For years, Chris Paul has been widely thought of as the best point guard in the NBA. In the age of scoring, shoot-first point guards, Paul is a throwback to another generation. He is as cerebral a basketballer as anyone in the NBA, a true floor general that seemingly knows exactly where every other player on his team is at any given time.
However, this season Paul has been left out of the conversation of the elite point guards, with Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook seemingly headlining the point guard class of the 2014-15 season. A look at the numbers suggests Paul isn’t quite ready to give up the throne just yet. Ask somebody who is the best shooter at the one spot in the NBA.
Nine out of 10 would tell you Stephen Curry, rightly so. Curry is quite simply the best shooter the game has ever seen, with the ability to hit long range shots at will off the dribble like no one before him. Others may suggest Kyrie Irving, who like Curry is blessed with the combination of incredible ball handling skills and a sweet shooting stroke.
However, Paul is often left out of the conversation of good shooters at the point guard spot. Defenses often leave Paul wide open, preferring to sag towards the paint, in an attempt to stop the two headed beast of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. This season, Paul ranks 1st in the NBA for field goal percentage, 5th in three-point percentage and 2nd in free-throw percentage amongst point guards. A look at his shooting splits in comparison to the two aforementioned guards shows that Paul is indeed one of the best shooters at the point guard spot.
- Paul: 48.6/39.7/89.5
- Curry: 48.1/43.5/ 91.4
- Irving: 46.7/41.2/86.4
The point guard position has changed drastically with players such as Paul and John Stockton a rarity nowadays, with many point guards being explosive and athletic. Many of the younger men at the one spot can be classified as combo guards; such as Irving, Damian Lillard and Westbrook.
Despite the Generation-Y point guard being more athletically gifted, it is still the their primary job to facilitate and get team mates in the best positions to score, and no point guard is better than Paul in this regard. Paul not only leads point guards, but leads the whole NBA in assists, averaging 10.2 per game.
However, what is most impressive about Paul’s game is not just his gaudy assist totals, but the remarkable efficiency at which he operates. Paul leads all point guards in the assist/turnover ratio, averaging a remarkable 4.30 assists for every turnover he commits. In comparison, Curry averages 2.46, while Westbrook averages 1.97. Paul’s player efficiency rating (PER) of 25.9 while elite, is still lower than that of Curry (27.6) and Westbrook (28.7). However, much of this can be attributed to both Curry and Westbrook having greater usage percentages of 29.0% & 38.7% respectively in comparison to Paul’s 23.9%.
Throughout his career, Paul has been an excellent defender, averaging 2.4 steals per game throughout his career. This season however, Paul has regressed slightly in this regard. He is averaging just 1.9 steals, his lowest number since his second season in the NBA.
Curry and Westbrook’s steals per game are relatively similar to Paul’s with Curry averaging 2.0 per game while Westbrook averages 2.1. In terms of win shares, Paul has 15.1 win shares on the season while Curry and Westbrook have 14.5 and 9.6, respectively. Paul leads the league in offensive win shares, with a season number of 12.1.
“Paul ranks 1st in the NBA for field goal percentage, 5th in three-point percentage and 2nd in free-throw percentage amongst point guards”
Ultimately, the knock on Paul in the media is his inability to lead his teams on deep playoff runs, with Skip Bayless nicknaming him ‘CP0’ as opposed to his usual moniker of CP3. While Paul was able to argue that his teams in New Orleans were largely devoid of talent, his stacked clippers teams are yet to advance past the second round and that bothers many pundits.
This season, Paul is a man on a mission and he took his game to another level in the absence of Blake Griffin, where the Clippers did not miss a beat. Paul has progressively gotten better as the season has progressed, averaging 22.0 points and 10.8 assists in the month of March, while shooting 50.8/38.4/91.5.
This begs the question: Is Curry really the best point guard in the league?
(all stats courtesy of Basketball Reference unless otherwise stated)