Phoenix Suns

Chris Paul: Putting the all-time greatness of the Phoenix Suns' MVP candidate into perspective

Let's talk about Chris Paul, again.

With him turning 36 years old on Thursday, there isn't a better time to take a moment to appreciate his status as an all-time great.

In his 16th NBA season, CP finds himself on his third team in as many years but that hasn't slowed him down. He continues to impact winning as he's done since coming into the league in 2005.

The Chris Paul effect
Team Pre-Paul Record PCT Paul, Year 1 Record PCT Increase
New Orleans/OKC Hornets 2004-05 18-64 .220 2005-06 38-44 ,463 +.243
LA Clippers 2010-11 32-50 .390 2011-12 40-26 .606 +.216
Houston Rockets 2016-17 55-27 .671 2017-18 65-17 .793 +.122
Oklahoma City Thunder 2018-19 49-33 .598 2019-20 44-28 .611 +.013
Phoenix Suns 2019-20 34-49 .466 2020-21 47-19 .712 +.246

Not only have the Suns ended an 11-year postseason drought in their first year with Paul, but they are also well within striking distance of the West's top seed with a couple of weeks remaining in the season.

It's part of the reason why NBA.com's Kyle Irving outlined Paul's MVP case - a legitimate one at that - which is amazing considering he arguably hasn't had a case this strong since the 2007-08 season when he finished in second place at just 22 years old.

MORE: Paul is making a Steve Nash-like run at MVP

So let's really talk about Chris Paul.

CP has the ability to control the game in ways very few can. As highlighted by Nate Jones, what Paul is doing is quite literally the same type of sustained greatness that we've seen throughout the career of LeBron James.

Though we as a basketball world have known better with LeBron, many tried to write Paul off. The four-year max deal he signed in 2018 was quickly lambasted. Critics cited Paul's age, size and injury history as reasons why he simply didn't have it anymore.

Yet, here he is.

While the talks got louder, all CP did was hoop and make every single person around him better. He did so as a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder and he's doing it with the Suns, earning All-Star selections and making history in the process.

Now, I'm a firm believer that legacy talk should be reserved for the end of a player's career, but I have to take a moment out for Paul, who has rewritten the record books multiple times this season by entering the league's all-time top five in steals, becoming the sixth player in league history to dish out 10,000 assists and, most recently, surpassing Magic Johnson for fifth all-time on the league's all-time assists list.

And if you interpreted the above statement on holding off legacy talk as my belief that the 16-year-old veteran is nowhere near close to being done, you're exactly right.

My perspective of Paul's sustained excellence is a bit different.

Growing up as the son of the team's TV analyst, Charlotte, New Orleans (and Oklahoma City) Hornets basketball was all I knew. So on Oct. 31, 2005, when Paul made his debut against the Sacramento Kings, I was tuned in as he racked up the first four assists of his career.

On Jan. 2, 2006, I watched CP in person for the first time as he dished out another 11 assists to bring his total up to 226 just 30 games into his career. It would be the first of hundreds of times I watched Paul play as a Hornets ball boy, leading me to confidently say I've easily seen north of 1,000 of his career assists as they played out in real-time and am almost confident enough to say I've personally witnessed around one-fifth of his grand total.

And while it might not have been the first assist I ever saw him dish out, I'll never forget a specific assist from the first time I watched CP play, mainly because of what it set up.

Fast forward two seasons later to the 2007-08 campaign and there were hundreds of "Crescent City Connection" alley-oops from Paul to Tyson Chandler, while Paul and David West executed the pick-and-pop to perfection. It was that same season that Paul won his first of four assists titles while leading the Hornets to a 56-26 record and earning a second-place MVP finish.

At 13, I had a front-row seat to Paul's wizardry and specifically recall his first two NBA Playoff performances as he totalled 67 points and 27 assists while going head-to-head with a 35-year-old future Hall of Famer in Jason Kidd.

J-Kidd had no answer.

Now, 13 years later, I'm coming up on 27 and we're talking about 36-year-old Paul as an MVP candidate while he's tossing lobs to Deandre Ayton and masterfully executing a two-man game with Devin Booker, who, by the way, were eight and 10 years old, respectively, during Paul's playoff debut.

And even at this point of his career, it's still the opposition that has no answer for him.

For the second straight season, Paul is one of the league's top clutch performers , using his craftiness to create for himself and others with the game on the line. What we've learned throughout Paul's career is that he's at his best when the stakes are at their highest.

In the game where he surpassed Magic, Paul finished with 22 points and 13 assists in an overtime win over the Milwaukee Bucks, his 18th double-double of the season and the fifth game with 20-plus points and 10-plus assists this season. Only three players aged 35 or older have had more of such games in a season - Steve Nash (four times), LeBron James (twice) and Lenny Wilkens.

And there's plenty of time left this season.

After his latest milestone, Paul reflected on what it all means to him with the Bally Sports Arizona crew, saying "It's a blessing, man. I don't take this stuff for granted. Give a huge shoutout to my team. All the people that make my world go round, seriously.

"16 years, a lot of people don't get a chance to say that. Magic Johnson is the GOAT when you talk about playing the point guard position, so I'm honoured and privileged … but s--, I ain't done yet."

As the stakes continue to rise, so will CP's play.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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