Chris Paul vaults into MVP conversation as he pushes Suns into NBA championship contention

Charles Barkley has been saying for months that Chris Paul should be in the NBA MVP conversation.

Radio personality Colin Cowherd recently put Paul atop his list of MVP candidates.

"Next to LeBron James, nobody in the NBA has the ability to change your basketball team's win-loss standings. Nobody, expect Chris Paul," Cowherd said last week on his show "The Herd."

Cowherd not having Joel Embiid in his top five is puzzling, considering the Philadelphia 76ers center is averaging 30 points and 11.1 rebounds per game on 51.3% shooting for the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, but what does Paul have to say about his growing MVP talk?

"I appreciate it," Paul said as the Phoenix Suns (42-17) prepared to continue their five-game road trip Sunday at the East-leading Brooklyn Nets (40-20) in a national TV matinee (ESPN, 3:30 ET).


"I think at the end of the day, I know who I am and I know what I bring to a team, but I also understand with our team, it's about us. It's about what we're doing, we're building," Paul said.

"It's not something I worry about or wake up and think about or anything like that. It's just about the process, like getting ready for tomorrow's game. I think everything else will take care of itself."

Paul isn't putting up monstrous numbers like Embiid or fellow All-Star big man Nikola Jokic, who is averaging 26.2 points, 10.9 rebounds and 8.7 assists on 56.8% shooting (40.5% from 3) for the Denver Nuggets. But Paul is arguably the biggest reason Phoenix has the second-best record in the Western Conference and is on the fast track to ending an 11-year playoff drought.

The last time the Suns were in the postseason was 2010, when Hall of Fame point guard and current Nets first-year coach Steve Nash was running the show.

When Nash won back-to-back MVPs in 2005 and 2006, he didn't average 20 points in either season:

2004-05: 15.5 ppg., 50.2% FG, 43.1% 3PT, 88.7% FT, 11.5 apg., 3.3 rpg., 1 spg.

2005-06: 18.8 ppg., 51.2%, FG 43.9% 3PT, 92.1% FT, 10.5 apg., 4.2 rpg., 0.8 spg.

Paul has similar numbers to Nash's MVP years this season:

2020-21: 16 ppg., 48.7% FG, 37.7% 3PT, 92.7% FT, 8.8 apg, 4.7 rpg., 1.4 spg.

Chris Paul's presence as the primary ball-handler has allowed Devin Booker to flourish as the Suns' leading scorer.
Chris Paul's presence as the primary ball-handler has allowed Devin Booker to flourish as the Suns' leading scorer.

Taking Cowherd's win-loss impact into the MVP equation with Nash, Phoenix finished 29-53 the season before he began his second stint with the Suns.

The next year, Phoenix erupted for a league-best 62-20 record in Mike D'Antoni's first full season as coach with Nash orchestrating his "Seven Seconds or Less" offense.

That's a 33-win improvement with Nash, who also led the league in assists that year.

All of those factors played into him receiving the award in 2004-05.

The Paul-Suns narrative isn't as powerful, but certainly impactful.

Phoenix has already won eight more games this season (42-17 through 59 games) than it did in more games last season (34-39 in 73 games).

"You watch a lot of these games and he's hitting game-winning shots," Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton said. "He kind of controls the last six minutes of any close game as well as anyone in our league."

Tied for fourth in the league in assists this season, Paul has passed Hall of Famers Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson to rise to fifth on the all-time list.

That will resonate with voters when MVP voting time comes. Being that he's 35 years old in his 16th NBA season and still able to perform at a high level will as well.

The Suns would've been in playoff contention had they stayed pat with their roster. They've become a championship contender with Paul running the show.

Now, Devin Booker is a two-time All-Star who is having his best overall season. Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson have greatly improved.

Deandre Ayton is playing better. The addition of Jae Crowder has been instrumental.

The Suns have a deep roster, and Monty Williams is a frontrunner for Coach of the Year.

However, Paul has been the catalyst of it all amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

All of those factors make him a legit MVP candidate. Paul knows that, but he's more focused on Phoenix continuing this resurgent season.

Having a team mindset goes a long way in being considered for the biggest individual regular-season award, too.

Follow Duane Rankin on Twitter @DuaneRankin.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Chris Paul an MVP candidate while making Suns a title contention