With no offense intended toward Nikola Jokic and his MVP-winning season, Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul is absolutely sticking it to Jokic’s Denver Nuggets in the second round of the 2021 NBA playoffs to make a belated MVP case of his own.
Paul scored 27 points to go with six rebounds and eight assists in Phoenix’s 116-102 victory on Friday at Denver, which put the Suns up 3-0 and on the precipice of a Conference Finals berth. Jokic had an excellent triple-double in his own right, yet there’s a certain intangible, fiery leadership quality that’s missing from him.
It’s not just CP3’s recent dominance that shows he’s the real NBA MVP, either. We’re not in a prisoner of the moment type of situation. This just seems obvious right now. Here’s why.
Chris Paul has quickly transformed Phoenix Suns’ culture
Let’s just look at the facts: Paul joined essentially the same Phoenix team that, yes, went perfect in the Orlando bubble, but no, didn’t make the playoffs last year. You can credit head coach Monty Williams, and the gradual improvement of young studs Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, but Paul’s ability to change a culture can no longer be underestimated.
Realize that Paul did all this with a quick turnaround to the new regular season and a truncated schedule. He had to adjust to a complete change of scenery and new teammates while building camaraderie on the fly. It’s not like these are a bunch of seasoned pros. The Suns are among the youngest teams in the NBA, and certainly have among the most youthful core of franchise cornerstones, that’s for sure.
Regardless of how much the deck was stacked against him, CP3 elevated Phoenix to achieve the No. 2 seed in the West. Even with the misfortune of drawing the Los Angeles Lakers in Round 1 and Paul himself injuring his shoulder early in the series, these Suns didn’t flinch when the heat was on. In fact, they rose to the occasion and ousted LeBron James and the reigning champs in six.
Phoenix hadn’t made the playoffs in a decade. Now, the organization finds itself one win away from the NBA’s Final Four. That’s largely because of the Suns’ big offseason move to sign Chris Paul.
Comparing Chris Paul to Nikola Jokic, other 2020-21 MVP finalists
Jokic, Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid and Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry were the finalists for MVP. Curry was the scoring champion on a team that didn’t make the postseason, and Embiid missed 21 regular-season games. Paul, in his age-36 campaign, missed two.
There’s no denying Jokic is a phenomenal player who could even get better from here, considering he’s only 26. It’s amazing that he played all 72 games on the shortened schedule and put up averages of 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists as a center.
However, Jokic was on a strong Nuggets squad that just made a run to the Conference Finals, and much of that had to do with Jamal Murray’s individual greatness.
Had Murray not scored 36, 42 and 50 points respectively in three of the Nuggets’ four wins over the Utah Jazz in the 2020 playoffs, they’d have been sent packing in the first round.
Jokic would’ve still gotten MVP consideration on his own merits this season based on the incredible stats he put up, but his profile would’ve been diminished without that great playoff push.
Chris Paul’s MVP case goes beyond his value to Phoenix Suns
If you’re still doubting the value Chris Paul brings to a team, don’t exclusively consider what he’s done for the Suns. Look at the bigger picture of the Western Conference in particular. We’re going further back than what’s happened most recently, as Paul has helped Phoenix rip the souls out of the Lakers and Nuggets.
How quickly we also forget that Paul was essentially sent to waste away on the Oklahoma City Thunder and their tank-worthy roster last season.
It would’ve been easy for that Thunder team to pack it in. Heck, Paul could’ve been resigned to thinking, “Well, this is it.” What’d Oklahoma City do instead? Rallied around CP3, earned the No. 5 seed in the West, and pushed Paul’s prior team, the Houston Rockets, to seven games, losing by only two points in the series finale.
That was a likely catalyst that wound up forcing James Harden to flee Houston to the Brooklyn Nets during this season. Oh, and how did OKC do in 2020-21? A 22-50 record. Complete afterthought. Irrelevant.
Then, as mentioned before, Paul lifted the spirits of a Suns franchise that was on a lengthy playoff dry spell, and got his teammates to the point of not merely being happy to be there, but being in it to win it all.
Paul received only two first-place votes for MVP, finished fifth in the overall voting and has never won the league’s most prestigious individual award. Clearly, CP3 deserved better, must be aware of the slight, and is taking it out on the MVP himself and a reeling Nuggets team that’s in danger of being swept on its home floor.