The Fall of Chris Paul: No Longer a Top 5 Point Guard?

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The Fall of Chris Paul: No Longer a Top 5 Point Guard?
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The National Basketball Association is chock-full of great point guards. Steve Nash and Jason Kidd are far from slowly fading away, but they’re no longer the showcases of their position.

Every single year the draft is overflowing with point guards, but it’s not watered down.

John Wall out of Kentucky went No. 1 overall in this summer’s draft. 2009 saw Tyreke Evans, Ricky Rubio, Johnny Flynn, Stephen Curry, and Brandon Jennings all go in the lottery and within the first four to 10 picks.

That doesn’t include Ty Lawson, Jrue Holiday, and Darren Collison who were also nabbed in the first round two summers ago.

Looking at the development of Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose of the 2008 NBA Draft, it’s easy to see the league is changing.

But before all that, there was a draft that navigated the positional-shift in the NBA.

2005 sported Deron Williams, Chris Paul, and Raymond Felton sequentially in the draft with the 3-5 spots. Instantly, Chris Paul became the darling of the NBA, winning Rookie of the Year in the biggest landslide since David Robinson received 124 out of 125 possible first place votes. Paul humbly walked away with 124, and Deron Williams of the Utah Jazz pocketed the sole other vote.

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Not only was Chris Paul’s Rookie of the Year Award impressive, but fellow PG Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns won his second consecutive MVP award and became the first point guard to be honored since Magic Johnson in the 1989-90 season.

Three seasons later in 2008, Chris Paul made his own push for MVP as he led the New Orleans Hornets to the league’s fourth-best record and second-best in the Western Conference. Paul took his game to another level, averaging career highs in points and assists (21.1 PPG and 11.6 APG), but ultimately fell short to Kobe Bryant in the MVP race.

Last season, Chris Paul fell victim to a necessary season-ending surgery due to a chronic left knee problem that turned out to be a torn meniscus. Paul appeared in only 45 games and saw a significant drop in points, assists, steals and rebounds. New Orleans quickly fell out of the playoff race in the Western Conference, winning only 37 games in 82 tries.

Then this July, Chris Paul became publicly unhappy with the Hornets organization and the drama began. Paul desperately wanted to return to serious contention after watching the league’s talent pool become thinner with the Miami Heat coming together.

It should have seemed odd but it didn’t. Chris Paul had just sat 37 games, his team missed the playoffs in convincing fashion, and out of the blue he feels left out of the winning circle.

It all seems childish, especially considering that his reaction to the Hornets' dismal year came from a season in which he did not play.

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So, he allegedly made demands. Whispers appeared about New York and Orlando, hoping to join Dwight Howard or possibly Amar’e Stoudemire. Even the Portland Trailblazers boarded the boat and supposedly tried to nab the three-time All Star.

But no such trade occurred. The air in New Orleans cleared just in time for the start of the 2010-11 season.

Then, the Hornets happened. New Orleans jumped out to an 11-1 start and everybody blinked and rubbed their eyes.

The general consensus was clear: Paul’s return meant big things for the Hornets.

And—why not?

The organization dumped rookie sensation and possible alternate-ending Darren Collison. Emeka Okafor and Paul were developing lightning-fast chemistry. Trevor Ariza provided the knockdown shooter and perimeter defender every winning team needs. Marcus Belinelli continued to put up career numbers.

And, yes, two-time All Star David West’s position in the middle remained.

Add  some youth from the bench—headlined by Marcus Thorton—and addition by subtraction with the Peja Stojakovic trade, and it was easy to see why things were looking up for Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets.

Since then, the Hornets have well fallen out of first place in the Western Conference, having slipped to 19-14 overall.

New Orleans is only 8-13 in their last 21 games, leaving analysts and avid fans baffled and scratching heads.

What they’ve been left with is the dandruff from a crumbling team. And who’s to say that Chris Paul’s to blame? The guy is nearly putting up 17 and 10 on a nightly basis to go along with 4.6 boards and three robberies.

Paul’s play has been very good and he’s still clearly one of the best point guards in the NBA.

However, with the positional shift in the league is it safe to say he’s still the best PG in the NBA has to offer? Probably not.

Is it safe to say he’s in the top 5? Breathe easy, Paul fans. (But really, who’s not a CP3 fan?).

He still remains in the top 5 but there are four guys who are playing better or identical basketball this season.

First of all, there are two point guards in discussion for MVP. Derrick Rose and fellow 2005 NBA draft product Deron Williams are playing out of their minds right now.

They’ve answered the call that Chris Paul hasn’t. Deron Williams is putting up 5 more points, the same number of assists and rebounds than Paul, but his team is getting it done on a nightly basis.

Yes, Paul’s nightly thievery outduels Williams’ but Deron plays a different style of defense. He doesn’t flirt in the passing lanes—not nearly as much as we’d like—but he stays in front of his man much more easily than Paul because of his size.

Just because Williams isn’t stealing the ball doesn’t mean he’s conceding buckets.

Simplified—Deron Williams is outplaying Chris Paul this season. His team has needed a scorer, much like New Orleans, and he’s taken it upon himself to get it done. Chris Paul is below his career average in every statistical category except steals. Williams is averaging one less assist per game than his All Star season a year ago, but with the additional four points a game, nobody is complaining.

Then there is Derrick Rose. Just a brief look at the numbers is all revealing. Not only is he in the MVP discussion but it’s hard to believe than anybody else will win Most Improved Player as well.

Rose is exactly what his team needs. Considering that he’s played without the Chicago Bulls full starting lineup this year and it’s pretty amazing to know that he’s improved in every statistical category.

His stat line is ridiculous: 23.9 PPG, 8.5 APG, 4.8 RPG, 1.2 SPG

And those statistics are better than Paul’s, not just the individual statistics, but also the Bulls 21-10 record.

Russell Westbrook is also playing better than Paul this year. He’s not putting up as many assists, but he’s jumped up 6 points from last year’s average which is better than Paul by 5 points.

Out in New York Raymond Felton is getting it done. He’s averaging career highs in points, steals, assists, and rebounds. He’s another guy that is an assist away from Paul but is outscoring him—then there’s that other statistic: the Knicks are 18-14, a half-game back from New Orleans.

A debate could be proposed for Rajon Rondo too. He’s clearly not the scorer that Paul is, and he’s surrounded with future Hall-of-Famers, but he’s doing exactly what his team needs to win.

If you want to say Paul is better than Westbrook, Rondo, or Felton, there’s an argument there. But the argument can go both ways.

The truth is that all four of these point guards have raised their level of play from last year and their teams are having more success. They’re all having career years.

When you look at Chris Paul, he’s having his worst season since 2006-07 (his sophomore season). Yes, he’s having a fantastic year, but statistically he’s declining while his team is quickly becoming irrelevant.

If the Hornets were playing contention-like basketball and Paul was putting up these numbers, it would be a different story.

But he’s not. The truth is that New Orleans needs him to step up his game no matter who else is on the roster.

Maybe he’s checked out and sobbing about the contract extension he signed in the summer of 2008. If he has, there’s a whole other issue at hand that speaks to his character.

Let’s hope it’s not that.

Checked out or not, only half of the story has changed: He’s still in New Orleans.

The other half: He’s not playing like he’s the best point guard in the NBA.

And with the youth and serious growth of the position, it’s hard to believe he still is.

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