The city of Los Angeles is blessed to have two of the best point guards in the world playing basketball within its boundaries. Chris Paul and Steve Nash have been, over the course of their careers, the gold standard for how to play the position.
With two fantastic players playing the same position, it is then natural to wonder who will reign supreme and rule the City of Angels. While the question is one worth asking, the answer, at this stage of their respective careers and the roles they'll play for their teams, is not one that's up for debate.
It is, of course, Chris Paul.
This is meant as no disrespect to Nash. But the facts are facts. Paul is the younger, better player and will play a more substantial role for his team in the 2012-13 season.
It starts on offense. On the Clippers, Paul is the engine that makes everything run smoothly. This is only a sample of his passing work out of the pick-and-roll, but it tells the entire story of how well he controls the tempo of the game to get Blake Griffin good shots at the rim:
What stands out the most in these sets is how Paul probes the defense in order to draw attention, only to find Griffin in places where he can succeed. In the first clip, Paul waits patiently for the screen, gets into the teeth of the defense, waits until Andrew Bynum challenges him at the rim and then expertly drops a pass off to Blake, who finishes easily.
In the third clip you see Paul call for a screen and attack off the dribble but not find an opening. He then backs the ball back out, calls for another screen, finally does find a crease and then throws a trail pass to Griffin, who explodes to the rim and gets fouled.
Paul is creating for his teammate with ease and is controlling the tempo of the game at the same time.
But Paul's work in the pick-and-roll isn't limited to finding a teammate and setting him up for a shot. When the Clippers need him to score, he's more than willing to take over the contest by looking for his own shot:
Here you see Paul's ability to work both in the pick-and-roll and in isolation to get his team needed baskets. In the first clip Paul waits for the screen, but when he turns the corner, he instantly elevates for a leaner that he knocks down.
In other possessions you see how he will accept a pick, put his defender on his back, control his dribble to create space and then elevate to take and hit a jumper. Later you see how he'll not rely on a pick at all and simply use his superior quickness to dart into open spaces and take shots he knows he can make.
Ultimately, when Paul is on the floor, the entire Clippers offense is predicated on him having the ball in his hands for as long as it takes him to create a makeable shot for either a teammate or himself. There may not be a player in the league depended on as much as Paul to generate offense for his team.
The same simply can't be said for Nash now that he's in Los Angeles.
Now that he's moved from the Arizona desert to the streets of southern California, Nash's game has changed from what Paul does for the Clippers to a player that is more of a key cog in a diverse Lakers attack.
Yes, Nash will still create in the pick-and-roll for his teammates and himself, but he's just as likely to pass and screen away while his teammates do the heavy lifting:
Here you see Nash bring the ball up the floor, but soon after he crosses half court, he's already giving the ball up. After Nash passes the ball to Dwight Howard at the left elbow, he screens away for Kobe Bryant, who then takes a handoff from Howard.
Kobe then becomes the key playmaker in this action, throwing the lob to Howard for the finish. Meanwhile, Nash is a bystander on the left wing looking for a spot-up chance should the play break down.
Even when Nash does run the pick-and-roll, he'll find himself getting the "hockey" assist rather than being the primary playmaker:
In this play Nash looks like he's going to be playing more the style that he's typically played his entire career. He calls for the pick-and-roll, and Howard comes to set the screen. However, after the pick is set for him, Nash calmly throws a bounce pass to Pau Gasol rather than looking to attack for his own shot. Gasol then becomes the trigger man by throwing the key pass to Howard and getting the assist in the process.
It's not like Nash isn't playing a key role in these sets. He's clearly important and is the man initiating the action for his team. But there is a fundamental difference between what Nash is being asked to do for the Lakers and what Paul is asked to do for the crosstown Clippers.
Part of this difference is due to the playmaking talent around each player.
While the Clippers have a very talented team, they are not stocked with the types of offensive creators that the Lakers have. In Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, the Lakers have two other offensive talents that are used to playing setup man and will be incorporated into their scheme to to make plays for teammates.
Chris Paul doesn't have that luxury.
Another reason is that Paul is simply younger and more able to carry that load at this point. Nash is a physical marvel, but he's also 38 years old. At this point in his career, he could likely approach what Paul does on a nightly basis but could not do it for as many minutes each night without risk of being worn down or injured.
Paul carrying a heavier burden translates to him being the point guard that will take top billing in L.A. Again, it's no offense to Nash. Like Paul, Nash is one of the elite point guards in the game. Paul is just better.