It was only a few short years ago that Chris Paul was getting the torch passed along from the likes of Steve Nash and Jason Kidd as the best point guard on the planet. But as a few nagging injuries and turmoil in New Orleans began to hamper Paul, a funny thing started to happen. People began forgetting about Paul and proclaiming new heirs to the NBA point guard throne.
The case was made for the whirling dervish that is Russell Westbrook. Others declared the perennial malcontent Deron Williams as Paul’s superior. Rajon Rondo was turned into a walking double-double. Tony Parker is having perhaps the most impressive season of his career. Derrick Rose went and won himself an MVP. And a slew of young point guards, from Ty Lawson to Kyrie Irving and everyone in between, has grabbed the NBA’s collective attention. The debate has raged on.
Well, Chris Paul has come back this postseason and reminded us all that this debate needs to stop, because there really isn’t one; Chris Paul is still the best point guard in the Association. So let’s put an end to all this nonsense, please. Paul is laughing at anyone who doubts him.
Look at what the man has done (and is doing) for arguably the worst professional sports franchise in North American history. The moment the hand of Stern hit the accept button on moving Paul to the Clippers, the course of the franchise was altered. All by himself, he transformed LA’s other basketball team into the talk of not only the town, but the entire league for the first time in, well, forever. And rightfully so, because Paul immediately made the Clippers relevant and, even more importantly, credible again.
With him running the show, the Clippers went storming out of the gate, and while they stumbled down the stretch, they still managed to knock off a Memphis team in seven games that many people were picking to make a deep run. And they did it all because no player on the planet makes better decisions with the basketball than Chris Paul. And at the end of the day, isn’t that a point guard’s most important responsibility?
Statistically, Paul hasn’t been the best point man in the league or the playoffs this season. The aforementioned Rondo has been an absurd triple-double machine. But Rondo still cannot make a jump shot to save his life, which means come stretch time, the ball really has to be in the increasingly older hands of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen or Kevin Garnett.
Russell Westbrook is a dynamo who is the lead guard on one of the favorites to win it all. But even to this day, Westbrook’s decision-making is shaky at times. There may not be any tension between Kevin Durant and him, but there is still some disconnect from time-to-time on when exactly Russell should be deferring to the league’s best scorer.
And with all due respect to my man Kenny, Deron Williams isn’t even half the leader that Chris Paul is. He brooded his way out of Utah for reasons still unknown, failing to get along with one of the game’s greatest coaches. And while his talent is unquestioned, he’s never been able to help his team truly take the next step, not in Utah and certainly not yet as a Net. Granted, he’s never been on the best team in his league, but he also doesn’t seem like the guy that commands the floor the way Paul does, and that’s what truly separates him from the rest.
When push comes to shove, you know Chris Paul is always going to make the right play. He’s done it time and time again this season, and he was the sole reason the Clippers were able to first erase a 27-point deficit and win Game One against the Grizzlies, and then were able to outlast a deeper, more experienced Memphis team in seven. He makes everyone on the court play the type of game he wants when it matters most. He dictates the flow. And he gets the most out of his teammates.
If you really look at it, who does Paul have as running mates? Yes, Blake Griffin is a highlight machine and tenacious force, but he can’t get out of his own way at times on offense. DeAndre Jordan can block shots like a mad man, but he can’t do much offensively. Eric Bledsoe and Mo Williams are at their best as spot-up guys. Randy Foye is dreadfully inconsistent. Honestly, Caron Butler is probably the most consistent offensive force outside of Paul, and he’s not exactly the player he was before injuries found him.
Still, Paul makes it work. He orchestrates his team with brilliance, hitting every note perfectly to get the most out of everyone’s individual abilities.
Maybe he’s not as dynamic as Westbrook, as fluid as Parker, as explosive as Rondo. Maybe he doesn’t quite have the burst of Derrick Rose, the scoring outbursts of Deron, the young legs of Lawson and Irving. But he has something more important than any of that; has has command of the game at all times.
This season and especially this postseason, even playing injured, he’s proven there is no longer any debate. Chris Paul is the best point guard in the NBA, no matter how many people try to supplant him.