Top 50: Chris Paul, no. 8

by Quinn Peterson / @QwinFNP

It’s amazing, though understandable, how much Americans get caught up in this binary opposition line of thinking. Someone, something must always be better or be the best. There has to be.

More often than not, however, things are just not that simple. Such is the case when it comes to the “best point guard in the League.” But it’s pretty damn tantalizing, to be honest, to compare them all, especially Chris Paul and Deron Williams, and SLAMonline’s Doobie Okon did so eloquently.

Now, my selection is Chris Paul. But having had this argument with countless different cats for the past four or five years, I realize that trying to convince others of the same may simply be a waste of time.

What I can definitively state is that he’s one of the best in the business, no doubt, and will likely go down as one of the best in history.

What makes this debate so difficult is that it’s not quantitative. Stats are only half the story, if that. The rest is a combination of leadership, decision-making and other immeasurable intangibles. Some pundits recognize this. Others don’t.

And while his numbers are stellar, it’s in those auxiliary departments that Chris Paul really stands out.

About a year ago, Kenny Smith gave some great insight about how to determine the Association’s top floor general. Just who that person is, in many ways, is determined by variables of circumstance and surrounding. Depending on what one may be looking for—a scorer, passer, sidekick, etc.—their PG of choice might differ.

On Paul, he said this: “If I want to attract free agents, a guy who [makes guys say], ‘I wanna play with this point guard,’ because even though he’s the best player on the team, he can get us going…that’s Chris Paul.

Chris Paul can be your number one guy, even at the point guard position, without taking 30 shots. He can do it in 15 shots, get you 15 assists, get you 5 steals, and get you wins in the column, have you 4-0 when you should be 1-4.”

All this being said, last season was a crucial one in the Chris Paul saga. Coming off of an injury-laden ‘09-10 campaign, followed by a rumor-riddled summer, in some ways, it was a make or break year for CP.

DWill went hard the previous season, averaging 18 per (and stepping it up to 24.3 in the Playoffs), while Paul missed 47 games and his Hornets struggled to 37 wins.

And just as quickly as CP darts by bigs when he comes off the ballscreen, many seemed equally as anxious to write him off—as if he wasn’t just the first player to lead the League in assists and steals in consecutive seasons; as if he hadn’t averaged 22.8 and 21.1 in the two years prior.

There was speculation (which he fueled, in part, to be sure) of him trying to get out of NO and get to NY. But instead of complaining about his situation via the media, threatening to hold-out or taking some other kind of extreme action, he bossed up, put his team first, came out the gate winning 11-12 games and played 80 games. While his points per game dropped to 15.9, his effectiveness was as potent as ever.

Paul, considered by many to be the League’s fiercest competitor, was on a mission and his game reflected it. CP3 wasn’t dead! Much to the contrary, in fact, and actions speak louder than words.

To those who know, though, he never died in the first place. Ask most any player in the League—namely the heavies, LeBron, Kobe, etc.—and I’m sure they’d list Chris Paul as the One they’d most love to play with.

As he showed in the ’10-11 postseason, very few—if any—players (let alone PGs) can dominate a game the way he can, not by brute or force, but using only 12-15 shots, strategically controlling tempo, picking his spots and consistently putting teammates in positions to succeed (and overachieve). Such is how he managed to help the seventh-seeded Hornets steal two wins from the second-seeded Lakers (without David West!).

While some have been blessed with one, two, or even three premier scoring options other than themselves, CP hasn’t been so fortunate. Making the most of his situation, however, he’s willed his teams to victories, and made himself, perhaps, the most valuable player to his team in the League (save maybe, Derrick Rose). Who else do you know that can scrap together 46 wins in the Western Conference and avoid getting swept with West (who tore his ACL), Aaron Gray, Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry as the bigs, and no other perimeter who can create a shot for themselves?

In this rapidly evolving game (and position), Paul is a throwback. Small but savage, he’s concerned first and foremost with making others better and keeping people happy, but still possesses the individual strength to shoulder the load himself if need be.

Does that make him the best PG in the League? If you’re asking me, I’m answering with emphatic yes. But it depends on what you’re looking for, I guess. All we know for sure is that he’s a heck of a player. Maybe that’s enough.

SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2011
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Luol Deng Bulls SF 8
49 Andrew Bogut Bucks C 7
48 Ray Allen Celtics SG 9
47 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 6
46 David West Hornets PF 15
45 Kevin Martin Rockets SG 8
44 Andrew Bynum Lakers C 5
43 Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 11
42 Lamar Odom Lakers PF 14
41 Gerald Wallace Blazers SF 7
40 Brook Lopez Nets C 4
39 Joakim Noah Bulls C 3
38 Carlos Boozer Bulls PF 13
37 Kevin Garnett Celtics PF 12
36 Eric Gordon Clippers SG 7
35 Tony Parker Spurs PG 10
34 Andre Iguodala 76ers SG 6
33 Al Jefferson Jazz PF 11
32 Al Horford Hawks C 2
31 Stephen Curry Warriors PG 9
30 Tim Duncan Spurs PF 10
29 Josh Smith Hawks PF 9
28 Manu Ginobili Spurs SG 5
27 Tyreke Evans Kings PG 8
26 Rudy Gay Grizzlies SF 6
25 John Wall Wizards PG 7
24 Danny Granger Pacers SF 5
23 Monta Ellis Warriors SG 4
22 Joe Johnson Hawks SG 3
21 Paul Pierce Celtics SF 4
20 Steve Nash Suns PG 6
19 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 8
18 LaMarcus Aldridge Blazers PF 7
17 Chris Bosh Heat PF 6
16 Kevin Love TWolves PF 5
15 Rajon Rondo Celtics PG 5
14 Blake Griffin Clippers PF 4
13 Pau Gasol Lakers PF 3
12 Russell Westbrook Thunder PG 4
11 Amar’e Stoudemire Knicks PF 2
10 Deron Williams Nets PG 3
9 Carmelo Anthony Knicks SF 3
8 Chris Paul Hornets PG 2

• 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.