Where does Chris Paul rank in the 2012-13 MVP Race?

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Chris Paul was an MVP candidate on the Hornets. Whether the world realizes or not, he’s just as worthy as a Clipper.

You know it’s the a sign of the apocalypse when a Google Image search for “Chris Paul MVP” only brings up images and wallpapers from his days as a Hornet. Or how, in ESPN’s 5-on-5 discussing the season’s first quarter, the question “Who’s the best player of the first quarter of the season?” only resulted in four players mentioned: LeBron, Durant, Kobe, and Carmelo.

But what of Chris Paul, the league’s best point guard and the best player on arguably the league’s best team? Before analyzing where Paul stands among the best players, let’s unpack those claims.

Is Paul the league’s best point guard? Below is a table of the league’s top 10 point guards in PER (minimum 30 min/g; sorted by PER)

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The answer is clear. Not only does Paul lead all PGs in PER, but he also has a sizable lead in WS and WS/48. In terms of individual categories, he is miles ahead in STL%, and for good measure, scores the most efficiently of any of the listed PGs with a 58.2 TS%.

What about the other claim–is Paul the best player on arguably the league’s best team? Here are the top five Clippers, sorted by PER.

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For the few who thought Blake Griffin rivaled Paul as the best Clipper, know that Griffin isn’t even second-best on his own team by PER standards. Of course, Griffin is their second best player and a bona fide star, but make no mistake–Chris Paul is the best player on arguably the league’s best team. In speaking of which…

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The above table displays the NBA’s top 6 teams in terms of SRS (point differential that controls for strength of schedule) and the Four Factors through December 21st. The Clippers have been the league’s best team in terms of SRS. While the Thunder have been nearly as impressive, statistically the Clippers have been the best team this year.

So as we delve into the real question, Where does Chris Paul stand as an MVP candidate?, let it be clear that Chris Paul is A) the best point guard in the league and B) The best player on arguably the league’s best team.

To see how Paul stacks up with other MVP candidates, I’ll compare him to the four players ESPN’s 5-on-5 mentioned (LeBron, Durant, Carmelo, and Kobe), who happen to make up the league’s top 5 in PER along with Paul. Before I flesh out this comparison, one point to remember is that Paul is a PG while the rest are volume-scoring wings.

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The above group, to me, are the top 5 MVP candidates. Some might lament the exclusions of Duncan/Parker, Bosh, Griffin, Westbrook, Howard, Chandler, Harden, or any Memphis Grizzly, but most will agree that the the 5 players in the above chart are all more worthy–both subjectively and statistically–than the other players I just mentioned.

Back to the top 5. Below I will sum up each player’s pros and cons and finish with a subjective analysis for why I choose Paul as my MVP thus far.

LeBron James: 

  • Pros. James leads all candidates in PER and REB%. He is second in AST%, BLK%, TS%, and TOV%. He is also second in WS (tied with Paul and Kobe) despite having played fewer games. He is the best defender and most complete player of the group.
  • Cons. LeBron is actually only 3rd (behind Paul and Durant) in WS/48. Also, the Heat aren’t even a top 4 team so far, with two notable losses to the rival Knicks.
  • Overall: LeBron has been fantastic, although perhaps not as good as other years. He might be the MVP, but there are other candidates equally as strong.

Kevin Durant:

  • Pros: Durant is 1st in TS%, BLK%, WS, WS/48, and MPG.  He’s 2nd in PER, STL%, and REB% (by small margins). Durant and the Thunder keep getting better, who together have been the league’s second-best team.
  • Cons: Despite improved playmaking, he is the worst in TOV% and 4th in AST%.
  • Overall: KD doesn’t play D like LBJ and doesn’t elevate his teammates like Paul, but he is more versatile than ever and his offensive prowess is nearly unprecedented.

Carmelo Anthony:

  • Pros: He is the best player on a team that lacks another true superstar. He has the lowest TOV% of the above players despite having the highest USG%.
  • Cons: Melo has the worst AST%, STL%, WS, and WS/48 by large margins.
  • Overall: Anthony is having a career year and the Knicks are the league’s best story, but his relative lack of defense/playmaking and inability to be #1 or #2 in the composite metrics keep him from being a top-3 MVP candidate.

Kobe Bryant:

  • Pros: Kobe is 2nd in MPG, which coupled with career high in TS%, has allowed him to be tied for 2nd in WS. He also is 2nd in STL% and USG% among the above players.
  • Cons: In the wake of injuries, coaching changes, and chemistry issues, the Lakers have been an average team. Plus, he’s only 4th in REB%, BLK%, PER and WS/48.
  • Overall: Kobe’s production is as impressive as anyone’s given his age and team situation. That said, there is no rational reason to place him above Durant or LeBron.

Chris Paul

  • Pros: He’s by far the best in STL% and AST%, tied for second in WS, and is a smidgen behind first-place Durant in WS/48. His Clippers own the title of “best team in the league” for the time being.
  • Cons: Paul is last in TS%, REB%, PER, MPG, BLK%, USG%, and is 4th in TOV%. It should be noted, though, that his low MPG is a result of blowouts and Eric Bledsoe, and his low(er) PER can be attributed to PER’s bias toward scoring.
  • Overall: Paul is tough to compare with the others given his different role, but it’s hard to ignore that he’s last in so many categories. Despite that, he’s nearly 1st in WS/48, is definitely the best at his position (something no other player in the league can claim) despite a litany of amazing PGs, and is the engine behind the league’s best team.

Final Verdict and Conclusion

Despite the ironic introductory photo, this article was meant to raise awareness for Chris Paul’s MVP candidacy as a Los Angeles Clipper and to briefly analyze his and others’ credentials as MVP thus far. Here, we see that while Kobe and Melo are top-5 players, LeBron, Durant, and CP3 stand out above the rest. Each of those three candidates are equally as MVP-worthy in my book. My vote goes to Paul for both objective and subjective (read: biased) reasons.

Objectively, Paul has the advantages of personal and team success, a special ability to elevate his teammates, and his league-best management of close games.

Subjectively, I fear for Paul’s legacy if he’s not voted MVP this year. Paul is on track to retire as the best or second-best point guard of all time, statistically speaking, and yet he’s barely mentioned in MVP conversations while in his prime on a championship caliber team.

Many greats never win a championship through no fault of their own; as long as LeBron and Durant play on stacked teams, Paul might suffer a fate similar fate to that of Barkley, Malone, and Stockton. But unlike Malone and Barkley, Chris Paul might finish with no MVPs, especially with Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant primed to take over the league.

Chris Paul isn’t the physical specimen that LeBron or Kobe is. He’s under six-feet tall without shoes. He’s injury prone. He’s never played alongside a true superstar (although Blake will qualify soon enough). And yet, through dogged competitiveness, masterful technique, and supreme poise, he is first among all active players in career WS/48 (fifth all-time), third among active players in PER behing Wade and LeBron (seventh all-time in a scoring-biased statistic), and first in both stats among all point guards in NBA history.

No, I’m not saying Chris Paul is the definitive MVP–after all, there is still plenty of season left and KD and LBJ are right there with him. But he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. At the very least, he deserves a Clippers-era “CP3 for MVP” computer wallpaper. Is that really too much to ask?

Is Chris Paul really an MVP? Should we consider his legacy come season’s end? Comment on the article or e-mail us at AGRbasketball (at) gmail (dot) com. Don’t forget to follow @AGRbasketball on Twitter and to like us on Facebook.

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