CP3 for MVP?

February 28, 2008

LeBron James became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 10,000 career points on Wednesday with his 26-point performance against the Celtics. It’s quite an achievement for the 23-year old (it’s unbelievable that this guy is 23…), and there is little doubt in my mind that he is the most talented overall basketball player in the league right now. Naturally, he’s in the early conversation for MVP this season. However, I’d like to argue for a different candidate – New Orleans’ Chris Paul.

Kevin Garnett was the favorite for awhile, but Boston went 7-2 in its recent nine-game stretch without the Big Ticket – who statistically is having his worst season since the 1997-98 campaign. Those two factors should eliminate KG from the MVP conversation as far as I’m concerned. With Garnett falling by the wayside, the discussions have revolved around James and Kobe Bryant, with Paul being largely ignored. First, let’s make a case for LeBron.

F LeBron James, Cavaliers (Last Three Years)

Year G Min Pts Reb Ast Stl Blk 3PM FG% FT%
2005-06 79 42:30 31.4 7.0 6.6 1.6 0.8 1.6 48.0 73.8
2006-07 78 40:53 27.3 6.7 6.0 1.6 0.7 1.3 47.6 69.8
2007-08 52 40:30 30.2 8.1 7.4 2.0 1.0 1.4 48.5 70.5

King James is currently putting up career highs in rebounds, assists, blocks, and field goal percentage. His Cavaliers are currently just fifth in the lowly Eastern Conference, but they would be in dire straights without LeBron. In six games without James this season, Cleveland went 0-6 while losing by an average of 11.3 points per game. How’s that for value?

Kobe time:
G Kobe Bryant, Lakers (Last Three Years)

Year G Min Pts Reb Ast Stl Blk 3PM FG% FT%
2005-06 80 41:00 35.4 5.3 4.5 1.8 0.4 2.3 45.0 85.0
2006-07 77 40:47 31.6 5.7 5.4 1.4 0.5 1.8 46.3 86.9
2007-08 57 38:00 27.8 6.1 5.4 2.0 0.5 1.7 46.3 84.6

Kobe’s Lakers are one of the biggest surprises in the league this year – honestly, did anyone outside the organization expect the squad to be in first place in the Western Conference after 57 games? I’d be shocked if even half of the L.A. front office believed that prior to the season. Bryant has played a big part of the revival, besting his career averages in points, rebounds, assists, steals, field goal percentage, free throw percentage and three point percentage this season. He’s also been durable, playing in every game despite ligament damage in the pinky finger on his shooting hand.

Finally, there’s Paul:
PG Chris Paul, Hornets (Last Three Years)

Year G Min Pts Reb Ast Stl Blk 3PM FG% FT%
2005-06 78 36 16.1 5.1 7.8 2.2 0.1 0.6 43.0 84.7
2006-07 64 36:47 17.3 4.4 8.9 1.8 0.1 0.8 43.7 81.8
2007-08 54 37:30 20.8 4.0 10.8 2.7 0.0 1.1 48.0 87.7

Paul is currently producing career-highs in points, assists, steals, field goal percentage, free throw percentages, and three-pointers per game. Then there is the fact that New Orleans is a half-game out of second place and a game and a half behind the Lakers. As surprising as L.A.’s first-place perch is, the Hornets even in the playoff picture may be even more flummoxing. Paul has missed two games this season, with New Orleans 1-1 in those contests.

So, why Paul over the other two? I suppose I’m putting more stock in the performance of the team than anything else. Just because someone is putting up ridiculous numbers doesn’t automatically make them the MVP in my mind – otherwise LeBron would probably win it every year. James is the sole reason Cleveland is even in the playoff picture, but the Cavs realized just how bad the supporting cast around their stud was and Danny Ferry made a big move at the trade deadline in to fuel a playoff push. Assuming Cleveland gets better, I think that hurts LeBron’s MVP status. If he were to win it I don’t think there would be much of an outcry, buy my point is that the Cavs, as now constructed, could probably pull off a playoff trip in the Leastern Conference without James because things are so bad. Perhaps if Cleveland was No. 2 in the conference I would be a bit more supportive of his cause.

Bryant’s biggest issues are a pair of big guys named Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol – and, to a lesser extent, Derek Fisher. Bynum turned into a stud during the offseason and his progress was well-chronicled before he suffered a left knee injury in January. Then Gasol showed up from Memphis and the Lakers have gone 10-1 since. Throw in a solid leader and veteran presence at the point guard position in Fisher and L.A. has a stronger team that is supplemented most by Bryant, but not completely fueled by him. He’s undoubtedly the MVP of the team, but probably a tier below James and in third place in this discussion.

Then there is Paul, the former Demon Deacon who has the Hornets buzzing with thoughts of home-court advantage through at least one round of the playoffs in their first year back in New Orleans full time. During Paul’s first two seasons, the Hornets finished with sub-.500 records and in 10th place in the Western Conference. But he’s putting up career-best numbers across the board and suddenly New Orleans is relevant. Still, his numbers aren’t the only argument. Not only has his strong play improved his own numbers, it has also improved the digits of those around him. Sure, you can say that some of Paul’s success is a matter of circumstance. He has shooters like Peja Stojakovic and Morris Peterson who lay out a beach towel at the three-point line and wait to be spoon-fed. He’s also got Tyson Chandler at center to gobble up rebounds and only shoot when he’s got a dunk set up by CP3. David West supplies him with an inside-outside offensive threat that he can rely on to score when the defense collapses. Without those pieces in place, Paul could not be as effective. But because the Hornets have been smart enough to supply the necessary pieces, Paul is flourishing and leading his team where no one expected them to go. Barring a late-season collapse, I think that is enough for Paul to deserve the individual honor.

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