After a relatively quiet performance in the Los Angeles Clippers’ opening-night loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, Chris Paul exploded in an electric win over the Golden State Warriors on Halloween night to announce his early candidacy for the 2013-14 NBA MVP award. The Clippers’ point guard poured in 42 points to go with 15 assists and six steals, but after wowing over his showing, the basketball world just shrugged its shoulders and then went about its business. Fair or foul, that’s just the way it is.
Paul’s performance was also somewhat overshadowed by the 38 points and nine assists (including 9-of-14 from downtown) by Stephen Curry in the epic point guard battle. Even though the Clippers won, the advocates for Curry’s MVP candidacy were much louder than those of Paul following the contest.
The reason is simple: Everyone knows the Clippers aren’t for real. Sure, they’re real playoff contenders, but in a league in which over half the teams qualify for the playoffs, who isn’t?
Why do we mention the playoffs, you ask? Well, contrary to popular belief, postseason success actually does matter when it comes to MVP voting. They say it shouldn’t, but it does, so why sugar-coat things?
Paul’s first season with the Clippers was considered a success after the team won its first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies in seven games and then got swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the Conference Semifinals. In 2012, Paul led the Clippers to their greatest regular season in franchise history, which included 56 wins and a first-round showdown with the fifth-seeded Grizzlies, who toppled L.A. in six games.
In 2011 it wasn’t as bad but in 2012, everyone weighed their confidence in the Clippers based off that series against Memphis. Now there’s no arguing the Grizzlies were a dynamite team, but the first-round exit was disappointing to Clippers fans, to say the least, and it certainly didn’t do the team any favors among the “experts” who predict how each season will end, including who will win the individual awards.
Put simply, nobody thinks the Clippers are any more than a second-round team. As long as that remains the case, no one will vote for Paul as the MVP. As mentioned, postseason success isn’t supposed to influence MVP voting, but it does. To put it in a nutshell: If a player’s team can’t win the title with him as its best player, then said player will not win the MVP.
Now an exception to that rule was made two years in a row when Steve Nash won the award twice, but otherwise, the above unwritten rule applies.
Here’s the bottom line: Paul is going to have to lift the Clippers in the playoffs before he’s considered as a legit MVP candidate, especially as long as LeBron James and Kevin Durant are on the ballot. Even if Paul truly was the most valuable player in the NBA (he’s not), the voting is skewed toward the best player on the best team. And more often than one might think, those are two different players.