Over the weekend, Duke University legend and current ESPN pundit Jay Williams took to Twitter and announced that Denver Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic is the NBA’s Most Valuable Player.
“I have to say let’s stop dragging on this regular season MVP stuff in the NBA,” he wrote.
“It’s Nikola Jokic period. Now, let’s get ready for the playoffs.”
Former Houston Rockets assistant coach, Irv Roland responded to Williams’ tweet by stating: “Chris Paul is the most VALUABLE player.”
Let the debate begin …
Individually, CP3 is averaging 16.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 8.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals per contest and while the popular opinion in the NBA streets are that Nikola Jokic’s 26.2 points, 10.9 rebounds, 8.5 assists and 1.4 steals for a fifth place Nuggets team without Jamal Murray is the standard seal of approval, Irv Roland stands pat on his tweet about CP3’s MVP chances for a good reason.
“The award says valuable, not outstanding,” Roland told me by phone.
“Measuring individual value, this player’s addition took a non-playoff team to the best record in the NBA, I don’t see what the debate is.”
Paul, who turns 36 Thursday, has been extremely valuable for a Phoenix Suns team that enters tonight’s contest against the Cleveland Cavaliers holding a four-game winning streak, not to mention having the NBA’s second best overall record at 46-18, trailing only the Jazz by a ½ game.
Paul’s contemporaries are singing his praises.
“He’s always been successful, just like me,” NFL Hall of Famer Terrell Owens said via text message.
"Every stop that he’s been, he’s made a difference and production has been equally as good. Say what you want about him, you can’t deny his body of work. Definitely a Hall of Famer, I might add!”
The Point God Delivers
Get your popcorn ready!
In an NBA world where many of his peers have joined super teams and won championships, Chris Paul has become Mr. Miyagi to a team full of Daniels and a Master Splinter to a team full of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Paul’s elite Jedi intellect was top shelf last season when he guided a 44-28 Oklahoma City Thunder team to the NBA Playoffs and were a Game 7 victory away from defeating the Rockets in Round 1 in the bubble in Florida.
“The last two seasons have been MVP worthy for him after they said he was done,” two-time NBA All Star Isaiah Thomas told me.
Chris Paul’s trade value spiked last offseason with teams like the New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks lining up with offers to acquire the 11-time NBA All Star.
Ultimately, the Suns won the Paul sweepstakes and upon his arrival in Phoenix, CP3 has turned tuna into lobster and noodles into pasta. On the court, the vet helped transform a Suns team that finished 10th in the Western Conference with a 34-39 record last season to one that currently sits in second this year.
The Suns will make the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2010, ending an 11-year drought and Chris Paul has been the team’s phoenix.
Suns clinch first playoff spot since 2010
“He was a piece that was needed for those young guys,” former Phoenix Suns point guard, Stephon Marbury told me by phone from China.
“Those guys look to him for the mind part, not just the basketball part. He’s older and he understands the game. Playing for Doc Rivers he learned a lot and he brought that understanding of basketball to Phoenix. Deandre Ayton is going to be a monster. He’s one of those kids that people said he wasn’t good, and he couldn’t do this or that, but you can tell he has a good work ethic. By the third or fourth year in the NBA, you figure it out. Once you understand the NBA game, that’s it. Ayton as time goes on, he’s going to get in a position where he doesn’t have to just dunk. Once he gets a turnaround jumper, he’s going to be hard to stop.”
For those keeping score at home: Ayton is currently averaging 14.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game for the Suns.
“They have been moving in toward this goal since before the bubble last season,” ex-Suns forward, Shawn Marion told me via text message. “And they have carried that momentum to this season, and they have secured a playoff spot.”
Paul’s gotten tons of kudos from far and wide, but he openly acknowledges that it’s more to the team than just him.
It’s a collaborative effort. “I know who I am,” he said last week.
“I knew coming into this situation, I knew who [Devin Booker] was. Book had told me about some guys on the team. I knew from playing with Monty [Williams] how detail-oriented he was. Then, when I got here and got a chance to see the culture they had already built, it’s special, man. For me, being away from my family, teams like this — they become your family.”
Family over everything. Contributions from Booker, who’s having a career year himself averaging 25.6 points per game.
Booker skies to the rim
But it’s not just the usual suspects who deserve the credit. The supporting cast deserve a head nod, too. Insert: Jae Crowder, Dario Šarić, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Payne and Langston Galloway.
The Suns’ front office, too.
“James Jones should win NBA Executive of the Year,” retired NBA Champion, turned television analyst, Kendrick Perkins shares.
“Jae Crowder and Torrey Craig were huge pickups for the Suns.”
And don’t forget Coach Monty Williams, who also deserves a shoutout.
“I’m not surprised at all by his success because he has a tremendous work ethic,” former New Orleans Pelicans scout Chucky Brown says of Monty Williams.
“He’s a player's coach. He disciplines guys but he’s a player’s coach.”
Suns guard Mikal Bridges witnessed Williams’ tough love firsthand. In his rookie season last year, Bridges was not one of Williams’ trusted players. In fact, Williams allowed Bridges to start only 32 of 73 games last season and in his first 18 games, he only played 20 or more minutes eight times.
During a recent media availability session, Williams noted that both he and Bridges developed a better bond after a candid conversation. “He wasn’t quite as consistent as we wanted to earlier in the year,” he said.
“He and I had a pretty vulnerable conversation about what I expected but also about how I could help him. To his credit, he embraced everything I asked of him, and I had to look at myself and see how I could help him.”
A retired nine-year NBA vet, Monty Williams was on the NBA head coaching fast track two years after retiring from playing basketball in 2003. After serving as an assistant coach of the Portland Trail Blazers for five seasons, Williams was named head coach of the then-New Orleans Hornets in 2010 and made history by becoming the youngest head coach in the NBA at age 38.
When Williams inherited coaching duties in NOLA, he got his first glimpse at a then-25-year-old Chris Paul, who was already a three-time All-Star and one of the NBA’s top point guards.
Fast forward ten years later, the reuniting of CP3 and Williams is a great story for basketball in a world where many basketball fans expect any iteration of the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia 76ers or Brooklyn Nets to make NBA Finals appearances this year. “The one team no one wants to face is the Phoenix Suns,” says retired NBA big man Olden Polynice.
“Once they picked up Chris Paul it was over. They built a nice team. They have options at every position. Devin Booker is like Steph and Klay, Chris Paul is a Hall of Famer. Deandre Ayton is solid at the big man position, Jae Crowder is a solid vet, they brought in Dario Saric, Cameron Payne was a nice addition. I like their team.”
Imagine a world where Williams could win NBA Coach of the Year Honors and Paul wins the League's Most Valuable Player of the Year award in Phoenix. “I think he should be a front runner or one of them for MVP,” says Dallas Mavericks assistant coach God Shammgod.
“Chris Paul is in The MVP conversation in his 16th year,” said Jamal Crawford.
Chris Paul calls game!
“Only all-time greats can say they've done that.”
“Monty, I always look at as a basketball lifer,” notes three-time NBA Champion, B.J. Armstrong whose Chicago Bulls were rivals to Williams’ New York Knicks in the 90s.
“It’s great to win. The work that he’s doing far exceeds that because he’s touching the lives of young people.”
While the NBA’s regular season’s MVP award won’t be announced for a while, the Suns still have work to do. Phoenix has eight games remaining in the NBA’s regular season and are battling the Utah Jazz for sole possession of the No. 1 seed in the West
But one thing is certain, Chris Paul has proved that he’s been most valuable to the Phoenix Suns.