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Why Chris Paul is This Generation’s Most Underappreciated Superstar

We’re smack dab in the middle of the NBA offseason, the point at which league news has slowed to a trickle and we’re all forced to come up with creative ways to discuss the best sport in the world (or one of the best, for some of us).

Like every year, the conversation has drifted to current and former players’ legacies and how they stack up all time. One post along those lines appeared on my Twitter timeline a couple of weeks ago, and it got me pretty riled up, probably more than it should have:

There are plenty of problems with the lineups, but my biggest issue was with the ’10s team. The group had two point guards (Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry), and neither one was Chris Paul! I couldn’t believe they’d forgotten CP3, who’s held a strong argument as the NBA’s best point guard every year since the 2007-08 season. Westbrook and Curry have only entered that conversation in the past couple of years.

Then I remembered: “Oh yeah, everybody thinks Paul is a flopping, choking scrub who hasn’t made it past the second round of the playoffs.”

Which takes us to today, as I type this ode to Chris Paul, the most underappreciated superstar of his era. Read on and be amazed at how much better he is than most NBA fans would tell you.

CP3’s Skill Set

Chances are, you’ve watched Paul play basketball before, so you won’t need a detailed scouting report here.

Basically, he’s a 6’0″, 175-pound floor general in the truest sense of the word. CP3 possesses a wildly efficient, controlled handle, passes better than maybe anyone in the league today, has a great shooting touch (both spot-up and pull-up) from anywhere out to 25 feet and is a premier defender at the point guard position, with seven All-Defensive selections to his name.

But the best word to describe CP3’s game might be “shrewd.” He seems to be operating on a higher intellectual playing field than his opponents at all times:

If there’s one weakness in Paul’s game, it’s his lackluster size/athleticism combination. He’s quick, but he doesn’t explode to the rim like some of today’s point guards, and his small frame limits his defensive versatility and finishing ability.

The Clippers superstar has made the best of those innate shortcomings, though, using his high basketball IQ and finely-tuned skills to maintain above-average capabilities in every aspect of the game.

CP3 is a Statistical Beast

Anecdotal evidence is great, but to really prove CP3’s worth, I’ll need to offer some cold, hard proof. So I’ll start with some statistics here, specifically of the advanced variety.

Advanced stats are not the be-all and end-all of players’ values, but the best ones are surprisingly in line with reality.

Win Shares are a personal favorite of mine, as they take into account a player’s efficiency and volume on the offensive end as well as his defensive stinginess. Paul’s first 10 NBA seasons have produced 131.3 Win Shares; that’s a number only seven players in NBA history have matched in their opening decade: Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, LeBron James, Michael Jordan, David Robinson and Bill Russell.

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That’s amazing company, and it’s a huge sample size, too. Paul’s total minutes played are actually lower than every guy ahead of him as well. If he played in a different era where stars were expected to play 40-plus minutes, it’s safe to say we could expect a slight climb up those ranks from him.

CP3’s even more of a monster against his contemporaries: since he entered the league in the 2005-06 season, he’s produced more Win Shares than anyone except for LeBron James. Third place isn’t particularly close.

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He also towers over so many of those stars who most people might name before Paul if they were asked about the greatest players from the NBA’s past decade: Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Kevin Durant, Dwyane WadeKobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, for example.

How does CP3 compare with the NBA’s best point guards of the modern era (or since 1974, since the league started tracking blocks, steals and possession statistics)? Quite well, as the below graph demonstrates.

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You’ll notice I used statistics per 100 possessions, because numbers can be inflated or deflated based on team’s varying playing styles and minutes distribution throughout NBA history.

CP3, at 30 years old, is also still in his prime, and those amazing career numbers could dip slightly as he declines physically. But even with that taken into consideration, Paul has a very strong argument as the best statistical point guard ever.

And He’s Not a Choker…At All

The first thing CP3 bashers will point to when criticizing him is a lack of playoff success. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that him never winning more than one playoff round in a single season shouldn’t matter to his legacy, because it should.

But people need to realize that his playoff failures have rarely been his fault.

A brutal Western Conference, which Paul has occupied his entire career, has played a part in all of that. A mere switch of draft-night fortune in 2005 (say he went a pick earlier to the Atlanta Hawks) could’ve placed him out East, where he’d be all but guaranteed AT LEAST one Conference Finals berth in his career, but probably many more and possibly even an NBA title or two.

His New Orleans Hornets teams simply didn’t have the talent or depth around Paul necessary to make a run out West from 2006 to 2011, and although he’s lifted a dormant Los Angeles Clippers franchise to perennial playoff status recently, the amount of elite intra-conference squads has made it tough to advance deep in the postseason.

Speaking of which, is there any specific year where Paul’s team was clearly better than playoff opponent, and lost? Maybe a few months ago against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals, but Paul played through a hamstring injury and the Clippers’ depth was nowhere near the quality of the Rockets’ depth.

More importantly, though, he’s maintained his dominant play in the postseason.

CP3’s PER in the playoffs is an amazing 25.6, good for No. 6 in NBA history and first among all point guards. His playoff Win Shares per 48 minutes (.200) also stand as the sixth-best number, just behind Magic Johnson and Jerry West at his position.

In 10 career elimination games, Paul has held his own, accumulating 20.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 10.3 assists, 2.8 steals and 2.8 turnovers per contest and a respectable 47.2/34.1/82.6 shooting slash. There hasn’t been much shrinking in big moments there.

So what’s holding CP3 back from an amazing postseason resume? Right now, it’s a lack of help from teammates.

At this point, we’ll dive into a statistic I’m coining the “one-man army factor,” or OMAF. Paul has 10.4 career playoff Win Shares, and he’s played in 28 playoff games which his teams have won. Divide 10.4 by 28, and you get 0.371 for his OMAF. Convert that into percentage form, and CP3 has essentially given the Hornets/Clippers 37.1 percent of their playoff production. That’s a lot.

What this stat tells us is how much support a player is getting from his teammates; the higher the OMAF, the less his teammates are helping him in producing wins.

CP3’s playoff OMAF places his individual talents in a very favorable light compared to the title-winning superstars of his era.Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 12.40.14 PMNext time, put CP3’s playoff failure in context before you criticize the man for them. He’s done all he can and produced at a historically great level in the postseason, so why should he be the whipping boy?

Conclusion

LeBron has clearly been the best player in the NBA over the past 10 years. Win Shares shout it from the rooftops, and the eye test confirms it.

But who’s next? Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett have been great, although both handed in their superstar badges about six years ago. Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade just haven’t been the same for the past four seasons or so. Kevin Durant would have a case if he didn’t start a couple of years into the decade and didn’t lose nearly the whole 2014-15 season to injury.

The one constant behind LeBron has been Chris Paul, and we should treat him as such, in spite of his playoff misfortune.

In my humble (and not too outrageous, I don’t think) opinion, he’s been the NBA’s best point guard for eight consecutive seasons, finding that perfect balance between scoring and passing while still locking down his man on the other end of the court. Steve Nash, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry have all challenged CP3’s spot on that throne since the 2007-08 season, but no one has taken it yet.

Maybe Paul finds a way to turn his great playoff play into a championship one day, and maybe he doesn’t. For now, let’s stop hating on one of the top basketball talents of all time and just sit back and enjoy watching him play:

Note: All statistics all from Basketball-Reference.com, unless otherwise indicated.

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