Rajon Rondo and Russell Westbrook are incredible, but Chris Paul is better.
There is no shortage of debate surrounding who the NBA's top point guard is, yet after seeing what Paul has done and continues to do for the Los Angeles Clippers, it's become abundantly clear there just isn't much to debate anymore.
Paul has the Clippers riding Cloud Nine. They've won 14 games in a row, and after their victory over the Denver Nuggets, they've laid claim to the league's best record.
Is this something anyone could have fathomed prior to the start of the season?
No, and if you were to say otherwise, I wouldn't believe you.
Because as impressive a Los Angeles' roster reads on paper, it wasn't supposed to stack up against that of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers or even the Miami Heat. Yet they have, courtesy of Paul.
Bear in mind that this is a team for which just four players are scoring in double figures per game, and no one is averaging 20 points per contest. And this team has continued to win, continued to dominate even though they house a battered Blake Griffin, an absent Chauncey Billups and an inconsistent Lamar Odom, among other things.
All that is surely impressive. It's also indicative of how monstrous an impact Paul is having.
The point guard is currently averaging 16 points, 9.5 assists and 2.7 steals per game on 47.9 percent shooting. While none of Paul's surface numbers—save for his 88.9 percent field-goal percentage—are career highs, his impact is undeniable.
This is a floor general who directs traffic on the offensive end as well as anyone in the league. Paul is a defensive stud who is extremely deft at manning the passing lanes and providing help, especially on the weak side. This point man is the only player in the league putting up at least 16 points, nine assists and 2.5 steals a night.
Most importantly, though, Paul is a leader who has transformed a laughable franchise into a legitimate contender.
And, as J.A. Adande of ESPN.com notes, sometimes such an impact doesn't always make a jaw-dropping appearance in the box score:
He also makes the plays that don’t help his stats, like when he got to Corey Brewer at the same time as an outlet pass. In a subtle bit of positioning, Paul wasn’t at risk of picking up a foul, but close enough to stop Brewer in his tracks, bring the Nuggets offense to a temporary halt and allow the Clipper defense to set. They wound up forcing a jump ball between Blake Griffin and Ty Lawson, which went exactly the way you’d expect it to.
His numbers Tuesday were a pedestrian 14 points and eight assist. Just be aware that he was on the court when the Clippers blew the game open, stretching the lead from three points to 20 points in the second quarter. Just know that he’s been presiding over the best basketball this franchise has ever played for an extended run.
I draw your attention to that last sentence. Why exactly? Because it's true, and unlike most of Paul's at-first-glance accolades, that "best basketball" shows up in the stat lines.
Paul is second in the league behind Kevin Durant in win shares, with 5.8. That's more than Rondo, more than Westbrook—hell, that's more than LeBron James. And the profound effect he has on his team doesn't stop there.
When Paul is on the floor, the Clippers are scoring at a rate of 114.3 points per 100 possessions, a number that immediately plummets to 104.3 when he's on the sidelines. By comparison, the Boston Celtics score just 104.2 points per 100 possessions with Rondo on the floor and 101.1 points when he's riding the pine.
Paul also assists on 45.6 percent of baskets when he's on the floor, second only to Rondo's 52 percent. Los Angeles forces a league-leading 17.5 turnovers per game, a charge that is led by Paul himself as well. He tops the Association in turnovers forced (4.3) per 100 possessions.
Beyond that, his 9.5 dimes a night are second in the league while his 2.7 steals are first.
No, Paul doesn't lead the league, or even point guards, in every possible category. But that doesn't matter.
Look at what Paul has done for this Clippers team. Look at how what they have accomplished with him at the helm. He has single-handedly turned his team into a bona fide contender.
Don't believe me?
Well, consider this: Superstar Blake Griffin scores 20.4 points per 36 minutes on 54 percent shooting from the floor alongside Paul. When his partner in crime is on the bench, though, his per-36-minute averages dip to 19.3 points on 50 percent shooting. His field-goal attempts also fall from 15.7 to 12.9.
The same can be said for the much-improved DeAndre Jordan. He's shooting 58 percent with Paul on the floor and a mere 43 percent with him off. The same can even be said for Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford. Sure, he's scoring more with Paul off the floor, but the team is plus-11.7 points per 36 minutes with both of them on the floor. With just Crawford, the Clippers are plus-8.9.
Paul means everything to this Los Angeles team, a convocation that is not only winning, but winning in excess.
Can Rondo say the same? Can any other point guard say the same?
Rondo's impact is undeniable, yet the Celtics still find themselves clinging to a lower-level playoff spot in a weaker Eastern Conference. This is not meant to diminish what he or any other star point man does for the their team; it's just meant to emphasize Paul's impact.
The same Paul who visibly and statistically makes everyone around him better.
The same Paul who has the Clippers playing the best basketball in franchise history, let alone the league, and who consequently reversed the misfortune of an entire organization.
“I know what the perception was,” Paul had said, per Adande. “I know that if I came on a road trip to play here in L.A., we felt like we were going to win.”
Well, win the Clippers have, more than any other team in the NBA.
Because of Chris Paul—the league's best point guard.
*All stats in this article are accurate as of December 25, 2012.
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