Who do you want your offense to run through with the game on the line? Counting down from 30th to 1st (one per team), I’ve ranked the League’s go-to guys…
CHRIS PAUL, New Orleans Hornets
It’s probably unfair to judge CP3’s merits as a go-to clutch player the morning after his team lost to the Clippers.
In many ways, Paul has been than ever this year, leading the Hornets to an 11-2 record with a first-year head coach (Monty Williams) and one All-Star teammate (David West). He is averaging 16.6 points, 10.2 assists and 2.9 steals. He dominated with his defense and passing to beat Miami (19 asts, 5 stls), and took over as a scorer to knock off San Antonio (25 pts, 7-7 FT). He is helping castoff teammates Marco Belinelli and Trevor Ariza play with so much confidence, they’re looking in the mirror and seeing Dell Curry and Glen Rice.
But last night was not Paul’s best work of art. In addition to his most notable gaffe — skipping a pass too low for an open D-West in the final five seconds — Paul also ignored some shot opportunities coming out of N.O.’s vaunted pick-and-pop that he probably should have taken. Then again, in that same game, CP3 helped keep the Hornets within striking distance in the first place with clutch rebounds and steals in the final 30 seconds.
It is that all-around play that sets Paul apart from many of his PG peers. More than just scoring like Derrick Rose or setting up his scorers like Jason Kidd, CP3 offers the whole buffet. He dictates tempo, creates havoc on defense, always seems to be around the ball during the game’s most crucial moments. Sometimes he pulls a dirty trick in order to win, but most everything he does fits within the rules … or at least within how NBA referees call games.
Last season was notable for CP3’s injuries that cost him almost half of the schedule and cost the Hornets a playoff spot, but it’s not like he was bad before he got hurt. Paul averaged 18.7 points, 10.7 assists and 2.1 steals pre-injury, hitting a career-high 40 percent of his threes and nearly a career-high 49.3 percent of his field goals. In “clutch time,” according to 82games.com, Paul was the NBA’s 9th-leading scorer (39.3 points per 48 minutes), and his shooting percentages across the board improved in clutch situations. Paul also ranked 5th in the League in clutch-time assists. And for a player who has the ball in his hands so much at the end of games, CP3’s turnovers are low — he protected the ball in clutch time better than fellow ball-dominators Steve Nash, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.
This year, healthy and with the Hornets on a roll, CP3 is out to prove he’s still arguably the best point guard in the game. And after last night, at least temporarily, he’ll be out to prove the Clippers thing was an exception to the rule.
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10. Tim Duncan (Spurs)
11. Brandon Roy (Trail Blazers)
12. Joe Johnson (Hawks)
13. Derrick Rose (Bulls)
14. Tyreke Evans (Kings)
15. Vince Carter (Magic)
16. Gilbert Arenas (Wizards)
17. Amar’e Stoudemire (Knicks)
18. Monta Ellis (Warriors)
19. Danny Granger (Pacers)
20. John Salmons (Bucks)
21. Rudy Gay (Grizzlies)
22. Stephen Jackson (Bobcats)
23. Baron Davis (Clippers)
24. Ben Gordon (Pistons)
25. Andre Iguodala (76ers)
26. Yao Ming (Rockets)
27. Mo Williams (Cavaliers)
28. Brook Lopez (Nets)
29. Andrea Bargnani (Raptors)
30. Michael Beasley (Timberwolves)