Is Chris Paul the Greatest Point Guard of All-Time?
It’s something that is never even brought up, let alone discussed, but…
Could Chris Paul be the greatest point guard in NBA history?
At first thought, my instinct tells me that, of course he is not. That would be Magic Johnson. Even after Johnson, CP3 is competing with the likes of John Stockton, Isiah Thomas, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Oscar Robertson, and the list goes on and on. Furthermore, he really hasn’t made much noise in any of his eight playoff appearances. But let’s take a deeper look into the areas that define an all-time great NBA player.
If you were to simply look at Chris Paul’s traditional statistics, they seem pretty similar to any of the other great NBA point guards of eras gone by:
As you can see, there really isn’t a whole lot of difference between different top flight point guards using traditional statistics. With this being said, when you look at advanced metrics, you start to see a completely different picture. Chris Paul all but dominates the advanced stats among great point guards from various eras. He leads all point guards in five of the seven categories listed below. In fact, Chris Paul boasts the 6th highest career PER in league history, and the top career PER among all point guards!
Now these statistics are by no means irrefutable evidence that Chris Paul is the best point guard of all time, but it does start to paint a pretty clear picture – Chris Paul absolutely belongs in this conversation. Don’t let the lack of post-season success fool you, this guy is for real.
I think it is safe to say that today’s NBA is the golden era for point guards. Never before has there been such a plethora of talent at this position. With guy like Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Kyle Lowry, and Derrick Rose just to name a few, it seems like every elite team has to have an all-star caliber point guard. With that being said, these are the players that Chris Paul is going head-to-head with every single night, and it is against these very same players that he has produced the previously listed statistics.
No disrespect to the 90s era of NBA basketball, but it wasn’t exactly a league run by point guards. John Stockton, Gary Payton and Jason Kidd were really the only elite point guards of that era (with the exception of Penny Hardaway whose career was cut short by injuries). They had a great cast of second tier point guards such as Tim Hardaway, Mark Jackson, and Kevin Johnson, but the 90s were primarily dominated by big men.
The 1980s produced even fewer elite point guards as the era was dominated, again, by big men. Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, and at a stretch, Dennis Johnson were the only top flight point guards of the era. Again, there was a long list of great second tier playmakers, but the truly elite were few and far between.
This high level of competition at his own position only punctuates CP3 career statistics. The fact that he has produced so well against, arguably, the greatest class of point guards in NBA history speaks volumes about his ability as a playmaker and floor general.
Awards & Accolades
So here is where things start to get a little dicey for Chris Paul. Although he has consistently been in the top 10 in MVP voting, he has never actually won the award – with a 3rd place finish in 2012 being his closest finish. With that being said, only 6 point guards have ever won the MVP trophy (Steph Curry, Derrick Rose, Steve Nash, Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson and Bob Cousy).
Outside of that, however, Paul has been pretty accomplished thus far in his career. He has been named to the All-Defensive and All-NBA team 8 times and was the MVP of the All-Star game in 2013. Only 4 point guards in NBA history have been named to more All-NBA teams (Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Gary Payton) and only 2 have been named to more All-Defensive teams (Gary Payton and Jason Kidd). In fact, he would only need 3 more All-NBA selections and 2 All-Defensive selections to be the all-time leader for point guards in both awards, and considering that he is only 31 years old, I wouldn’t bet against that happening.
And this will forever be the stain on Chris Paul’s career. Eight trips to the playoffs and nothing to show for it, with little chance of that changing any time soon. The Clippers simply do not have the talent to contend right now, and barring a blockbuster trade or free agent signing, that doesn’t look like it’s going to change.
But should this really be held again Paul? For some reason, more so than any other sport, winning championships is such a huge part of determining an individual player’s greatness. But in reality, one player has never won an NBA Championship alone. Michael had Pippen, Rodman, and Phil Jackson. LeBron had Wade, Bosh, and Kyrie. Magic Johnson had Kareem, Worthy, and Pat Riley. So should we really expect a 6-foot, 175 lbs. point guard to lead his team of mediocrity (sorry Blake) to an NBA Championship? The sad truth is, yes we do, and the fact that Paul will perhaps never win one hurts his legacy.
With that being said, his inability to win a ring doesn’t change the fact that he is still one of the most talented basketball players to step foot on an NBA court. His team circumstances shouldn’t take away from what he has been able to accomplish thus far in his career. So maybe it’s time that we all take a look at how much emphasis we place on the number of championships a player has won, and place a bigger emphasis on their entire body of work (I know of a certain somebody down in Cleveland who would probably appreciate that way of thinking). Or maybe we should keep with the current ‘championship or bust’ mentality – and if that is the case Chris Paul will not go down as the ‘Greatest’ point guard of all time… but he might just go down as the best.