Stop me if you’ve heard this one: the MVP race is a three way contest. Be it the writers at NBAtv, ESPN, Yahoo, or wherever: it’s all about Kobe, Lebron, and Dwyane. What about the guy who came in second in the MVP voting last year, Chris Paul? Never mentioned. These major media outlets run through highlights, and someone almost inevitably says something like “CP is playing is out of his mind, and he’s not even in the MVP conversation,” with a tone that’s somewhat apologetic. But then they move on. They have bigger markets to address, after all.
I guess the first thought might be that CP is having an off year. Wrong. Higher FG%, FT%, higher rebound rate, more steals per game, and more points per game on less shots than last year. Oh, but his assists are down 0.6. But he still leads the League in assists per game. Don’t believe me? Check out Basketball-Reference.com. A great site. (I got the numbers below from there too.) Maybe the lack of discussion of CP3 for MVP is the Hornets record? Nope. We’re only a few games below last year’s pace, and well ahead of Wade’s Heat. Okay, so forget this year and last. There are no answers there. So ask yourself a more pertinent question. Is CP3 having an MVP-caliber season? I figured the best way to find the answer was to compare his stats this year to those of past MVP point guard seasons. Any predictions on how CP will stack up?
You hear now and then that Chris broke one of Oscar Robertson’s records. Well, Oscar won the MVP in 1963-64. Byron also likes to call CP a six-foot Magic Johnson; MJ won the MVP three times: in 1986-87, 1988-89, and 1989-90. And, of course, the most recent point guard to win the MVP, was Steve Nash, back-to-back in 2004-05 and 2005-06. So how does CP stack up? Pretty damn well. Not the best year ever by a point guard, but certainly within the spectrum of MVP-caliber play. Let’s get to it.
One caveat must be given. Oscar Robertson played in a different era, with different rules. For starters, you’ll see he has no 3-point shooting stats. There was no 3-point shot back then. Also, they didn’t break the boards down into offensive and defensive, and didn’t count turnovers or steals. I’ve compared percentages and per game stats because obviously CP hasn’t played a full season yet this year. The immediate impression that jumps out is that CP’s year is better really than either of Nash’s MVP seasons (something which the below stats will clearly confirm). The other initial impressions are that Magic Johnson has some awesome years and the Big O played lots of minutes.
Minutes per game to me mostly means how important that guy is to their team. One could suggest that CP’s longer minutes give him more time to accrue stats, but Nash and Magic played on higher paced teams. (Yes, I know pace-adjusted stats are all the rage, but I’ll leave those to the real stat masters over at atthehive and hornets247 for now. Plus, they don’t always work with guys as old as Oscar, as they didn’t keep all the same stats to input into the equations.) Field goal percentage. CP may be in the middle bottom of the pack, but he’s over the 50% threshold, which not many guards surpass. His “weakness” if he can be said to have one, from looking at these stats, is 3-point shooting (one thing Nash excelled at), but CP’s kind of been on a slump from there lately, and he has 20 games to pull that number up.
Free throw shooting? CP may only come in at fifth here, but considering Duncan, Shaq, and Wilt have all been MVPs, well. Yeah. 86% doesn’t sound too bad. Rebounding, again mediocre, but notice that the only player his height, Nash, CP beats hands down. Magic had 9 inches on Chris and Oscar had five. Not bad, really. Surprisingly, CP actually is only fifth at assists per game, as well. You’d expect our little basketball wizard to be higher up, right? Well, I’m going to cheat a little here and go to pace-adjusted stats. We don’t have them for Oscar’s MVP season, but the best in his entire career was 37.8%. Magic for his MVP years: 47.2%, 48.6%, and 45.5%. Steve N with 49.2% and 44.4%. How about Chris Paul this year? 54.8%. Let me say that again. 54.8%. By far the best. You know how people say if CP played for D’Antoni, he’d average 20 assists a game? Well, we need to start recognizing in the popular media the difference between pace and recognize CP’s greatness at any pace.
Now, the second set of stats make Chris’ case even more. First, they show that CP is the master thief among MVP point guards. Also, CP held onto the ball much better than any of these other guys. Not surprisingly, thought, he’s not the best shot blocker. Chris commits a few more fouls than anyone but Oscar, but as long as he’s not on average in foul trouble, which he’s not, who cares? Magic and Oscar definitely kill CP in scoring, but CP crushed Nash. Although, in fairness, Stevie was definitely the most effective scorer, as shown by True Shooting % and Effective Field Goal Percentage.
My final observation: CP dominates Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating. Not only does he annihilate Nash, and handily beat the others, but he’s posting the highest PER ever for a point guard. And guess what? The guy who currently holds that distinction? Chris Paul from last year. And no one’s talking about this guy for MVP? Seriously? The case is clear. CP3 is an MVP. Not only that, but here’s a bonus stat. Chris is in only in his fourth year; Oscar won the award in his fourth. However, Magic won it in his 8th, 10th, and 11th seasons; and Nash won it in his 9th and 10th. CP is just starting to peak. Think about it.
The only remaining question is, then, is CP as good as Kobe, Lebron, or Dwyane this year? One difficulty in making this determination is that they have different style games. It’s like trying to explain why Nash beat out Shaq in 2006. How do you really quantify what each one brings in comparison? It’s apples and oranges. Two 2 guards, a 3, and Chris at the 1? You just can’t look at the same criteria for each one, but have to balance the overall impact of each player on his team, in some sort balancing test of shifting priorities.
Nonetheless, somewhat inexplicably, for “analysts,” all anyone ever says is that Chris doesn’t score as much as these guys! If it was, Allen Iverson would have 4 MVPs and Tracy McGrady 2. Yet, anyone who’s ever watched Chris play more than once or twice knows that he doesn’t try to dominate the game by scoring as much as these other guys. That said, Hornets fans have seen him go off in a quarter for more than 20 on multiple occasions, just because he can, and the situation dictated it.
But it’s not all about scoring. It’s about making your team better. CP knows it’s a team sport, and that even if he scores 50 or gets a triple double (the latter of which he leads the League with the most so far this year), and his team isn’t playing well, his team won’t win. All that matters to Chris is winning, not personal stats, and his goal is a championship, nothing more, nothing less. But along the way, he deserves to be mentioned by the rest of us as an MVP candidate. And I say, as an MVP, period. Here’s what some other people have to say:
- John Hollinger, ESPN;
- Dave Berri, The Wages of Wins Journal;
- Alejandro de Rios, The Gambit; and
- Rob Fitz, Celtics 17.
I know this much, Chris Paul’s stats this year compare favorably to those of past point guard MVPs. Not just All-Stars. MVPs. So anyone that doesn’t at least put him in that conversation is crazy.