Long before we decided to put Chris Paul and Deron Williams on the covers of SLAM 124, the debate was raging: Which of the two is the better player? I continued to advocate for CP3, while Ryne demanded we all consider Deron Williams the better player. Ryne and I wrote the two cover stories for the magazine, where we mostly concentrated on proving that our player is the best point guard in the NBA. But for the last week, we’ve been trying to convince each other of the other’s dominance through email. — LW

On Nov 17, 2008, at 11:02 PM, Ryne Nelson wrote:
Lang,

Looking back, it’s amazing that we’re even having this conversation. If you told me three years ago that some people would prefer Deron Williams over Chris Paul, I’d have looked at you like you said Ben Handlogten would one day grace SLAM’s cover.

The 1?When the Jazz drafted Deron third overall in 2005 — one pick ahead of Paul — some still questioned whether Williams could adjust to the pace of the NBA. Those doubts are long gone. Instead, people are now questioning whether Deron can be the better player. Comparisons will continue until the end of their careers, when success will be ultimately be measured in championships, not assist titles.

I’m not writing you to debate which point guard has better numbers (although, numbers invariably will play a role in this discussion — I’m ready, though). I’m here to say that Deron exhibits the stuff of a champion point guard; a self-confidence that he can lead his team to victory under all circumstances. In his young career, he’s already proven he can big win when it counts. His focus is almost too obvious. His confidence almost looks like swagger. Deron Williams is clutch as they come.

Understand, I do not prefer Deron Williams because of numbers—in the end, fewer points and assists per game won’t mean a damn thing. I prefer Deron Williams because he’s a proven winner who I can honestly trust to never stop until his team wins it all.

Ryne

On Tue, Nov 18, 2008 at 2:54 PM, Lang Whitaker wrote:
Ryne,

To be honest, I’m also surprised we’re having this conversation. If I’d told you three years ago that some people would prefer Deron Williams over Chis Paul, it would have been a perfectly logical statement — after all, the Jazz obviously preferred Deron over CP3.

HOWEVA!, since then it’s been pretty cut-and-dried that Chris has been the better player of the two (first team All-NBA, MVP runner-up, All-Star appearance, etc.). (Also, Chris’s numbers have been demonstrably better than Deron’s, but we don’t have to go there.)

I understand that you’re putting Deron ahead of CP3 because you feel Deron will win more championships than Chris will. Well, you can get a good look at a t-bone by sticking your head up a bull’s ass, but why don’t you take my word on this? Chris Paul is better. Simple.

What are you basing all this on? The championships Deron won in college? Because if I’m not mistaken, the one title game Illinois made with Deron at the point, they lost. Deron and CP3 both won a world title this summer — you know, on the team where Deron had to back up Chris Paul.

Both of these guys have won a lot of games at every level of their careers, and they’ll probably both continue to rack up the W’s. And I don’t mean to imply that Deron’s not a great player.

I just want to make sure you understand that Chris Paul is better.

–lang

On Nov 18, 2008, at 11:09 PM, Ryne Nelson wrote:
Lang,

Remember playing pick-up games as a kid? Captains selected players, one at a time, to their team. Who was always the first player picked?

If you played often, you’ll remember the kid well: Dude was probably the biggest and scariest; he was essentially unstoppable. On my block, I’ll never forget that guy because when people got in his way, they’d often end up with bite marks and fractured fingers.

In the League, conduct is controlled. Even still, of a group of point guards, Deron Williams would be the first taken. Not only is he more than three inches taller and 30 pounds heavier than Paul, but Williams is the only player in the League who knows exactly how to neutralize Paul.

To prove my point, let’s go back to college. Dec. 1, 2004 — Illinois romped the consensus No. 1 Wake Forest 91-73 on national television. Illinois then went nearly undefeated until the National Championship Game. Wake Forest, on the other hand, lost in the tourney’s second round.

Since entering the NBA, Deron beat Chris in eight of 10 tries. Paul’s worst performances — professional and collegial; individually and collectively — are often against Deron Williams.

If Paul was better, he’d own head-to-head matchups. But he hasn’t, not even close. Fans are crazy about Paul, but Williams — with his size, deceptive speed and keen decision-making skills — is the tougher match-up.

I keep saying it: Better players find ways to win games. In 2005, Deron led Illinois to a 37-2 record and a national title appearance. In 2007 (Williams’ first season as a full-time NBA starter), he led the Jazz to the Western Conference Finals. In 2008, Utah lost in the second-round to the second-best team in the world.

Despite Paul’s accolades last season, would I still take Deron Williams over Chris Paul? Yes, with even less hesitation. If you’d rather pick Paul first, be my guest.

You’ll see plenty of individual accolades but also plenty of 5-4 starts. And that’s perfectly cool by me.

Ryne

On Wed, Nov 19, 2008 at 12:26 PM, Lang Whitaker wrote:
He might be before your time, but there used to be an NBA player named Elmore Spencer. He played back in the ’90s, was a slow seven-footer who went to UNLV and was a first-round pick by the Clippers. He managed to hang around the NBA for about five years, never doing much except teasing everyone with his massive size and potential that ultimately went unfulfilled.

I bring him up because I went to middle school with his younger brother. He’d obviously inherited his big brother’s size and potential, but, like his brother, he was raw on the court. Still, every day in PE in 7th and 8th grade, he was the first kid picked when we played pick-up basketball. Always. He was, as you said, the biggest and scariest kid. He once broke my hand trying to block one of my lay-up attempts.

Point being, he had size, he could move, he was pretty good for a young teenager…but whenever it was my turn to pick, I drafted a kid named Nick. Nick was short and skinny and may or may not have had a learning disability (he signed my yearbook and referenced Larry Bird, only he spelled the surname “Brid”), yet he could play basketball. At the end of the day, Nick’s teams always won the most games. I wanted Nick on my team.

So sure, since he’s taller and fatter, Deron Williams might The 1?look like a better basketball player than Chris Paul. But as Eddie Murphy will tell you, looks can be deceiving. (And I like how you referred to Deron’s “deceptive” speed — I think that means he’s slow, right?)

If you want to talk about team wins, let’s go back to that 2004-05 college season. If Deron’s Illini team beating Chris’ Wake team is proof that Deron is better, then I guess that means Brandon Fuss-Cheatham is better than Deron. (Who? He was Ohio St.’s PG when they beat Illinois that season.)

Oh, and you know who else is definitively better than Deron? Raymond Felton. Not only did his UNC team beat Illinois, they did it when it mattered the most, in the championship game — and if Deron is a championship player, someone must have to be amazingly better to top him.

To be honest, I really don’t care how Chris has fared against Deron head-to-head. If the NBA was a League where Chris Paul had to play one-on-one against Deron Williams 82 times each season, then maybe I’d pay more attention to their individual match-ups. But basketball is a team game, and Chris Paul is the best team player and the best point guard of our generation. (And as Tom Ziller pointed out on Fanhouse, Chris’s numbers last season are comparable with the best point guards of all-time. FWIW, Deron is not mentioned in that argument.)

So Ryne, I can understand if you’re a Deron Williams fan — after all, you guys both got stuck having to go to U of Illinois, I guess because neither of you could get into Indiana, so you have that common bond. I understand that. Hey, I grew up in Atlanta and have always loved Dominique Wilkins. At the same time, I try to be a realist, and I understand that Nique was no Michael Jordan.

Deron Williams is a great player. He’s just no Chris Paul.

–lang

On Nov 19, 2008, at 7:21 PM, Ryne Nelson wrote:
Lang,

I know we weren’t planning to debate numbers, but since you mentioned it, why not?

Before you talk about stats, let’s not forget something that should always be considered when comparing Williams and Paul: They play in entirely different systems! The two offensive systems are quite different and certainly affect their individual success.

Paul’s system requires him to be in pick-and-roll situations which play to his strengths. Deron plays in Jerry Sloan’s offense, which is predictable, rugged and unchanged for years. If we took Deron and put him on New Orleans, I think he could be equally as effective. But I wonder whether Paul would be half as effective as Deron in Sloan’s system. Utah has an excellent system (look at Sloan’s success), but it doesn’t allow the freedom and creativity that New Orleans’ system does.

My main man Monta Ellis is an example — and you’ve told me this before — he is/was a product of an open floor system which enhances his strengths. If you put Ellis on Utah, his numbers would undoubtedly go down.

So, if Deron were in New Orleans, would his numbers go up? Probably. Because in Utah he is more structured and managed by the coach and his system.

The article you cited was just a basic, per-game stat rundown. It says nothing about offensive systems. How can such an important factor be neglected, especially when focusing on the point guard position?

Still, let’s forget offensive system for a moment and just focus on numbers. Even in the Jazz’s offensive system, Deron Williams was just as good or better last season in scoring and passing.

John Hollinger often reaches with his calculations, but these are just the facts:

– Williams scored more efficiently, shot better and got to the line at a higher rate. His true shooting percentage topped Paul’s. Williams also had a big edge in three-point accuracy. Paul was better from the line and scored more points more per 40 minutes. So call it a draw.

– Both players registered assists on just over 35 percent of their team’s possessions. Paul was one assist better per game because his team had more possessions. Paul edged Deron in a few categories—he had a lower turnover frequency, one more board per, and led the L in thefts. So they’re pretty damn close.

I like Deron Williams as a defender. He certainly can shut down the League’s ‘other’ premier guard (something Paul has yet to show he’s capable of) and is widely considered the better one-on-one defender.

To end, I think this hypothetical question is entirely valid for this discussion: If Deron Williams played for Byron Scott, who’s to say the Hornets wouldn’t have had even more wins last season? It’s not impossible to imagine Deron, in that offensive system, could earn second-place honors in MVP voting. He certainly would dominate in assists.

So if you want to consider stats, don’t neglect the context.

Ryne

On Thu, Nov 20, 2008 at 1:47 PM, Lang Whitaker wrote:
OK, first of all, the Jazz don’t use a pick-and-roll system? I know you’re younger than I am, but you’ve never heard of Stockton-to-Malone? Perhaps Williams-to-Boozer doesn’t carry the same resonance yet, but running pick-and-rolls is what the Jazz do. It’s pretty much all they do, actually.

The Hornets, at least to me, have a more strict offensive system (they run a modified Princeton offense) than Utah, at least in terms of the cuts and picks and passes required to make it work. Jerry Sloan is more of a curmudgeon than Byron Scott, so there’s that, but I think New Orleans runs a more structured offense than Utah.

And then you bring up Hollinger. So New Orleans had more possessions than Utah last season? Maybe that’s because Chris Paul has three times as many steals per game as Deron Williams?

Look, it occurs to me that there’s a lot of imagination required on my part in reading your arguments about why Deron Williams is better than CP3. Would Deron be better in a different system? Would CP3 be worse in a different system? Deron Williams is “widely” considered a better defender? (Is that why CP made second-team all-defense last year and Deron didn’t?) If Deron played for Byron Scott, would the Hornets have had more wins last season?

Let’s go off of what we already know: Deron Williams was selected ahead of Chris Paul in the 2005 NBA Draft.

Now, last season, during a season in which both players posted career-best numbers, Chris Paul averaged 21 points per game. Deron Williams averaged 18.8. Chris Paul averaged 11 assists per game. Deron Williams averaged 10.5. Chris Paul averaged 5 rebounds per game. Deron Williams averaged 3. Chris Paul averaged 3 steals per game. Deron Williams averaged 1.1. Chris Paul averaged 2.5 turnovers per game. Deron Williams averaged 3.4. Last season, Chris Paul’s Hornets won 56 games. Deron Williams’ Jazz won 54.

One other number worth noting: Chris Paul is still only 23 years old.

You can stick with Deron Williams if you want — I won’t take it personally. I’ll stick with CP3. Maybe Deron Williams will top him in head-to-head match-ups. And then maybe you and Deron can sit on the couch together and watch as CP3 and the Hornets go deeper into the postseason.

–lang

On Thu, Nov 20, 2008 at 11:40 PM, Ryne Nelson wrote:
Lang,

You know what Chris Paul, Larry Hughes, Gerald Wallace, Baron Davis and Allen Iverson have in common? They’ve led the League in steals per game at least once since 2001.

You know what else they all have in common? They are not great defenders.

They take risky chances on passing lanes, and they do not defend the ball particularly well. Deron Williams is widely considered a great on-ball stopper, and Chris Paul is not.

Also, forget imagination; look no further than the Hornets’ middling start. I kid you not — in a recent game, Paul was involved in nearly 50 pick-and-rolls! New Orleans’ game plan is effective but easily predictable by now.

I don’t care how slow a team starts a season. A 5-5 record is real.

Could the Hornets be better than .500 with a bigger point guard who defends the ball better? Yes.

Paul’s weaknesses are most obvious when he plays the Jazz. Deron had Paul’s number even before he entered the League!

Deron is too strong for Paul. Paul has trouble with Williams’ size, which often gets him into foul trouble, especially when Deron posts him up. Personally, I would rather have the bigger point. Deron is also the better shooter and is on par as a passer.

If I were to go into a Playoff series, there’s no question I’d take Deron. He’s too strong for most point guards in the League. And, as I said, I believe Deron has the extra fire that wins championships. He’s certainly proved he’s capable of advancing further in an elimination setting.

Deron will continue to abuse Paul. It’s gotten to the point where I actually feel bad for Paul when he faces Utah.

Respect the media,

Ryne

On Fri, Nov 21, 2008 at 11:13 AM, Lang Whitaker wrote:
Ryne,

Honestly, you make a good point with your stat about guys who’ve led the league in steals — none of those guys are considered great defenders (well, Larry Hughes used to be, before he signed that huge contract and people actually started paying attention to his game). Still, if I’m looking for a point guard to defend on a play, I’ll take the guy who averages three times as many steals as the other guy, no questions asked.

But your argument that Chris Paul is basically the reason the Hornets have started 5-5 is about as lame as those Kenny Mayne videos ESPN.com keeps trying to shove down our throats. You may truly believe that Deron is better than CP3, but CP3 is one of the five best players in the entire NBA! Come on now — if anything, the Hornets would be way worse than 5-5 without Chris. Next thing I know you’ll be trying to convince me that the economy’s in great shape and that Nancy Pelosi’s never had plastic surgery.

As this debate has progressed, I’ve realized that even if I got Chris Paul to sit on your lap and plead his own case, you wouldn’t change your mind. And that’s OK — someone had to take Deron ahead of CP3 in the draft, just like someone had to take Sam Bowie ahead of Michael Jordan and someone had to select Darko ahead of Dwyane Wade.

Understand, I’m not saying Deron is a bust. He’s a top notch point guard, and I look forward to seeing him in the All-Star Game for years to come…backing up Chris Paul.

I’ve enjoyed this back-and-forth, and hopefully I’ve at least made you re-think hating on Chris Paul. I did my best to show you the truth, that Chris Paul is the best point guard in the world today.

And unlike Deron Williams, you’ve done a terrific job defending your man.

–lang