I would favor Chris Paul in Team USA's lineup because he's the NBA's best point guard. Crazy idea, right? I'm against this notion that the FIBA game is so wildly different from the one Chuck, Kenny and Ernie bring to you on Thursday nights.
Though the three-point line is closer, offensive goaltending is legal and the referees are wholly arbitrary, the international game is still basketball. They aren't forced to use their feet, the baskets stay stationary.
Moreover, the best basketball players tend to be the best Olympians. We obsess over how such-and-such a player has a perfect "international game." It's this fuzzy notion that a good outside shooter should thrive under the FIBA rules.
Well, Dwyane Wade was America's best player in 2006 and 2008, hitting an absurd 67 percent of his shots in the Beijing Olympics. Is D-Wade an outside-shooting savant? Clearly not, but he just so happens to drive and pass superbly at the NBA level.
The same could be said of LeBron James, America's second-best player in 2006 and 2008. James is rarely regarded as the "perfect FIBA player," perhaps because he's so good in the first place, and perhaps because outside shooting isn't his calling card.
He's still the best America has to offer, FIBA rules or not. James shot better than 60 percent in the last Olympics and has looked quite impressive in their lead-in exhibition games—most notably against Spain, where he went 10-of-15.
This brings us back to Chris Paul, the NBA's best PG by a ridiculously wide margin. In Hollinger's PER (player efficiency rating), Paul claimed a 27.09. His closest competition was Derrick Rose, who notched a 23.10, but only played 39 games.
The next closest was Russell Westbrook at 23.00, and the PER measure might overstate how close that is. Shooting more helps your rating, so long as you shoot over 33 percent. Russ shoots a whopping 19.2 times per game to CP3's 14.8. Even though Paul's a pass-first point guard, he's dominating a category that rewards shooting.
In fairness to Russ, he can do this on the FIBA stage:
But what about Deron Williams, the guy who occasionally starts over Paul in Coach K's lineups? Williams managed a 20.34 last year, and his shooting efficiency has dipped a bit.
Those in the Deron camp used to cite his outside shooting as a factor, but Paul is better from distance. Those in the Deron camp also used to cite Williams' defensively helpful size, but lineups involving Deron tend to give up points. Actually, it is difficult to find anything—anything at all—that Williams does better than Paul.
Assists? Chris has 9.1 to Deron's 8.7.
Rebounds? CP3 has a 3.6-to-3.3 advantage there.
While Williams scores more points, Paul shoots seven percent better from the field, thus scoring far more efficiently. This is not a close debate until one guy gets much worse or the other guy gets much better. D-Will does have a nasty crossover, though.
In the past, you could cite how Deron Williams' Jazz might be a better team than Paul's Hornets (depending on when you had this argument). This is a hard kind of argument to make after Deron was forced out of Utah to a lottery-bound Nets squad. Also, Paul's impact on his current team is striking.
Even though Paul works best with a stretch pick-and-pop power forward like David West, he made the Clippers a Top Four offensive team (per Hollinger's team stats). This is with two frontcourt players (Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan) who can't shoot at all.
Yes, the dunks in Lob City are fun to behold, but spacing is paramount for an NBA offense. Somehow, someway, Paul is running one of the best ones with an utter lack of spacing. Imagine what he can do with a team of superstars.
The exhibition lineups have spoken well of Paul's impact. Chris is a plus-68 through those five lead-in games, compared to a plus-58 for Westbrook and a plus-50 for Williams. Small sample size, to be sure, but the larger sample size of NBA play demonstrates that Chris Paul has no point-guard peer. He's the ideal FIBA player because he's incredible. Also, there's this:
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