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Deeper Dive: Waiting on Chris Paul's Iconic Moment

by Photo of Tommy Dee

Waiting for CP3 to take his game to the next level is why we all watch sports. Will this be the year we can talk about the Clippers PG along with the all-time greats?

Deeper Dive: Waiting on Chris Paul's Iconic Moment

I always preface my sports debates with the notion that I'm not married to stats, but I utilized them if they fit what I see as validation. I sense that I'm no different than most sports junkies, but here's where I may be different. I don't reference players I never actually watched because there's just too much subjectivity within those debates. Was Joe DiMaggio better than Willie Mays or did Mays have the edge? I have no idea. I do know, however, if you ask a 30-year-old Yankee fan that fan 100% of the time will say DiMaggio was. Was Michael Jordan better than Oscar Robertson? I have no idea considering I never watched the Big O, but I'm sure many beers have been poured talking about that very subject, without a real answer being cemented in the end. I do know that Jordan is better than any other basketball player I've ever seen with my own two eyes.              

Enter Chris Paul.

Come off one of his best performances of his career in Game 3, Paul had a chance last night to take the series into his own hands at the end of the game where true greats are measured. With the game and maybe the season on the line it wasn't Paul who was called on rather it was Blake Griffin called on to take the last second shot. What happened to Paul? He was completely taken out of the play by the Spurs and their defensive stopper Kawhi Leonard. You know by now what happened next.

When people talk about contemporary players, there always seems to be the need to place them in the pantheon. We know they are great, but just HOW great are they? The other day during Game 3 of the Clippers/Spurs series TNT's Reggie Miller compared Chris Paul to Pistons great Isiah Thomas. Miller, not one to shy away from telling you what he believes, felt that Paul deserves to be mentioned among the all-time greats. I found this particular time, the first round of the NBA playoffs, a bit odd for Miller to be putting Paul on such a pedestal. It's easy to dismiss the notion based off of the idea that Paul's playoff record isn't great and that he hasn't won an NBA title, but it's also easy to dismiss the Clippers because they play on the west coast and I don't get the chance to see them very often. He's also been on the wrong end of some Steph Curry highlights this year, which can hurt the narrative. Heck, some even think he may even be underrated

Why is defining his greatness so hard? 

Paul and Blake Griffin are the modern day John Stockton and Karl Malone. This is an undeniable fact. And while some of it is because Griffin has progressed, most of it is because of Paul. Combined they continue to be the most lethal pick-and-roll combination in the NBA and the set is basically unstoppable (Bleacher Report, Zwerling, 12/3/14). A deeper look at Paul's career steers you far more towards Stockton in comparison as it does Isiah who was as good of an isolation player of the dribble the game has ever seen. It's alsounfair to compare anyone to Thomas in my mind because his will to win was stronger than almost everyone who has ever played the game. That may sound like hyperbole, but there was no one who I've ever seen who literally could take over a game and will his team to victory off the dribble than Isiah. At the point guard position there's Magic and there's Isiah, then there's the level below with the dividing line here between the two levels for the purpose of this conversation has to be winning an NBA Championship.

Right now the comparison with Stockton statistically may have you leaning towards Paul being the better player, at least in the regular season. All in all the similarities are staggering (landofbasketball.com)

Paul has already made 4 All-NBA first teams and 4 All-NBA defensive first team and while Stockton gets the nod in All-NBA teams total and the game's top assist man, Paul has time to close that gap. People point to Stockton's steals and assist records, which is fair, but Paul has led the NBA in steals SIX times. 

What strikes me most here is Paul's propensity as a rebounder in comparison to Stockton. Neither guy is that big physically, in fact they are both about 6'1, but it's so impressive to see Paul get after the ball and find a way to always have it in his hands so he can control the rhythm of the game. The term "ball dominant" always gets tossed around and there are some negative connotations surrounding it, but when your point guard is committed to closing each possession you want that player to have the basketball. This idea is clearly defined by both player's elite-level offensive ranking. Paul has finished in the top seven every year for the last years and is first overall among active players, while Stockton led the category three times in his career and finished 4th for his career. 

Paul

Stockton

Anointing great young players in the NBA is a slippery slope and often a narrative roller coaster. In the same manner the media and fans view Anthony Davis there was a time where the exact same was said about Paul. Carmelo Anthony led the Denver Nuggets to the playoffs every single year he lived in Mile High and his early success made him one of the game's top talents on the verge of superstardom. We fawned over Jordan's 63 that day in Boston and we admonished him soon after against Isiah's Pistons. The only way around the stigma is to win one early like Magic, Bird or even Tim Duncan. 

Paul's 2007-08 season in New Orleans made him the darling of the NBA in a real feel-good story following the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. The NBA was glued to the sensational alley oops to Tyson Chandler and the pick and pops with David West. Paul was exceptional that year helping the then Hornets out of the first round over the Dallas Mavericks before falling to the more talented Spurs in seven games. But at what point do players stop being great young players and start not fulfilling their potential? Who actually defines that line? (SportsonEarth, Powell, 5/15/14)

"Paul's playoff mountaintop was the 2009 semifinals against the Spurs, when he became a certified franchise player. That season, Paul dragged the New Orleans Hornets to 56 wins, finished second in the MVP voting and scored 35 points in his playoff debut, then had 17 assists the next game. While the Hornets were the higher seed, the Spurs had Gregg Popovich and three future Hall of Famers. It wasn't a fair fight and still went to the limit. Even after the Hornets took the Spurs to seven games and lost despite Paul's 18 points, 14 assists and five steals, the point guard appeared primed to be a perennial winner.

He never went beyond the first round in New Orleans again, and in two years in L.A., the best Paul did was making the second round in 2012. He influenced -- without directly ordering -- a coaching change, and after replacing Vinny Del Negro last summer, the first thing Rivers told Paul was, "You haven't won anything in this league."

To which Paul said: "You're right. I haven't."

I chose to analyze Paul today partly because of last night's pivotal loss and how people would react on the heels of his epic Game 3 performance. His detractors are going to point to the fact that he didn't take the shot when it mattered, when in comparison Stockton always seemed to make the clutch individual play when he needed to. Hence the difference as it stands right now.

Paul's iconic playoff moment hasn't happened yet, and while his Game 3 performance was a step towards strengthening his career legacy nothing will help more than leading the Clippers to victory against the NBA Champions. That's how stars are defined. This series has certainly lived up to its billing but Paul needs to make his imprint now. He needs to will the Clippers to victory surging them into the next round of the playoffs. Then and only then can he consider himself to be side-by-side with Stockton, who has won far more playoff series'. Winners win in the playoffs and that's were legacies are cemented. Fair or unfair it's on Chris Paul now to define where he stands, not only among the game's great point guards, but among the all-time elite players the league has ever seen.  


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