Carlson: Why Thunder's Chris Paul is NBA's most valuable even without MVP trophy
Chris Paul isn't going to win the NBA's MVP award.
The league announced the finalists for its major individual awards last week, and Paul wasn't among the players to make the final cut for most valuable player. The award will go to Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James or James Harden, though I tend to believe it's Giannis' to lose.
But here's the thing, no player has been more valuable to his team this season than CP3.
Giannis is unbelievable. Ditto for LeBron and Harden and anyone else who got MVP votes. But if you are looking for value to team and impact on success, it's impossible to find anyone who rates higher than Paul.
Simply put, the Thunder would have been a train wreck without him.
Frankly, that disaster of a team was likely the one ESPN prognosticators had in their minds' eye when they gave the Thunder a .2% chance of making the playoffs. Yes, a .2% chance. That's a when-pigs-fly chance. A when-h-e-double-hockey-sticks-freezes-over chance.
But truthfully, when ESPN polled its experts before the season started and generated its Basketball Power Index, the results likely reflected a Thunder team without Chris Paul. When he was traded from Houston to OKC last summer, only a few of us thought he would ever wear a Thunder uniform. And an even smaller number thought he'd be in blue and orange all season.
Surely, the thinking went, OKC would figure out a way to get rid of his big salary or CP3 himself would demand a trade.
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Neither happened, of course.
And the result has been spectacular. Paul has taken the reins of an unheralded bunch — sure, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Dennis Schroder and Steven Adams are good, but did many folks outside Oklahoma have any clue about that before the season started? — and spurred it to fifth place in the Western Conference standings.
This isn't a team fighting to make the playoffs, trying to scratch its way into the play-in game for the eight seed. No, it went to the bubble in Orlando last month knowing it was in the playoffs.
Even if the Thunder loses its last two seeding games — Wednesday vs. the Heat and Friday vs. the Clippers — it will have essentially the same winning percentage as it did a year ago.
In 2018-19, OKC finished 49-33 (.598).
If it loses its last two, the Thunder will finish 43-29 (.597).
Of course, if it wins one or both of those games, this team will have a better winning percentage than a squad that had both Russell Westbrook and Paul George — and the reason, my friends, is Chris Paul.
We have seen all season long how important he is to this team. He impacts every part of what they do on the court. Offense. Defense. Mentality. Style. The list goes on and on.
But as much as anything, Paul has makes the other guys on this team so much better. He has elevated their play. He has made them greater than they would've otherwise been.
I could trot out all sorts of stats to illustrate that. I could even give you stories about how he's mentored and cajoled and helped. But I'm not sure there's a better way to show his impact than Monday's game against the Suns.
Yes, a game the Thunder lost 128-101.
But here's the deal: OKC was playing without starters Gilgeous-Alexander, Adams and Danilo Gallinari, super sub Schroeder and reserve center Nerlens Noel. Five of its top six scorers weren't on the court. Four of its best five players were unavailable.
It should've been a recipe for complete and total disaster.
In the end, OKC lost by almost four touchdowns, but it played the hottest team in the bubble close for more than a half. It led by double digits at the end of the first quarter. It trailed by only one point at halftime.
The Thunder should've been getting its doors blown off, and instead, it was giving the Suns a scare. Phoenix, remember, is in desperation mode; it has to win to have any chance at the eighth-seed play-in tournament
And for a good chunk of Monday afternoon, they had to be wondering if their playoff hopes were going to be dashed by Chris Paul and a bunch of guys even passionate NBA fans would be hard pressed to identify.
Paul made a rag-tag bunch competitive.
It was his impact on this team in a nutshell.
Much has been said about Paul's impact on the restart, and rightfully so. In his role as players' association president, he helped make the NBA's return to action and its time inside the bubble a rip-roaring success.
But don't forget, he's had the same kind of impact on his team all season long. Without him, who knows where the Thunder would be, but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't even be in Orlando right now.
Giannis or LeBron or The Beard will hoist the MVP trophy, but Chris Paul will carry the title of most valuable.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.
**************TDP FOR THE COVER******************************
Thunder vs. Heat
When: 7 p.m., Wednesday
Where: Visa Athletic Center, Lake Buena Vista, Florida
TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma (Cox 37/HD 722, DirecTV 675, U-verse 751/1751)
Radio: WWLS 98.1 FM