The Phoenix Suns have been incredible this year. They have the third-best record and the third-best Net Rating in the NBA and look like real contenders. Typically, teams as successful as this have at least one player in the MVP conversation. A few weeks ago on Inside the NBA, Charles Barkley advocated that Chris Paul should be in the discussion.
Barkley’s rationale, however, was a little misleading:
“If a team made a trade in the offseason and they went from last place to first place, why would we not mention that guy for MVP?”
Obviously, Barkley’s statement was not accurate, but even when Kenny Smith corrected him, saying that the Suns had not been in last place, Chuck continued,
“They didn’t even make the playoffs, they were awful last year.”
In his mind, Barkley lumped all teams that missed the playoffs in 2020 into one category, and anyone who followed the Suns last season knows how wrong that is. The 2019-20 Suns were immensely better than each of the previous 4 years. Their 34-39 record was tied with the last team to make the Play-in, and despite having a few more losses than wins, they had a positive point differential.
The type of discourse offered by Barkley is typical of people who cover the NBA on a national level. There are just too many teams to watch to truly be dialed in on all of them. Barkley probably watched around five Suns games all last year and was ignorant of how good the team had been. The core of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Mikal Bridges all took major steps in their development and it was clear that the team was on the rise.
That’s why giving all the credit to Chris Paul is so unfair. Yes, Chris Paul has been sensational, and the Suns would definitely not be the 2-seed in the West without him. However, I’m inclined to think that had the Suns run back last year’s squad, they still would be a playoff team this year.
There are some teams where one player is clearly the main catalyst for success, like Nikola Jokic in Denver or Luka Doncic in Dallas, but the Suns are not that way. I believe that Devin Booker has been equally important to Chris Paul for Phoenix this year, and in addition to those two, there are several other key contributors.
My next question is this- how much credit does each player deserve for the success the Suns have had? In an attempt to gauge what Suns fans think of this, I asked a large group of people to each divvy out 10 “MVP Points” to as many Suns players as they wanted. I felt this would be a better representation of why the Suns are so great than just saying one player should be in the MVP conversation. 70 people responded, and here is the total number of points each player received:
While the fans do technically agree with the national perspective that Chris Paul has been the most important player on the Suns, it is still close between him and Booker. Mikal Bridges also got heavy consideration, and many fans felt inclined to credit several other players in smaller roles.
Here is a link to the full results of how each respondent divided their 10 points: Phoenix Suns MVP fan vote.
Tying this all back to the league MVP debate is fascinating. There is no one candidate that has separated himself from the pack so far this season, so I imagine there will be many players receiving votes. This year’s MVP race reminds me of 2006 when there was also no one clear favorite.5 different players received at least 10 first-place MVP votes in 2006, which has never happened in any other year since the NBA-ABA merger. I predict that it will happen again this year, with Jokic, Embiid, LeBron, Giannis, and Harden all getting strong consideration. The voters get to select a top-5, and each voter has unique criteria on what “valuable” means to them, so there will be many more players than just those 5 receiving votes.
I would guess that both Booker and Paul will receive some 5th place votes, but more importantly, the Suns have been great as a collective unit. Gone are the days that Devin Booker had to carry a roster of players who mostly didn’t belong in the NBA. James Jones has built a roster around him that compliments him superbly. While it would be fun to have a legitimate contender for MVP on the Suns, I’ll take team success over that every day of the week.
Be sure to follow Cody on Twitter: @Co_DHunt