Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul: Are They Still the NBA's Top Players at Their Position?

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IApril 29, 2011

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 20:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands next to Chris Paul #3 of the New Orleans Hornets in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2011 NBA Playoffs on April 20, 2011 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and New Orleans point guard Chris Paul were the headliners in their first round playoff series, and for years many observers have considered them to be the top players at their respective positions.

Both Bryant and Paul had exceptional regular seasons and each  had their moments in the playoffs, and in Paul's case a few of those moments were legendary, but does either player still merit the title as best player at their position?

Paul probably faces a little stiffer competition since the pool of superior point guards is much deeper, as players such as Derrick Rose, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo and Steve Nash have all been referred to as the league's best.

But this season Rose has firmly thrust his name to the fore-front of the discussion as not only the league's top point guard, but as the NBA's best player period.

Rose is expected to claim the 2010-11 NBA MVP award, and there are some people who feel that immediately establishes Rose as the NBA's best point guard, but the two instances are not mutually exclusive.

It is possible for Rose to be considered the league's top player and not the best point guard, and the current NBA postseason has provided evidence that supports that point.

The NBA playoffs are usually what separates the good players from the great ones, because it provides players an opportunity to test their skills on the league's grandest and most pressure filled stage.

Numerous NBA regular season stars have been exposed as frauds in the postseason, but both Rose and Paul have managed to elevate their games when it really matters the most.

Rose has already led his team to a 4-1 first round victory over the Indiana Pacers and he is averaging 27.6 points 6.2 rebounds, 4.6 assists and is shooting 37.1 percent from the field so far this postseason.

Paul's numbers are even more impressive as he led his under-manned Hornets team to two wins over the two-time defending NBA champion Lakers, and did it in historic fashion.

Paul has averaged 24.4 points per game to go along with 11.6 assists, 6.4 rebounds while shooting an amazing 55 percent from the field, and in the Hornets two wins Paul accumulated 60 points, 29 assists and 19 rebounds while shooting over 60 percent from the field.

Those are pretty impressive numbers and even more so when you consider that Paul's 27 point, 15 assist, 13 rebound Game Four performance was only the second time in NBA history that a player has managed to score 25 points and collect 15 assists in a postseason game.

Paul is also the only player in NBA history to average 20 points and 10 assists in the postseason, and while Rose's 24 point, 6.6 assist average during the same period is equally impressive, Paul's numbers suggest that he has more of an overall impact on his team in the postseason.

However, it's difficult to quantify Rose's ability to seize control of a game in its latter stages, although in those moments Rose is usually more focused on his scoring abilities rather than his point guard skills.

It's for this reason that some observers choose to place other players ahead of Rose as far as point guards are concerned, because his game is usually defined more by his ability to dominate a contest with his scoring, rather than his distribution and tempo-control skills.

When it comes to debating the NBA's top shooting guards the argument usually begins and ends with Bryant and Miami Heat two guard Dwyane Wade.

There are literally no other shooting guards that merit comparisons when it comes to Bryant and Wade, but trying to decide who is actually better is an exercise in futility.

Wade and Bryant's career numbers in most categories are to similar to make any real distinctions, and the same can be said as far as their postseason numbers.

Wade has averaged 26 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists while shooting 47 percent from the field in seven trips to the playoffs.

Bryant has reached the postseason 14 times in his 15 professional seasons, and has averaged 25.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists while shooting 45 percent from the field during that period.

Bryant has a much larger postseason resume than Wade and has managed to win four more championships and one more Finals' MVP, and has almost competed in as many NBA Finals as Wade has postseason appearances.

Bryant is also fourth on the NBA's all-time postseason scoring list, and is in the top 10 in postseason games played and won.

None of that proves that Bryant is a better player than Wade, and once you strip away all the statistics all it really boils down to is a matter of opinion.

But there is still a chance that both Wade and Bryant can still meet each other in the 2011 NBA Finals, and although that would not determine who the better player is, it would definitely be good for bragging rights.

The Lakers eliminated any chance of a Rose and Paul pairing in the Finals with their series-clinching victory in Game Six of the first round, but there is still an opportunity that the Lakers could experience both elite guards in a postseason setting if the Chicago Bulls come out of the east.


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