Defending Chris Paul's NBA Superstar Status

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Defending Chris Paul's NBA Superstar Status
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Chris Paul is a superstar.

There seems to be this growing belief that Paul doesn’t deserve to hold that title, and the Los Angeles Clippers’ second-round exit from the 2013-14 postseason didn’t help matters.

ESPN’s Skip Bayless has been the leading voice against Paul’s claim to superstardom, insisting that CP3’s lack of playoff success over the course of his nine-year career should exclude him from the ranks of the NBA’s biggest names:

Isiah Thomas hopped on First Take and echoed Bayless’ sentiments, emphasizing the relationship between championships and stardom.

But when you look at the numbers, both on the court and in the sales market, there’s no doubt that CP3 belongs in the superstar class.

And the idea that he’s undeserving of such an honor? Well, it’s time to put that to rest.

 

Best at his position

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Westbrook's future is extremely bright, but CP is the best point guard today.

There’s no debating the fact that Paul is the best point guard in the game today.

Ask LeBron James, and he'll tell you the same thing, per Melissa Rohlin of the Los Angeles Times after a 2012 showdown between the Clippers and the Miami Heat:

He's always aware, he knows the tempo of the game, knows the score. He's always aware of when he needs to pick his points, you know, pick his shots or get into attack and make things happen.

That's why I've always felt that he's the best point guard in the NBA.

Cases could be made for Tony Parker and Russell Westbrook, but neither of them can compare to Paul statistically.

Parker deserves recognition for playing such a crucial role in three NBA championship runs, but the San Antonio Spurs are essentially a dynasty and are significantly better than any team that Paul’s ever been on.

Westbrook, on the other hand, has gone deeper into the postseason than Paul, but CP3 has never had a player like Kevin Durant alongside him.

Numbers don’t lie—and Paul’s individual stats rise above those of Parker and Westbrook.

Point Guard Comparison (Career Averages)
Player Points Assists Shooting Percentage Steals
Chris Paul 18.6 9.9 47.2 2.4
Russell Westbrook 20.1 6.9 43.3 1.6
Tony Parker 17.1 6.0 49.5 0.9

Basketball Reference

Westbrook has the edge in scoring and rebounding, but Paul has him beat in shooting percentage (both from two and three-point range), assists, steals and free-throw percentage.

Parker’s superiority over Paul is exclusive to shooting percentage, as CP3 has the Spurs guard beat in every other major category.

Defensively, Westbrook and Paul are neck-and-neck. But CP3's versatility—the 6'0" guard even locked down the 6'11" Durant for stretches in the conference semifinals—gives him a slight edge.

Think of the best player at every position. James Harden and Kobe Bryant at shooting guard. James and Durant at forward. Dwight Howard at center.

All of those guys are superstars. And Paul, the league’s undisputed top point guard, is right there with them.

 

Box-office beast

USA TODAY Sports
The LAC crowd often waves heads of CP3 and his alter-ego, Cliff Paul, to distract opponents taking FTs.

An important aspect of superstardom is how strongly a player influences a fanbase.

Prior to Paul’s arrival in Los Angeles three years ago, the Clippers had never broken the top 10 in attendance since ESPN began tracking the stat in 2001.

But in 2012, Paul’s first full season with the Clips, fan attendance jumped to about 19,000 a game, the seventh-most in the entire league. And then in 2013, the team climbed all the way to sixth in the NBA.

First of all, insane move. Second of all, listen to the crowd.

The Clippers again ranked seventh in attendance this past season.

And here’s another nugget: The Clips have had better regular-season attendance than the Los Angeles Lakers in every full season that Paul has been in L.A.

In addition to filling the stadium, jersey and team merchandise sales are another great indication of what kind of power a particular player holds.

Paul’s New Orleans Hornets jersey was the third-best seller behind Bryant's and James' in 2008-09, and then ranked seventh the following year. The Hornets, now the Pelicans, are yet to have another player crack the top 10 since CP3’s departure.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Paul and Griffin are one of the league's most exciting duos.

Paul’s jersey remained a hot item even after joining the Clippers in 2011, as LAC made its “presence known with two players on the list—Blake Griffin (No. 9) and Chris Paul (No. 15). The last time the Clippers featured two players was in April 2002 with Darius Miles (No. 7) and Lamar Odom (No. 8),” per NBA.com.

The most recent numbers were released on April 9, 2013 and saw the Clippers settle into the No. 8 spot for team merchandise, while Paul’s jersey jumped up to ninth.

Paul is a box-office giant. Attendance at Clippers home games has skyrocketed since CP3 came to town, and his jersey is immensely popular wherever he goes.

That's the power of a superstar.

 

No rings, no problem

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
His lack of playoff success shouldn't muddy Paul's other accomplishments.

Okay, okay—Paul is the best point guard in the league, he puts fans in the seats and his jersey flies off the shelves regardless of his team.

But where are his rings?

That’s a great question, friends. I suppose I could ask the same for Carmelo Anthony, Durant, Westbrook, Howard, Harden and every other big-time player with a trophy case void of a championship ring.

Do you view Paul as a superstar?

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But I’m not going to do that. Why? Because stardom isn’t all about how many banners you raise.

There’s a difference between being a superstar and being great. When comparing James to Michael Jordan, it’s appropriate to count the championships. But when assessing a player’s level of prominence in today's NBA, rings don’t carry the same weight.

Adam Morrison—remember him? The mustached guy from Gonzaga—who will go down as one of the biggest busts in NBA history—won more rings than 18 of the 25 players that participated in the 2014 NBA All-Star Game.

Does that make Morrison better than All-Stars like Melo, D12 and Durant? Please.

CP3’s championship may come and it may not. But if Paul continues on the path that he’s paved for himself, he will have a shot to go down as one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game.

Paul is now, and always will be, a superstar.

 

All stats and information are accurate as of May 23, courtesy of Basketball Reference. Jersey and merchandise data is based on combined sales at the NBA Store on Fifth Avenue, New York and NBAStore.com.

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