The FanRag Sports Offseason Rankings counts down the top 100 NBA players throughout the offseason. Methodology, voters and the full countdown are all detailed in the introductory post.
Chris Paul, now of the Houston Rockets, is easily the greatest active player who has never won a championship. He’s also the greatest who has never won an MVP, at least based on MVP Award Shares at Basketball-Reference.com.
This season, he joins the player who is second on that list: James Harden. How well can he and Harden play together? How will Paul adapt to the Mike D’Antoni offense? Lots of questions surround the future Hall of Fame point guard in his pursuit of a championship.
Two things could cause Paul to drop in the rankings. First, there’s the “one ball” issue. Obviously, sharing it with Harden means both players’ numbers will dip. The second concern is the potential for injuries. Paul missed 21 games last year, and if that happens again, he’ll definitely be viewed as aging out of his prime. While there’s some talk of that already, it’s not really valid; his numbers last season were right in line with his career averages.
There’s another possibility where the Rockets win the championship and Chris Paul wins the Finals MVP. The Warriors are the clear favorites, but the Rockets are one of the few teams that can compete with them. If they do win the Finals, Harden is probably the favorite to win the Bill Russell Trophy, but Paul wouldn’t shock anyone if he had an MVP performance. Such an honor would answer the biggest criticism of Paul–that he can’t win–and elevate him to top-five status.
Paul is one of the greatest point guards of all time for good reason. He is able to dominate a game with his passing while scoring efficiently. While he doesn’t have the same capacity as some of the other elite point guards to drop 40 or 50 on a given night (he’s had only two 40-point games in the last four years), he consistently puts up around 15 to 22 points without wasting a lot of shots or turning the ball over.
Last year, he was the only player to shoot more than five mid-range attempts per game (between the semi-circles) and shoot over 50 percent. He also shot 41.1 percent from deep and 89.2 percent from the stripe. He scored 1.062 points per possession, according to Synergy, and that ranked in the 86th percentile. When you include his passing, he makes an even bigger difference. In possessions plus assists, he averaged 1.483 points per possession, which is the most of any player who used 1,000 possessions.
His ability to create clean shots for his teammates by collapsing defenses is something special.
He can drop dimes over the defense’s head, anticipate cuts like nobody’s business, thread needles on pick-and-rolls, and deliver any type of pass you want on the money. If someone is open, Paul will see him. It’s what makes Paul special.
Last season, Paul led all point guards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus at plus-2.76, according to ESPN. The Clippers’ defense was 8.8 points per 100 possessions while he was on the court. He is a tenacious on-ball defender–to the point of being annoying. That’s what makes him good.
He also just missed averaging 2.0 swipes per game by three steals. That would have tied him for the second-most seasons all-time at 10. It’s all the more impressive when you realize the three times he’s missed that mark, it’s been by a total of 19 steals.
When Paul gets a steal, he rarely gambles. He just uses his quick hands to stab in and snatch a pass or poke away a dribble. When he gets one, he almost always immediately turns it into a scoring opportunity.
Which is to say that he’s still a very good defender. His height (allegedly 6-0, but everyone knows he’s not) presents challenges with shooters, but he holds his own just by sticking to them. That’s about the closest thing to a weakness he has.