NBA: How Chris Paul Became the Most Underrated Player in the league
Chris Paul — a nine-time all-star, eight-time All-NBA guard, and nine-time all-defensive team guard — has become one of the most underrated players in the league.
Drafted out of the Wake Forest University in 2005, analysts considered Paul the best true point-guard for almost a full decade. However, they are now leaving him out of the conversation among the league’s top players. Especially in the past few seasons.
This season, Paul is averaging 19 points and 8 assists-per-game. His assist numbers are slightly down. Thus, the result of playing alongside James Harden. However, his overall statistics haven’t taken a hit since he joined the Houston Rockets. Paul is also taking — and making — more threes than at any other point in his career. Shooting 39-percent on 6.4 attempts-per-game, Paul has had no problems transforming his game to Mike D’Antoni’s three-centric offensive approach. Paul ranks second in the league in net-rating (127.4), only behind Dwight Powell — who averages 20 minutes-per-game.
Paul is an all-time point-guard. He is having one of his most efficient seasons ever, while also putting up numbers that align with his career splits. So, how did Paul transform from the “point-god” to the league’s most overlooked star in such a short amount of time?
A lot of this has to do with Steph Curry’s sudden jump from all-star, to unanimous MVP. Once the recently turned 30-year-old broke onto the scene in 2014, he surpassed Paul as the league’s best player at that position. That, and the recent success of several other score-first point-guards, like Damian Lillard or Kyrie Irving, has left Paul as an afterthought.
Narratives have a lot to do with this too. Paul’s career has become intertwined with his inability to lead his team over-the-hump in the postseason. Although he’s had some serious lowlights — game six against the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2014 — it’s unfair to short-change Paul’s career because of a few bad moments. Contrary to popular belief, Paul has had great individual success in the NBA Playoffs. On average, his field-goal-percentage, three-point percentage, and points-per-game have risen in the playoffs. Paul’s game-winning lay-up in the seventh game of the Clippers’ 2015 series against the Spurs is one of the most clutch plays in recent years. Just in case you don’t remember how insane that finish was:
Other than Curry, there isn’t another point-guard I’d want over Paul for the remainder of the season and into the postseason. Kyrie Irving is the only arguable choice — because he’s come through at the highest level before. Still, Paul brings a level of defense and playmaking that Kyrie cannot. The same goes for Damian Lillard. Irving and Lillard are the superior scorers, but both are defensive liabilities, at least when you compare them to Paul. It becomes a chore to hide them on defense. Teams will run Irving and Lillard through endless screens to expose them to mismatches. Chris Paul, on the other hand, matches up well with elite scoring point-guards on that end. Even though his best defensive days are behind him.
Paul’s shot creating cannot be overlooked as well. Paul is shooting 47-percent from the floor on shot attempts in which he holds the ball more than 2 seconds. He’s ranked second in the league in effective field-goal percentage on isolation attempts — only behind Harden. Paul is also second behind Harden in isolation attempts-per-game. In particular, Paul excels at creating space against big-men who switch on him. Look at him toying with David West on this play in particular:
It wasn’t long ago that many considered Chris Paul the best point guard in the NBA. Sometime during the past few seasons, his greatness became overlooked. Although the point-guard position has become more about scoring and less about anything else, Paul is still the most complete player at that position.