The Chris Paul Divide
USA Today Sports
Basketball can be chopped up into many categories of thinking. Yet with all the different ways a single viewpoint can be sliced up, one issue lies in the middle of these different categories. Either a more traditional perspective fills in the color on the background, or it falls in line with the current statistical arms race. One person’s views on a game that features an orange ball aren’t usually this black-and-white, but in isolated incidents they can come off as such.
With Chris Paul, grey area is hard to find. In an era where the league pushes the boundaries on what can and can’t be defined by a statistical measure, Paul represents a divide. The progression of the numerical additions are astounding, but with it come the need to reconnect with certain ideals that have held true forever. These contrary forces live in harmony, but Chris is what brings them together.
When the mindset comes from more conventional measures, the thought that Paul could one day be the greatest point guard of all time has a weak foundation. Admittedly he passes the eye-test, but the trophy case is austere. He’s never put together a season that has warranted and MVP — despite being close — and he’s never claimed the ultimate team prize. He has plenty of time to make amends, but that doesn’t change his current resume. Rookie of the Year is the most illustrious award he earned, until that changes he will never have a stake at being anointed with such an empowering title as “The Greatest Point Guard of All Time.”
This also trickles into more criticism about Paul’s tendencies as a teammate. There is a debate that he comes off too demanding, like an overbearing parent who rejects a child’s organic growth process. Chris shouldn’t be compared to a parent in a league where teammates are at the very most only nine years younger, but his utilitarian leading style can be painted as such. This allows questions to swirl on whether or not his personality type is more stifling than beneficial, which makes the assertion that he could rival Magic and Oscar an insincere one.
The manner in which Paul dominates the analytical side of the game is what transforms this question into an actual debate. His base numbers are great, but pale in comparison to how he is a metric wunderkind. He’s second all-time in Assist Percentage behind only John Stockton, currently has the greatest Offensive Rating in history, is sixth in Steal Percentage, sixth in PER, and is fourth in Win Shares per 48 — which is even better than LeBron. In weighted average of these numbers, he’s ahead of Oscar, Magic, and any other potential point guard competition.
Thus, the argument of against these former pillars of legacy begin. Paul lives in an era where LeBron is the almighty conquerer of the NBA, why should the way he is viewed in history be skewed from this fact. He may not have any MVP awards, but he’s been a model of consistent greatness his entire career. He consistently finishes in the top five in voting, and in a time where LeBron is looking for his MVP fifth award and Kevin Durant scores at an unprecedented pace.
As for the lack of titles? The progressive view expresses the need to separate team accomplishments from the individual. There are more methods to describe the ways a player guides a team to victory by individual contributions, so less of the blame can lie within individuals. Beyond that fact, there is the recognition that multiple Hall of Famers play for the same team. Paul has Blake Griffin now, but this new partnership is unlike he had previously experienced. David West is nice, but his place in history won’t hold a candle to the type of players that have played sidekick roles on title teams. West is a two-time all-star, but shrinks when his career is forced to go head-to-head with the likes of Wade, Parker, and Gasol. Unless the Hornets were going to fill out a roster that resembled the 2011 Mavericks, Paul’s burden was too cumbersome.
Why write about this now? Well, this debate will never be more interesting. Chris Paul, in his current state, could steer the ship towards a title with Blake by his side. The unknown attracts the human mind, and there is still so much more to explore with Paul. While he is still in his prime, he continues on as the missing link in the different theological attitudes on how we view the game. Maybe he will be what unties the contrary forces and allows for us to become all interconnected, or perhaps he is what creates an ocean between the differing outlooks. Either way, he will further shed some light on how our views of the game might change as well as his own career.