As usual when I write about the Oklahoma City Thunder, I feel like I have to start out by saying this:
I am a Lakers fan so this isn’t a biased opinion.
Now that we got that out of the way, let me say something that I didn’t think I would be saying this season…Chris Paul is in rare form and deserves to be a top 5 MVP candidate. His stat line on the court – 17.7ppg, 5rpg, 6.8apg– just falling short of the exclusive 50/40/90 club, is almost as good as it was during his last All-Star campaign in the 2015-2016 season. Not only that, but he’s also led the Thunder to 6th in the Western Conference, securing a playoff berth with 41 wins and still more games to go in the NBA’s restart.
Simply put, what was supposed to be a “tanking season” has turned into somewhat of a Cinderella Story. Last summer, we saw Russell Westbrook and Paul George ask for trades. This was supposed to be the demise of one of the league’s newest upbeat franchises. Going into the season, Chris Paul was supposed to be asking for a trade by November and be a team cancer until that point. Oklahoma City had a less than 1% chance of making it to the postseason. Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Dennis Schroder were going to be traded for assets and more draft picks. Yet, we are witnessing the opposite.
Paul has been a leader all of Oklahoma City is willing to follow. He has the Thunder looking like they can get as far as the Conference Finals (bold statement, I know). SGA is looking like he’s ready to be an All-Star, doubling his stats in both points and rebounds since last season and shooting at nearly 50% from the field while doing it. Darius Bazely, a rookie who was a New Balance intern, laughed at by many when OKC acquired draft rights to him, despite once being a 5-star recruit, is looking like a young Andre Roberson with an offensive upside. Lou Dort has earned a full contract. I could go on and on but to say this plainly, the young core of Oklahoma City has credited Paul with leading them in this direction.
This Thunder team is fun, youthful in spirit and age (only two players are age 30 or older), and hungry. And it’s hugely due to Paul’s play, leadership and willingness.
Hear me out, Thunder fans, this will be a tough pill to swallow. One thing Chris Paul has done exceptionally well that Russell Westbrook at times struggled to do is hand over the keys. As Paul’s protege, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has said (as has Chris Paul) that CP3 wants him to be the guy. So Paul defers to him and often forces him to be the offensive cornerstone and decision-maker. Setting the young guard up for success, thus making him better. Something that has been seen in not only SGA but Bazely and fan favorite, Steven Adams. Adams is averaging a double-double while shooting 60% from the field.
The success of Oklahoma City thus far is not on accident…it’s been purposefully accomplished due to outstanding leadership from Paul and his willingness to follow the plan and blend almost effortlessly into the system of this year’s Co-Coach of the Year, Billy Donovan. While I do not know what the postseason holds, I do know that in the regular season, there have only been three players more effective than Chris Paul for their respective ball clubs. The one thing I can do is always admit when I have been proven wrong and Chris Paul took my 35-40 win prediction and proved me wrong along with everyone who gave the Thunder a less than 1% chance to reach the Playoffs. A spot that is now secured with a chance to move up 1-2 spots. Possibly even facing Russell Westbrook, James Harden and the Rockets in the first round. I’m not saying he’s the clear cut winner but if he isn’t in the top 5, we’re off on some things.