Is Tony Parker Overtaking Chris Paul as NBA's Top Point Guard?
Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers is one of the finest players in the league. The man known as CP3 took home the MVP from the All-Star Game, and he's in the discussion for MVP.
He's christened Lob City and elevated the Clips to as much of a draw as the L.A. Lakers for the first time ever.
But why do we always forget about the San Antonio Spurs? They have the best record in the NBA and are almost unbeatable at home, but their persistent excellence is slightly boring.
The Spurs don't have nicknames, and they attempt few alley-oops. They're so professional and buttoned up, it's easy to forget that Tim Duncan is one of the best players of all time and Manu Ginobili will probably be a Hall of Famer.
It's also easy to forget that Tony Parker is a legitimate candidate for MVP this season, and he'll have to fight off Chris Paul for the distinction.
They are united in their ability to embarrass Chris Bosh on national TV, but that's not all that brings these two together.
On Thursday, TNT analyst Charles Barkley called Parker the "best point guard in the NBA." Fellow commentator Kenny Smith agreed. Barkley went on to claim about Parker, "This guy, first of all, he should be the MVP" (via Yahoo! Sports' Dan Devine).
With apologies to Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving, there are really only two horses in the race for the title of Best Point Guard in the NBA. And it's between Paul and Parker.
While CP3 is "born to assist" and gets all the dap, Parker is definitely creeping up behind him. Let's break down each PG's splendid skills and try to pick a winner.
Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is a complex metric which seeks to capture each player's overall productivity. It is measured per minute and adjusted for each team's pace of play (via ESPN).
LeBron and Kevin Durant lead the league in PER. Chris Paul is third. Tony Parker is fourth.
Paul might be the best ball handler in the game. He can score at will, but he penetrates to pass the ball as well. He's third in assists behind the injured Rondo and Steve Nash.
Paul's scoring average has dipped this season to 16.4 points per game (down from 19.8 PPG last year), but that could just be due to the arrival of Jamal Crawford and the emergence of Eric Bledsoe.
After leading the league in steals for the past two seasons, Paul is currently at the top of that category again. He's an absolute kleptomaniac.
And his overall defense is rock solid, despite his small size (6'0", 175 pounds). Opposing point guards have a 12.9 PER against him (according to 82games.com), which pales in comparison to his own PER of 26.3.
It's hard to argue, when faced with the stats, that CP3 is anything other than the best point guard in the league.
It's convenient for comparison that both Paul and Parker average almost exactly the same amount of minutes per game (32.7 and 32.8).
One thing about Parker's stats that immediately stands out is his scoring. His PPG has risen from 16.0 in 2009-10 to 18.3 in 2011-12. And this season, it has shot up to 21.2.
This rise in Parker's scoring coincides with Ginobili's falling PPG. After averaging 17.4 PPG on 12.7 shots per game in 2010-11, Ginobili's scoring plummeted in 2011-12 to 12.9 PPG on 8.4 shots a night. His numbers are similar this season.
As the 35-year-old Argentinian continues to slow down, Parker has been shouldering the load and distributing the scoring opportunities amongst the team.
Not only that, but Parker has dramatically improved his shooting this year.
He's hitting 53.9 percent of his field goals (up from 48.0 percent last season), and his three-point shooting has been a revelation. While he's only averaging a pedestrian 37.9 percent from behind the arc this year, he shot a paltry 23.0 percent last season.
Parker is also averaging 7.7 assists per game, which puts him at eighth in the league and equals the career-high average he posted last season.
This is all following Chris Brown and Drake almost knocking Parker's eye out during an adjacent melee in a nightclub, so kudos to Tony.
Paul is historically a better shooter than Parker from three-point range (36.0 to 31.4 career percentage), though that hasn't been the case this season (34.8 percent to 37.9 percent).
CP3 is a sightly better shooter from the foul line (88.5 percent to 83.5), and his advantage in the steals department is vast (2.6 to 0.9).
While Paul is the superior defender, Parker is no slouch. Despite not generating many steals, he is holding opposing point guards to a 13.5 PER (according to 82games.com), which is almost as good as Paul.
CP3 is also slightly better than Parker at limiting his turnovers. Among point guards, Paul commits the fourth fewest turnovers per possession; Parker is ninth.
But two things that jump out from the advanced statistics are the disparities in assist ratio (percentage of a player's possessions ending with an assist) and usage rate (number of possessions a player uses per 40 minutes).
Paul's assist ratio is ninth in the league, while Parker's is 44th. This suggests Paul does a lot more passing that leads to points, even though only 1.4 assists per game separate them.
It should also be acknowledged that San Antonio's ball movement as a team is excellent. They lead the NBA in team assists per game, so perhaps Parker's skilled teammates are suppressing his assist totals.
In terms of usage rate, Parker is 10th while Paul is 46th. This is indicative of Parker's increased scoring numbers and the leadership role he has assumed in the Spurs offense, so Paul is doing more passing while Parker handles his team's scoring.
The two players are so similar in their boundless talent, it's almost unfair to claim one is superior to the other.
While it could be argued that Tony Parker is the more valuable player to his team based on his usage this season, Chris Paul has been playing more like a true point guard.
He generates turnovers on defense, limits his own on offense, dribbles and dishes better than anyone (except maybe Rondo) and possesses the ability to score when necessary.
At the risk of sounding ageist, I would have to take the 27-year-old Paul with seven seasons on his legs over the 30-year-old Parker who's an 11-year veteran.
Who is the best point guard in the NBA?
But the French tend to age well, so Tony could be experiencing a renaissance. He's also got three championship rings, which are pretty hard to argue with. You know CP3 is jealous of that hardware.
Paul and Parker have been neck and neck in the MVP voting for the last two seasons. In 2010-11, Parker finished 12th and Paul was 13th; in 2011-12, Parker was fifth and Paul was third.
This season's voting will almost certainly have them both in the top five.
If the season ended today, I would have to cast my MVP vote for LeBron James first, Tony Parker second and Chris Paul third.
That's mainly because the Spurs have been so dominant this season by winning almost 80 percent of their games (although much credit has to be given to San Antonio's shogun coach, Gregg Popovich).
Putting value aside, I still think Chris Paul is the best point guard in the league. But Parker's breathing down his neck.
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