Deron Williams and Chris Paul have been linked in the public consciousness ever since going No. 3 and No. 4 in the 2005 NBA Draft.
** The Hawks decision to draft Marvin Williams No. 2 that year looks worse and worse in retrospect. An Atlanta team with either point guard setting up Joe Johnson and Josh Smith would be ridiculous.**
Paul burst out the gates strong, winning Rookie of the Year, while Williams struggled initially to learn the intricacies of running Jerry Sloan's offense.
Statistically there is no comparison—Paul has had a higher PER (player efficiency rating, a useful catch-all offensive statistic developed by ESPN's John Hollinger) every season of his career. The lowest PER he's gotten in his career is 22.0.
Williams' highest mark is 22.1.
Paul has been to the All-Star Game three times, while Williams made his first appearance last season.
Both members of the 2008 "Redeem Team" are widely seen as the two best point guards in the NBA. While Paul is having an MVP-caliber season, under new coach Monty Williams, I would make the same choice Utah made five years ago if I was starting an NBA franchise.
** Point guard is probably the most talented position in today's game, but Williams and Paul are a cut above. Steve Nash might be the most dominant offensively, but he is a defensive liability who needs to be hid on the other team's worst player. Rajon Rondo, while leading the league in assists, has the benefit of playing with four future Hall of Famers, none of whom dominate the ball on offense. He won't be in the discussion until he's able to knock down open jump-shots.
Two third-year point guards, with freakish athleticism, Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose, have the potential to challenge Williams and Paul. Westbrook needs to continue improving his outside jumper, while Rose still seems more comfortable scoring than setting his teammates up.**
The debate about the two players is an example of how statistics, even the more advanced metrics that have become increasingly popular, don't fully capture a player's value on the basketball court.
At 6'3 210 lbs., with a 6'6 wingspan, Williams is one of the biggest point guards in the league. At 6'0 180 lbs., Paul is one of the smallest. And since Paul is not a significantly better athlete, he has to be a lot better to make up for that size differential.
Williams' size allows him to guard shooting guards, greatly increasing Utah's roster versatility. In an OT win against Portland last season, Utah was able to overcome a 25-point deficit, and hold the Blazers to only 16 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, in large part because Williams was shifted onto Brandon Roy on defense. Roy, one of the league's premier fourth-quarter scorers, made only one long jumper in the game's last 12 minutes.
New Orleans' recent trade with Toronto, in which they dealt Jerryd Bayless for Jarrett Jack, highlights how Paul's lack of size affects the Hornets. Bayless, a promising 22-year old scorer who averaged 17.4 points per 36 minutes last season, does not have the size to play next to Paul in the back-court.
As a result, he could only average 13 minutes a game in New Orleans, primarily when Paul was not on the court. The Hornets, who had given up a first-round pick to acquire Bayless in the off-season, had to sacrifice one of their best assets (Peja's expiring contract) to find a guard with the size (Jack is 6'4 200 lbs. with a 6'7 wingspan) to play next to CP3.
The Hornets made one of the best selections of the 2009 Draft when they picked up UCLA speedster Darren Collison at No. 21. But at only 6'0 160 lbs., he did not have a long-term future in New Orleans.
A Collison/Williams back-court would be one of the fastest and most skilled back-courts in the NBA. A Collison/Paul back-court would not work.
Positional versatility has a tremendous effect on the composition of a roster, but it is something statistics cannot measure.
Williams' size also makes him a more dangerous player with the ball in his hands. With his combination of size, skill and shooting ability, he can get a good look in almost any situation, making him one of the most dangerous late game scorers in the league.
He can post up smaller guards and finish in the lane easier than Paul. According to 82games.com, while only 16% of Paul's shots are in the interior, 30% of Williams' are. In the NBA, games are won in the paint, and Williams is a much more effective player inside than Paul.
The extra twenty pounds allows him to absorb much more punishment; in their first five seasons, Williams has averaged eight more games a season than Paul.
Long-term, size and shooting ability are the two best indicators of a player's ability to age well. Jason Kidd, at the age of 37, is still an effective player because he has the size (6'4 210 lbs.) to make up for his lack of foot-speed on defense, and he can spot up from the 3-point line and space the floor.
Speed is the most fleeting of NBA attributes. Paul is already having to adjust his game due to knee injuries. Statistically, he is the hare and Williams is the tortoise, slowly gaining and bound to pass him eventually.