NBA 50 Greatest Players: Chris Paul #45

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After being selected 4th in the 2005 draft, Chris Paul was quick to establish himself as one of the very best pure point guards in The NBA. In his first season, he averaged 16/8/5 en route to winning rookie of the year honours. In the years following his rookie campaign, he has averaged 19 ppg, 10 apg, 4.3 rpg and 2.4 spg and has only been rivalled by Jason Kidd for the best all-round point guard since Magic Johnson. He has been selected to the all-NBA first team 3 times, and the 2nd and 3rd team one time each. He’s been a 7 time all-star (including winning the MVP in last year’s game) and has been selected to the all-defensive 1st team 3 times (and the 2nd team twice). In 2008, he was the runner up in the MVP voting (Kobe won the award, although Lebron should have taken it with his 30/8/7 season). Paul has been instrumental in resurrecting two dormant franchises (Clippers and New Orleans) and is often praised for his leadership.

The Elephant in the room

It’s impossible to ignore the following statement about Chris Paul: He has never been to the conference finals. Ever. The door was wide open last season when Russell Westbrook went down with an injury in the first round against Houston, and The Clippers had a 2-0 lead against the Grizzlies. Memphis came back and took the series, 4-2, before beating the aforementioned Westbrook-less Thunder team. In 2008, he was also close when The Hornets had a 2-0 series lead over The Spurs before losing 4 out of the next 5 games, including game 7 at home. If you go by the box score alone, you’d think Paul had a pretty good game: 18 points (on 8/18 shooting), 14 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 steals and 4 turnovers. With the exception of Tyson Chandler (who got a large percentage of his points from Paul’s passing directly anyway), Chris Paul shot the highest percentage of anyone on the Hornets.

With his team struggling, as a leader, Paul should have gone down swinging. Instead, Jannero Pargo came off the bench and put up 16 shots in 26 minutes with Paul taking a backseat. In 2012 when the Clippers beat the Grizzlies, Eric Bledsloe was the Point Guard on the floor in their historic comeback victory in games 1 and 7. In the second round, he was dominated by Parker. In last year’s playoffs, Chris Paul hit a dubious game winner (he pushed Tony Allen off at least 3 times before shooting) in the 2nd game before completely disappearing the rest of the series. When a scorer (like Iverson or Carmelo) gets criticised for not adapting their game to help their team and they end up losing, the same standard should be applied to pass first players. Isiah Thomas was a master of this. Jason Kidd developed this (remember his shootout with Reggie Miller in the decisive game 5 of the first round in 2002?)

Chris Paul just isn’t a clutch player. I spoke recently about a conversation I had a few years ago I had with a friend where I said I would take Westbrook over Paul. He asked why, and I said because I knew that if my team was going down, Westbrook would put up a fight. Chris Paul has shown a tendency to go out with a whimper.

Chris Paul vs Tony Parker

These two guys have met in the playoffs twice (the only two times Chris Paul has made it out of the 1st round). Parker has had the best power forward of all time for his entire career, but has emerged from that shadow to be his own man (Parker was 2007 finals MVP ahead of Duncan, and has been San Antonio’s most important offensive player since 2006). Let’s have compare stats for both of these guys, excluding their rookie seasons:

Chris Paul 19 PPG (48%) 10.2 APG 4.3 RPG 2.4 SPG
Tony Parker 18 PPG (50%) 6.2 APG 3.0 RPG 0.9 SPG

 

Overall, Chris Paul is ahead on every category with the exception of shooting percentage. But how about last time they matched up in the playoffs?

Chris Paul 12.8 PPG (37%) 9.3 APG 4.0 RPG 2.8 SPG
Tony Parker 17.3 PPG (36%) 7.8 APG 3.3 RPG 1.3 SPG

 

Tony Parker shooting over Chris Paul

Tony Parker shooting over Chris Paul

Those number are much more comparable, but let’s keep in mind that the sample size is only 4 games (and The Spurs won all 4 games by a fairly comfortable margin with the exception of game 4). It’s also important to recognise the different roles these guys play: Everything runs through Chris Paul, but with Parker, he has to defer and be a decoy to Ginobili or Duncan a lot of the time. This poses the question of whether he has been helped of hindered with this role, and it’s impossible to come to a conclusion. It is easier to envision The Spurs having similar success with Chris Paul at the point instead of Parker than seeing Parker finishing second in the MVP voting in 2008 for the Hornets. One guy is about winning, one guy is about racking up numbers (and then completely shrinking in crunch time), and it’s obvious who is who. I have a high amount of respect for players like Parker and Rasheed that are willing to take a back seat and step up in big moments, rather than post massive numbers in meaningless games to create a perception of excellence and the reason the team fails is because of their teammates. Leaders have to lead, and not stand back and watch their team get ripped apart without standing up. That game 7 loss in 2008 was damning for Chris Paul, and he has done very little to rectify it.

These are damning words, I know, but Paul has to be aware that nothing is guaranteed in the world of sports. He has to take advantage of the talent around him and live up to the standard that he has created for himself and actually lead his team deep into the playoffs. If he can do that, then he will answer the biggest (and the only) question mark relating to his career. Jason Kidd, Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan (in 91), Lebron (in 07) all led their teams to the finals with much less talent. It’s time to produce, and if he can get The Clippers a championship (or at least the finals) then we can seriously throw him in with Isiah and Iverson for the greatest little guys that have ever played this game. But until then he’s number 45, and this is nearly as disappointing as Dwight Howard. He should be higher.

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