by Doobie Okon

For the better part of a decade now, the LeBron-Kobe debate has showered the sports world. Sure, it’s a good one, the sexy argument if you will…but it will be long—probably not until both players retire—before a clear winner will be generally accepted by the public if at all.

As of right now, it’s completely up in the air. Both sides have major haters, major lovers and rarely any devotee in the middle of the pack. Kobe has the hardware and his fourth quarters, LeBron’s got his talents. Even I have shuffled my vote back and forth a few times in recent years. The point is—nobody really knows…

But what I do know is that the LBJ-KB24 debate has perhaps overshadowed a much more intriguing battle—that of best point guard alive—with Deron Williams and Chris Paul in the corners. While this personal rivalry also may not have a clear victor at the present moment, it’s a much better debate if you think about it.

LeBron and Kobe play different positions and they’re gunning for best player in the world, so more needs to be taken into account when comparing them. And what makes it so difficult is that Kobe has Bron by six seasons, making it irrelevant to stack up their numbers and personal accomplishments side by side right now.

Over in the heated PG dispute, Deron Williams has all of one Draft selection on Chris Paul. Since DWill and CP3 were selected third and fourth, respectively, in the 2005 Draft, they’ve shared quite the similar journey in their young careers. You’d think that since they play the same position and share the same experience, it’d be much easier to see who the better player is when comparing their stats and awards so far.

Nope.

Seriously, take a look at this ride:

—Utah and New Orleans had the two worst records in the West in ‘04-05 before drafting their premier point guards.

—In their rookie years, their teams finished 9th and 10th, both falling short of the postseason. Although CP3 did cash in on Rookie of the Year honors.

—In their sophomore efforts, ‘06-07, Williams’ Jazz finished fourth in the West with a 51-31 record after Deron started 80 games for coach Sloan. The Hornets again finished 10th while Chris Paul sat at home and watched his counterpart lead Utah to the Western Conference Finals. DWill greatly improved his scoring from the regular season once the lights of the Playoffs shined.

—2007-08: New Orleans finished second while Utah clinched the fourth spot and both squads lost tough second-round battles that year as DWill suffered from a poor first two games against the Lakers while Paul couldn’t complete the seven-game victory at home against the Spurs.

—Strangely enough, the following season, both point guards’ teams regressed and finished one game apart, good for the last two spots in the Playoffs. Both lost underwhelming five-game series in the opening round, even though Williams and Paul played pretty well, especially the Jazz guard who averaged over 20/10 for the series.

—Williams really exploded in the ‘09-10 postseason, though. The Hornets ended the year with an abysmal 37-45 record, although to CP3′s credit, he only played in 45 games that year due to injury. But DWill’s Jazz won 50 games for the third time in his first five years to grab the fifth seed.

Deron absolutely owned the Nuggets in a six-game first-round victory. The former Illini star averaged 25.8 points on 49.4 percent shooting (it was actually 28.2 ppg before a 14-point output in Game 6). Even more amazing, Williams recorded double-digit assists in every game.

In the process, DWill recorded two 30-point, 10-assist games in the series to become the second Jazz player to accomplish the feat. John Stockton also did it twice—in his entire career. Deron also became the first NBA player ever to have five straight 20/10 performances in the postseason.

Except for one weak shooting effort against the Lakers, Williams played well again even though his team was swept away by the eventual champions.

—Last season, of course, to even the balance of power between the two star PGs, CP3 played in the postseason and absolutely shined in a first-round loss to the Lakers (who beat Utah the year prior, obviously), while Williams wasn’t able to participate in the NBA’s second season. He, too, had a legitimate excuse in that he just happened to be traded to the Newark Nets who boasted a wonderful 17-40 mark at the time. Meanwhile, the Jazz finished 8-16 without their star to miss the Playoffs for the first time since Deron’s rookie year…I know Utah thought they wouldn’t have been able to extend him had Deron remained in Salt Lake City…nevertheless though—probably should’ve attempted to hold on to their leader.

So there you have it. Pretty similar ride indeed. But when you stack up their numbers, CP3 actually does edge out DWill in almost every category. But most of their stats are quite similar, except for steals which Paul excels at due to his incredible speed.

Deron just does not have speed. Talent-wise, CP3 probably has Williams by a mile. You can’t deny that. So why do many experts proclaim Mr. Williams to be the greatest point guard the NBA has to offer? Results. Leadership.

DWill led his Fighting Illini to the 2005 NCAA Championship game. He led the Jazz to 50 wins three times and the postseason every year except his debut. And I’m certain if he had stayed in Utah (and remained healthy) last year, they would have once again grabbed a Playoff spot.

He’s a true floor general. In his short career with Utah, Deron often drew comparisons to his Hall of Fame predecessor, John Stockton, but Williams actually called many more plays for coach Jerry Sloan than Stockton ever did. He’s been running basketball offenses his way since high school, and clearly all of his coaches have always trusted him with their offensive schemes.

While his leadership was never in question, Williams’ collegiate numbers left something to be desired, especially his shooting percentages. His assists and points have both made a huge jump from college to the NBA, but it’s the improvement in his shooting across the board that has really impressed. Deron’s gone from shooting around 42 percent from the field and 65 percent from the free-throw line in college to now posting a career 46.3 percent clip and over 80 percent from the stripe.

And what Deron lacks in sheer Iverson-esque athleticism—which CP3 embodies—he makes up for with his massive size. Seriously, dude’s a running back…running an NBA team. Once a star wrestler back in middle school, he now boasts a 6-3, 209-pound frame. DWill’s body is like a bull when driving through the paint and also naturally improves his defense on other smaller point guards.

And now, the thick-bodied point guard is at the helm in New Jersey.

Once 2012 begins though, and the Nets finally make their move, DWill will be the biggest thing in Brooklyn since Jay-Z. Oh wait, no. Jigga will steal that limelight occasionally, not that he shouldn’t. But the Nets already know what they have. Due to his nagging wrist injury, Williams only played in 12 games for NJ after the trade, but in that span he averaged nearly 13 assists while the Nets scored 101.9 ppg compared to 92.9 points the rest of the season. A small sample size for sure, but eye-popping nonetheless.

Perhaps the country really took note of Deron Williams as a top image in the NBA this past July when he became the first NBA star to sign on to play overseas. Once Turkey got hold of Williams, it was like Moses leading a mass exodus. Now well over 60 players are going overseas, including Kobe, while other stars like Kevin Durant, Amar’e Stoudemire, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Rudy Gay, etc. have since expressed interest in jetting across the Atlantic.

Deron should dominate over in EurAsia, and we’ll certainly have to keep a watch on the wrist.

But once he comes back, and the NBA returns, DWill will be right back proving why he should be labeled the best point guard in the NBA, not just one of the best. It’s a shame Chris Paul and Deron Williams haven’t played each other in postseason yet, although they might end up Big Apple enemies if the Knicks do indeed link up their own dream team with Amar’e, Melo and CP3.

Deron has some talent surrounding him currently in Jersey, but it’s nothing to write home about. When he finally gets home, he has quite the difficult task ahead of him turning that team into an Eastern powerhouse. But if I’m starting my basketball team, I’m building around a premier big man or point guard… and when that thought comes to mind… I instantly think Deron Williams. Always have.

This is not an argument against Chris Paul. He’s obviously everything you want in a basketball player, let alone a point guard. But Deron, you could say, with less talent and speed is right up there. This shouldn’t be a debate of flaws, because honestly, neither have too many in their games. Both of their styles are perfect for a dishing point guard who, at times, is relied on to score a lot as well. Both should be celebrated for their unique gifts, differing styles and the most similar of journeys so far.

Let THIS debate reign on.

SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2011
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Luol DengBullsSF8
49Andrew BogutBucksC7
48Ray AllenCelticsSG9
47Marc GasolGrizzliesC6
46David WestHornetsPF15
45Kevin MartinRocketsSG8
44Andrew BynumLakersC5
43Brandon JenningsBucksPG11
42Lamar OdomLakersPF14
41Gerald WallaceBlazersSF7
40Brook LopezNetsC4
39Joakim NoahBullsC3
38Carlos BoozerBullsPF13
37Kevin GarnettCelticsPF12
36Eric GordonClippersSG7
35Tony ParkerSpursPG10
34Andre Iguodala76ersSG6
33Al JeffersonJazzPF11
32Al HorfordHawksC2
31Stephen CurryWarriorsPG9
30Tim DuncanSpursPF10
29Josh SmithHawksPF9
28Manu GinobiliSpursSG5
27Tyreke EvansKingsPG8
26Rudy GayGrizzliesSF6
25John WallWizardsPG7
24Danny GrangerPacersSF5
23Monta EllisWarriorsSG4
22Joe JohnsonHawksSG3
21Paul PierceCelticsSF4
20Steve NashSunsPG6
19Zach RandolphGrizzliesPF8
18LaMarcus AldridgeBlazersPF7
17Chris BoshHeatPF6
16Kevin LoveTWolvesPF5
15Rajon RondoCelticsPG5
14Blake GriffinClippersPF4
13Pau GasolLakersPF3
12Russell WestbrookThunderPG4
11Amar’e StoudemireKnicksPF2
10Deron WilliamsNetsPG3

Notes
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’11-12 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Maurice Bobb, Shannon Booher, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Jon Jaques, Eldon Khorshidi, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Quinn Peterson, Dave Schnur, Abe Schwadron, Dan Shapiro, Irv Soonachan, Todd Spehr, Tzvi Twersky, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Ben York.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.