CHRIS PAUL IS MVP WORTHY
Eric Patten (@ericpatten) | 4/22/12

There was never one moment when Chris Paul should have secured the 2012 Most Valuable Player award. There were several.

Paul leads the league in steals (2.4 per game) and is third in assists (9.0). He scores 19.3 points, grabs 3.5 rebounds, turns the ball over 2.1 times per game (a career-low) and has shot 36.9% from 3-point range in 36.3 minutes.

But it's not just about conventional statistics, Heat forward Lebron James, with gaudy numbers across the board, and Oklahoma City's shooting star Kevin Durant would win that argument every time.

It's about Paul's value; what he's meant to a Clippers organization that until this season, the first with Paul manning the controls, had just two seasons with a record of .500 or better in 34 years.

It's about improvement. The Clippers are on the verge of clinching home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, a winning percentage (.619) exceeding the best of Bob McAdoo's Buffalo Braves teams and coming on the heels of two seasons of going a combined .372 in 164 games. They've defeated James' Heat, Kobe Bryant's Lakers, and Durant's Thunder (three times). In each of the victories, Paul emerged as arguably the best player on the court, exemplified by his daring layup around shot-blocking maven Serge Ibaka to break a tie with 8.8 seconds left against the Thunder.

Paul's shot in Oklahoma City on April 11 was the capstone in a season full of clutch plays. He won games on the final possession at home against Portland and Detroit and on the road in Philadelphia. His play in the final five minutes of games was unrivaled during this lockout shortened schedule jammed with back-to-backs, four games in five nights, and other nightmare scenarios.


READ: Best of 2011-12: Top 5 Game-winning shots from Chris Paul
Entering play Sunday, Paul has the third most points (72), most assists (23), and is 28-for-29 from the free-throw line in the final five minutes of games in which the Clippers are within five points or tied. Taking it a step further, in the final minute, with the same criteria, Paul has scored 41 points, 10 more than anyone else. Asked if his point guard was the league's most valuable player, head coach Vinny Del Negro said, "He's got to be considered in a big way because of what he's been able to do in such a short period of time here. There's no question he should be mentioned in terms of his impact on the team."

Perhaps, the biggest statement about Paul's candidacy is the effect he's had on the Clippers in just four months. The team opened training camp on December 9, acquired Paul from New Orleans on December 15, and played their first regular season game 10 days later. His imprint on the franchise was felt immediately and as Paul's dynamism on the court is easy to see, his ability to galvanize the organization as a whole is not.

When Clippers Vice President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey talks about Paul it's not just about numbers, it's about changing a culture. The most surprising thing about the point guard he's known since he was a high school star in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, according to Olshey is his off the court demeanor.

"The way he carries himself and the way he treats everybody in the organization just makes people want to go the extra mile for him and I think that's what's been special," Olshey said. "He's brought that air of family which we've been trying to develop here."

There is no cookie-cutter formula for how to choose the NBA's most prestigious award. Is it the best player on the best team? The most statistically dominant? The most influential when the game is on the line? Or the best leader in the locker room?

In past years the answer has been more obvious than others. However, with the season closing in less than a week, it's clear that for the Clippers, Chris Paul is all of those things and more.

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