Playoffs are MVP Audition for Chris Paul

Chris Paul is not going to win the NBA MVP this season.  Rather the award is going to go to either LeBron James or Kevin Durant.  LeBron is a 2-time winner who electrifies on a nightly basis while Durant is a scoring machine who just captured his 3rd straight scoring title.  Both candidates have led their clubs to the #2 seed in their respected conference.  But after watching CP3 carry the Clippers during the 2011-2012 season, there is no question about who should be the leading MVP candidate going into next season.  A spectacular run in the 2012 playoffs would solidify his status among the elites of the game.

The Qualifications:

“Clutchness”:  

No one is better late in a game than CP3.  Don’t believe me?  Paul is 3rd in the NBA with 369 points in the 4th quarter this season, which is a staggering 31% of his overall points.  Everyone in the building knows that CP3 is going to have the ball at the end of the game, YET he is still shooting 50.4% from the field in the 4th quarter. 

But let’s dig deeper…In the final five minutes of a game with the Clips ahead or behind by 5 points or less, CP3 trumps Durant and Kobe Bryant (and the rest of the NBA):

Player

Games

FG%

Assists

Points

Paul

36

42.4

31

143

Durant

30

39.2

2

143

Bryant

40

36.1

23

143

*Stats courtesy of NBA.com Game Notes.

Not only has CP3 tied for the scoring lead in the NBA in these situations, but he has been able to put his teammates in position to “score” as well.  Look careful at the chart; Durant only has 2 assists in this situation?  That’s a red flag.  If I’m coaching against Durant in the playoffs, I can bring the double team harder and quicker because I know he is not going to hurt us with a pass.  Paul, on the other hand, is much more complicated to defend in these late game situations.  Simply put, if you double Paul, he will beat you with a pass.  If you play him straight up, Paul is adept at beating a defender off the dribble and finishing in the lane.  He can also push his defender into the paint, create space, and then pull up and hit a fade away 15-foot jumper in your eye.  Many will tell you that Paul is impossible to defend, especially when the game is on the line.  His is a fierce competitor who can will he team to victory.

And if you are still not sold yet, that’s ok, we’ll get you there.  

Most Game-Winning Shots in Last 10 Seconds of Game (2007 – 2012)

Chris Paul 10 (3 such shots in 2012)

Kobe Bryant 9

Carmelo Anthony 8

Dirk Nowitzki 8

Dwyane Wade 6

*Stats courtesy of NBA.com Game Notes.

Seeing the names of Kobe, Melo, Dirk and Dwyane Wade on this list are not shocking.  If you are not a Clippers or Hornets fan, seeing CP3 on top of this list may be eye opening.  But it won’t be shocking for much longer.  Going into the 2012 playoffs, Chris Paul has the opportunity to shine in the bright lights of LA where he will finally start to get the due he deserves for being perhaps the most clutch player in the NBA.

Just an observation: the two leading candidates for MVP in 2012 (Durant and James) are both curiously missing from the above list

As Paul goes, the Clips Go…

A great player can carry a solid team and make them appear elite.  The numbers below demonstrate how valuable Paul’s production is to the Clippers:

Stats

Wins (37)

Losses (23)

Difference

PPG

21.2

17.5

-3.7

APG

9.4

8.4

-1.0

FG%

50.5

42.8

-7.7

*Stats courtesy of NBA.com Game Notes.

Paul has to be at his best in order to give the Clippers an opportunity to win games, as the Clippers do not have the depth of elite talent to overcome the lack of production from their best player.  While Blake Griffin has had an All-Star season, he is still not an elite player you can isolate in the post in the 4th quarter for two distinct reasons:

1)      His struggles from the charity stripe: 52%

2)     His inability to have a true “go-to” move in the post versus an elite defender and/or double teams.  Double teams are difficult for Blake because he often holds the ball too long, which allows for both quicker defensive rotations (on perimeter shooters after a kick-out) and for the double team to get “deeper” on him, rendering him ineffective in many late games situations.

Paul understands and embraces the enormous responsibility thrust upon him to carry this young and inexperienced team night-in and night-out.  I’m often puzzled when NBA pundits criticize Paul for not looking for his shot earlier in the night.  In a condensed season, Paul has had to pick his spots early in games to make sure he would have enough gas in the tank to finish off the numerous close games the Clippers found themselves in.  After all, the Clippers led the NBA with 14 comeback victories after trailing by 10 points or more. 

It is certainly worth watching to see in the playoffs if Paul is more aggressive in looking for his shot earlier in games.  A more aggressive CP3 would be incredibly dangerous and could lead the Clippers into uncharted territory!

And for Paul himself, that uncharted territory will be MVP in 2013!

Follow me @coachhaz

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