Dwight Howard is receiving an avalanche of positive appraisal as he makes his Lakers debut. The descriptor you'll often hear is "top-three player." You'll hear a similar title for Kevin Durant, only he's more often called a "top-two player." LeBron James, of course, is the best player in the world. There is no denying that at this point.
But where does this leave Chris Paul. More to the point, why is he not a top-three player? Last regular season, Dwight was hurt and Paul's work trumped Durant's by almost any catch-all statistical measure.
Shocked, are you? Let us review the numbers. Kevin Durant had a 26.26 PER to Chris Paul's 27.09. Kevin Durant had .230 win shares per 48 minutes to Chris Paul's .278. Go ahead and bring up the extra minutes KD played, but Chris Paul still beats Durant in overall win shares (To be fair, Paul trails Durant in the aggregate "value added" stat on ESPN).
Obviously, the flaw in these numbers is that they can't take defense into account. Based on my subjective assessment of Durant's defense, I'm not sure that end of the court helps his case. Neither team improved defensively with their star players on the floor, as Basketball Value chronicles. The Basketball Value numbers also showed that L.A. received a 14.10-point boost from CP3's presence, while OKC only got 1.48 points better with Durant on the floor.
"But numbers don't necessarily translate to wins," you might say. Well, it would seem that Paul added a whole grip of wins to Los Angeles in his first year with the team. Adjusted for the shortened season, the Clippers were 18 victories better for having added CP3.
You could easily cite how Paul has never been to the Finals, but what army has he had? Paul held those Hornets teams together, and they fell apart immediately upon his departure. The Clippers furnish Chris with another super talent in Blake Griffin, but they're coached by Vinny Del Negro. When Tom Thibodeau replaced Vinny, the Bulls became basketball's best regular-season team. With the Clips, VDN orchestrates a lottery-team defense as Chris Paul drags them to a top-four offensive rating.
L.A.'s quality offense is even more incredible when you take basketball strategy into consideration. Paul thrives on the pick-and-roll, most specifically the pick-and-pop. David West was an important part of that New Orleans offense because he stretched the floor and pulled defenders away from CP3.
There are no quality bigs like this in Los Angeles. Paul is taking the non-shooting frontcourt of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and somehow making the clunky mix hum like a sports car. Divorced from statistics, this is an incredible strategic feat.
The goal here isn't to deride Kevin Durant, an incredible player whose few flaws can be ironed out with time. The goal is to (a) Celebrate Chris Paul and (b) Question why he has so few backers. You would think that after a season of playing better than KD and gimpy Dwight Howard, Chris could get some top-three love. But this is Paul's lot in life, as he often seems destined to be the best player never to win an MVP.
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