As he proved once again Thursday against the Mavericks, Chris "CP3" Paul is the best point guard in the NBA. He's carried the Hornets through injuries this year to a 38-22 record thus far, including the current six-game winning streak.
He's managed to put together a line of points, rebounds, assists, and steals thus far that hasn't been achieved by a player since they started tracking steals as an official statistic, and on top of all of that, he's starred in some of the worst deodorant ads I've ever seen.
This isn't the first year of dominance for CP3, as he finished second in last year's MVP voting, with 28 first place votes, more than Kevin Garnett and LeBron James combined. So the question then becomes: Where does Chris Paul stand in NBA history?
Obviously, with less than four years under his belt, an argument as one of the best point guards of all time would be a bit premature. However, one comparison that can be reasonably made is that Chris Paul may be having the most dominant point guard season since the merger.
I've decided to test that against the two most prominent names in point guards from the past 30 years: John Stockton and Magic Johnson. For the sake of comparison, I selected the season for each of them that appeared to be the most outstanding statistically. For Stockton, his sixth year in the NBA, 1989-90, stood out with career highs in points and assists, while for Magic his eighth year in the league, 1986-87, had a career high in points and other solid numbers as well.
(more after the jump)
In order to accurately compare the stats for these three players, I've adjusted their lines for the season in which each was performed. I've accomplished this by using the league average per minute rates for points, assists, rebounds, steals, and turnovers, and converted each line to each of the three years.
For the sake of comparison and relevance, I'll refer to the set adjusted to the league today.
Scoring: The era adjustment brings Magic's scoring down to right in line with CP3's, while Stockton has a respectable number, as he deferred to Malone's scoring.
Assists: While Stockton's assist total gets adjusted down over two per game, it still is notably higher than Paul and much more than Magic.
Steals: While before conversion Stockton and Paul had identical marks of 2.70 steals per game, the adjustment makes it clear that Paul has the advantage in this category. Magic's number pales in comparison, although this was not one of his better years for steals.
Rebounds: At 6'8", Magic is six and seven inches taller than Stockton and Paul, respectively, so you'd expect him to be the best rebounder. However, Paul is barely half a rebound per game behind, at more than twice the rate of the similarly sized Stockton.
Blocks: As point guards, blocks aren't much of a priority for these three, but Magic's size advantage comes through again here as he doubles up both of the smaller guards.
Turnovers: Paul has the fewest turnovers, but in terms of A/T ratio Stockton has about a quarter-point advantage. Magic is notably behind here, with the highest turnovers along with lowest assists.
Stats Overall: If you took the best of Stockton and Magic and compared that to Paul, then I'd agree his season wasn't the best. That said, neither of the two seasons stands on its own in comparison to the show that Chris Paul is putting on right now.
Another angle on this comparison has to be each guard's team he had to work in.
Magic Johnson had two HOF players on his team, NBA all-time leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and a young James Worthy. He also had notable role-players in Byron Scott and A.C. Green, along with Michael Cooper, the reigning defensive player of the year.
John Stockton only had one HOF teammate named Karl Malone, but he managed to average 31 points and 11 rebounds that year. Outside of Malone, Stockton's Jazz really didn't have much for role players to speak of, with a third leading scorer of Thurl Bailey.
Chris Paul has the versatile David West as his major wingman, pulling in 20 and eight every night, along with the incomparable alley-oop-catching Tyson Chandler. Paul also has Peja Stojakovic and Rasaul Butler to kick the ball out to, shooting 40 percent and 45 percent from deep, respectively.
If we were handicapping these seasons by teammates, it's hard to argue that Magic had the best situation, which would take away from his numbers. Paul's Hornets are easily a better ensemble cast than Stockton's Jazz, but having the option to pass to the Mailman for an elbow-guaranteed basket has to count for something, so I'll call it a slight edge to the Hornets.
So, who's the best?
Based on overall game dominance, observed from actually watching the games, most would say that you really can't consider John Stockton in the same level as Magic Johnson as a game-changer, and I'd agree. I'd also say you can include Chris Paul in that category for discussion with Magic to completely take over a game.
But then if you narrow it down to just Johnson and Paul, the numbers and the teammates factor both point pretty heavily in favor of CP3.
It's far from a perfect line of reasoning, of course. The real test is yet to come, as history tells us that Magic's Lakers won the title that year, while Stockton's Jazz were ousted in the first round. This discussion, then, will be incomplete until sometime in June, or May if things don't go so well for the Hornets.