The 2016-17 All-NBA teams were announced on Thursday, and before considering anything else about those who made the cut, there’s one specific snub (or should I say joke) that I want to address: Chris Paul not making the All-NBA third team. Specifically, Chris Paul not making the All-NBA third team over DeMar DeRozan.
Paul being the better of the two players isn’t any kind of take. Objectively, Paul comes out better in every regard, from the eye test to advanced numbers. Easily.
When the news came out that that wasn’t the case to the voters who placed DeRozan in the third team with 62 total votes (somehow including four second-team votes!) while Paul missed the cut with only 49, plenty of NBA Twitter members reacted appropriately with surprise and disappointment.
As you’ve probably guessed, I’m one of them.
So, let’s look at some of the key reasons why things are so awry with not only this All-NBA outcome, but the perception that DeRozan was “better” this season or is “more worthy” of such a spot than Paul.
Points per game aren’t everything
Don’t get me wrong, DeRozan is a really good offensive player. I understand all the flaws of his shot selection and lack of three-point range, but there is value in how he can create shots out of nothing, get to the free-throw line and generally put up the 27.3 points per game on 46.7 percent shooting, as he did this season. He had some special scoring tears, and that deserves acknowledgement.
But at the same time, there’s far more to offense than points per game.
The Raptors were technically worse with DeRozan off the floor this season. While there are some flaws with on/off numbers, depending on who other players share the court with most and the influence that has, the Raptors only scoring 0.9 more points per 100 possessions with DeRozan and allowing a generous 5.6 more to their opponent is telling. For one, he isn’t the best guard on his team. That’s Kyle Lowry, the guy who runs the offense, kills it from 3, and can turn run-of-the-mill bench units into highly effective groups. The same can’t be said for DeRozan.
Paul is still the best floor general point guard, or “Point God,” in the NBA. Controlling the pace, creating good looks for others and executing pick-and-rolls with super-surgeon precision is what Paul does to an all-time great level, once again making his average of 9.2 assists per game this season look easy. As a playmaker, there’s no comparison in any regard.
In terms of scoring, it’s obvious that DeRozan had the edge in terms of sheer output. He fully embraced that role as the Raptors’ top scorer and led the NBA in two-point field goal attempts (1,421) for the second straight season. He also has an advantage over Paul in terms of size and athleticism that helps, whether it’s scoring from the post or getting to the line.
That said, Paul’s 18.1 points per game aren’t nothing, and his 47.6 percent shooting is another advantage. And, of course, more so than general field-goal percentage, the fact that Paul actually hits 3-pointers is huge. It keeps defenders guessing as to what he’s trying to do and, after all, three points are better than two. DeRozan clearly has less dimension to his offensive game, and his poor marks of 0.4 3s per game at a 26.6 percent rate don’t come close to Paul’s average of 2 at 41.1 percent is massive.
Finally, a few advanced numbers with respective league rankings among all players (with at least 50 appearances and 20 minutes a night) to emphasize how far ahead Paul is:
DeRozan gets buckets. Paul does, too. But he also does a whole lot more with far better efficiency and team play to show for it.
Defense has to be considered for All-NBA players, at least when they didn’t have the amazing kind of offense on a 53-win team as Isaiah Thomas did for the Boston Celtics. Good defense isn’t something in DeRozan’s arsenal, though. He’s a poor defender. He could be far better with a major injection of effort and awareness, but he doesn’t use his explosive 6-foot-7, 221-pound frame to nearly the defensive heights it could be.
That’s why the Raptors have what would have been the sixth-ranked defense without him on the floor this season (104.2 points allowed per 100 possessions) and the 28th with him (109.8 points allowed per 100 possessions). A load of further explanation shouldn’t be needed for DeRozan. Watch him play defense and you’ll see its lackluster nature. That kind of drastic change in the team’s performance isn’t just an accident.
With Paul we see the opposite effect. Again, there’s a reason why Paul ranked first among all point guards in Defensive Real Plus/Minus at 2.77, a country mile ahead of second-place Patrick Beverley at 1.38. Meanwhile, DeRozan is all the way back at 81st among shooting guards at -2.07. Furthermore, the Clippers were a drastically better defensive team with Paul’s tenacity, on-ball pressure, steals and leadership on the floor, allowing a ridiculous 8.1 fewer points per 100 possessions with him in the game.
If numbers aren’t you thing, that’s fine. The eye test to reveal the difference in their energy, instincts, positioning and impact more than confirm what the stats say. Again, the defensive difference between these two is obvious.
So, with all these elements of well-rounded skill and impact favoring Paul, how much value should we place in a player competing in all 82 games, or at least something close to it? Paul missing time at the end of December and between January 19 and February 24 to finish the season with 61 games played seems to be the main fact in eliminating him from people’s consideration and votes. And in fairness, it should be considered. The issue is we have no clear standard as to how many games are required for each team.
DeRozan even missed a few games himself, playing in 74. However, more importantly, Kevin Durant made the second team after playing only 62 games. Sure, he’s understandably better than Paul in most people’s minds (hence the second-team nod) and he played for the league’s best team, but one less game shouldn’t eradicate Paul from at least making the third team when he’s clearly qualified.
In NBA history, Paul’s 61 played games has often been enough to make the All-NBA cut, especially for someone with CP3’s long-standing pedigree, reputation and top-10-caliber performance (despite the plethora of deserving guards in the league right now, these are all worthy factors that separate him from DeRozan).
For some historical context, there’s this (excluding seasons without a lockout-shortened schedule):
With 61 or fewer games played, there have been nine previous instances of a player making the All-NBA third team, 13 for the second team and six for the first team.
In other words, for a player as good as Paul, there have been a fair handful of occasions where a player has made the cut with some missed time. Even with the amount of great guards today, this is worth noting.
Ultimately, does Paul himself care? He’s an NBA player, so he probably does:
— Chris Paul (@CP3) May 18, 2017
Does this all matter in the grand scheme of things? Not really. What’s done is done and Paul can still make a ton of money this summer regardless. He isn’t in the same boat as Paul George and Gordon Hayward, who both just missed out on tens of millions of dollars due to the requirements for the new super-max extension in the updated CBA.
So, while it’s perfectly justifiable to place John Wall on the third team after a fantastic career year and Thomas on the second team for his incredible offensive showing, there really isn’t an argument left for DeRozan over Paul.
No matter how you slice it, it was the wrong choice.
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