Tar Heels.
It's evident that this fast-paced style of play is more to Chandler's liking.
Relatively quick for a center, Chandler has the ability to get up and down the court quite well. He has benefited from the strong outlet passing of Chris Paul and a myriad of alley-oops from his star point guard.
He is near the top of the league in shooting percentage, even though his mid-range jumper is not much better than it was at the United Center.
Paul's ability to make Chandler's opportunities easy ones has made him look like an absolute stud, statistically. He is becoming more and more a player for whom teams need to seriously plan.
Quite a turn-around from the afterthought the opposition regarded Chandler to be in Chicago.
In case there was any doubt, Chris Paul is the backbone to this team. He is the primary reason why Tyson Chandler and David West are having career years.
He is the reason why Peja Stojakovic is once again among the league-leaders in three-point shooting percentage.
Paul is also the reason why bench contributors like Jannero Pargo and Julian Wright are having breakout seasons.
Paul may be small in stature, but he is far from diminutive in his influence over this ball club, his passion on the basketball court, and in his unselfish play.
He has a drive to be perfect in all facets of the game, and even as a 22-year-old he demands the same from his teammates.
Let's face it, without everything Paul has brought to the table this season, the New Orleans Hornets would probably have a worse record than they had last year. A stronger and deeper Western Conference a year ago wouldn't have made life any easier.
You know something significant is happening when the Hornets: can shoot a combined 39 percent from the floor, have a star point guard shoot 6-19 from the floor and make a monumental four turnovers during a critical fourth quarter span, be down by 14 on the road against a solid Orlando Magic squad, and STILL FIND A WAY TO WIN!
Paul's influence and overall play this year has made everyone around him better, even when he is having mediocre games by his own personal standards.
Wins like last night's capture the essence of what this overachieving team is doing this season.
The Hornets are 51-22 with cellar-dwelling Miami and New York coming up in the next few days. After that, they square off against Golden State on ABC Sunday, then Dallas and Utah to name a few.
This team isn't guaranteed a top-four playoff seed yet. If it can play like it did last night against a playoff team, and still win, I'd say the Hornets' chances are good.
But a deep playoff run? Let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
With the exception of Boston, the Hornets have improved their stock like no other team.
A city has jumped on the proverbial bandwagon, and now games are regularly sold out. Boston never had attendance problems, even when its teams were struggling.
With all respect to D-West, Chris Paul has no Paul Pierce. Boston plays in the East. As a result, Kevin Garnett is no more deserving of the MVP than is Chris Paul. He just has better talent around him and plays inferior teams more frequently.
But more importantly, unlike Garnett, Kobe, or even LeBron, one can argue that 22-year-old Chris Paul has changed the way a whole city looks at basketball.
Now I wasn't here for the pre-Katrina Hornets years, and obviously not when Maravich led the New Orleans Jazz, but this city likes a winner. Before the Hornets began to win, the city really didn't support the team through its bad times.
At the advent of the season, attendance numbers for games often lingered in four digits. Now? Let's just say it's difficult to hear yourself think during Hornets' home games at the Hive.
Especially when the crowd is chanting, "MVP, MVP."
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