What if I told you that you don't have to lead your team in scoring to win the NBA's Most Valuable Player award? That you make such a significant impact in other areas of the game that scoring becomes a footnote of your contribution to team success.
In the 64 years that the NBA has awarded the MVP trophy, only five players - Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, Wes Unseld, Dave Cowens and Steve Nash - have achieved the rare feat of receiving the honour without leading their team in scoring. It has only occurred 10 times total in league history, with Russell accomplishing it five times and Nash doing so twice.
When Nash won MVP with the Phoenix Suns in 2004-05, he became the first player in 36 years (since Unseld in 1969) to take home the award without leading his team in scoring. Averaging only 15.5 points per game, Nash had the third-lowest scoring average of all-time by a league MVP. He was the fourth-leading scorer on the Suns that season - only Unseld ranked lower in scoring average on his team's roster (fifth in 1969) among all league MVPs. Nash did, however, lead the league with 11.5 assists per game.
Dishing to a trio of players that could get a bucket in a variety of ways in Amar'e Stoudemire (26.0 points per game), Shawn Marion (19.4 ppg) and Joe Johnson (17.1 ppg), Nash only scored when he had to. It was his first season back in Phoenix, playing for the team that drafted him back in 1996. Now with a handful of playoff runs with the Dallas Mavericks under his belt, including one (and at the time, his only) Conference Finals appearance, Nash was ready to elevate a team to a championship-calibre level.
Before Nash's arrival, the Suns had lost in the first round of the NBA Playoffs in six of their last seven postseason appearances. They missed the playoffs completely in two of their previous three seasons and went 29-53 the year prior to landing the star point guard in free agency.
Playing under head coach Mike D'Antoni and his new-and-revolutionary "seven seconds or less" offence that perfectly complimented Nash's uber-unselfish playstyle, the Victoria, B.C. product was clicking on all cylinders despite what his scoring average tells you. Moving up and down the court at light speed, Nash was able to elevate his teammates around him while only attempting 11.4 field goals and 2.9 3-pointers (!) per game.
He led Phoenix to a franchise-record-tying 62-win season, claiming the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, which played a significant role in his winning of the 2005 MVP. Behind their award-winning floor general, the Suns would return to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 1993; the run didn't have a storybook ending, though. Phoenix would fall to the San Antonio Spurs in five games with Nash coming up just short of his first NBA Finals appearance yet again.
With a similar storyline, he would go on to win the 2006 MVP the following season. The Suns would again advance to the Western Conference Finals, this time having their run cut off by Nash's former team, the Mavericks. Nash would take his team to the Conference Finals one more time during his tenure in Phoenix in 2010, but this time, it was the Los Angeles Lakers that would take care of business.
The Suns have not been back to the playoffs since that elimination - a 10-season drought, the second-longest streak in the NBA, trailing only the Sacramento Kings (14 seasons).
Is any of this ringing any bells? Does it feel like déjà vu? It should.
A basketball genius, veteran point guard over the age of 30, coming into Phoenix with only one Conference Finals appearance (and zero NBA Finals appearances) to his name, ready to elevate a young and talented team to get the franchise back on track.
When the Suns went a perfect 8-0 in the 2020 NBA bubble and still missed the playoffs, it was clear this team was ready to take another step but were missing that experienced presence. With one of the league's most gifted scorers in Devin Booker, a former No. 1 overall pick in Deandre Ayton and other blossoming players like Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson, it was clear Phoenix was building something special.
Trading for 11-time All-Star Chris Paul meant one thing: they were prepared to go all-in on a title run.
History shows that when Paul joins a new team, that team gets better. And that's not an opinion, it's a cold hard fact.
When Chris Paul goes to a new team, that team gets better.- StatMuse (@statmuse) April 8, 2021
Before CP - .220 W%
After CP - .463 W%
Before CP - .390
After CP - .606
Before CP - .671
After CP - .793
Before CP - .598
After CP - .611
Before CP - .466
After CP - .720 pic.twitter.com/T14age0A6Y
The Suns went from a pre-bubble record of 26-39 last season to the second-best record in the NBA at 36-14 through 50 games this season. They find themselves just 1.5 games back from first place in the loaded West, a position they haven't held since Nash's time in Phoenix.
Paul has been everything this team could have asked from him and more. Averaging 16.3 points, 8.8 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on very efficient .493/.370/.926 shooting splits, he has been the driving catalyst of a team that owns the No. 1 offensive rating, No. 6 defensive rating and best record (25-5) over the last two months of the NBA season.
He's not leading his team in points per game (*wink, nudge*), that title belongs to Booker at 26.1 points per game, just slightly above what Stoudemire averaged as the team's leading scorer during Nash's first MVP season. And while his 8.8 assists per game don't line up with Nash's league-leading 11.5, Paul still ranks fourth in the NBA in that category.
Curious, isn't it?
But where Paul does lead the Suns - and the majority of the NBA - is clutch scoring. His 99 total points in the clutch rank him fourth-best in the NBA and he's knocking down shots at a reliable 44.9 percent in the game's tightest moments. His 13 clutch assists are good for a spot in the top-10 in the league and he only has six turnovers during that span.
His latest heroics of going for 16 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to knock off the Utah Jazz, the only team that stands ahead of Phoenix for the NBA's best record, was just another example of how paramount Paul's impact has been on his team's success.
☀️ 16 in the 4th & OT! ☀️@CP3 (29 PTS, 9 AST) takes over late to lead the @Suns to their 7th straight win! pic.twitter.com/Nt2KIgDepe- NBA (@NBA) April 8, 2021
There are a handful of deserving players to be considered as MVP this season. Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, LeBron James, Damian Lillard, James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The list goes on.
But if Phoenix earns the No. 1 seed in the West and Paul continues to play at this rate, where he has also appeared in 49 of 50 available games thus far, what is the disconnect on his level of value to his team? That he doesn't lead them in points per game?
If you need me to connect the dots, I will.
Chris Paul deserves Most Valuable Player consideration in the same light that Nash won the league MVP with the Suns in 2005.
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