We love Charles Barkley, but far more for the glory of his past playing days past and overall gregarious nature. As a NBA analyst? Let’s just say we often disagree with Chuck. Does that mean he’s wrong in those specific cases? No; we’re hardly infallible. Even so, we’re very confident saying that Barkley’s assessment of Chris Paul’s All-Star candidacy is simply misguided.
On a radio appearance for Los Angeles’ Beast 980 this morning, the Hall-of-Famer claimed that play of the Los Angeles Clippers’ superstar point guard this season hasn’t been worthy of a reserve spot in the All-Star game:
Chris Paul doesn’t deserve to make the All-Star team. I love Chris. I’ve said that he’s the best leader we’ve got in the NBA now, but he’s not an All-Star this year. There are too many guys head of him. Steph Curry is the MVP probably, so far this year in the NBA. You’ve got Klay Thompson too.
Steph is the leading vote-getter, and he’s the best PG in the NBA this year. Kobe’s there, and that’s going to be the big decision, but then you’ve got James Harden, Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard…. It’s going to be very difficult for Chris to make the team this year.
Talk about a hot take.
Paul is one of two players in the NBA to average at least 17.0 points and nine assists per game. He ranks third among point guards in PER, fourth overall in win shares, and sixth overall in Real Plus-Minus. He quarterbacks basketball’s most efficient offense, and the Clippers’ +7.4 overall net rating tumbles to -6.4 when he’s on the bench – the team’s biggest discrepancy by a wide margin.
And for all talk of Los Angeles’ relative labors over the season’s first half, Paul’s team is 29-14 and just a game and-a-half back of the Memphis Grizzlies for second in the loaded Western Conference. The Clippers’ net rating ranks fourth overall.
Does CP3 merit selection as an All-Star backup by the league’s coaches, then? Of course – even considering just how many players in the West do in a vacuum, too.
The coaches select two backcourt players, three frontcourt players, and two “wild cards” to round-out the February classic rosters. Paul, basically, is fighting with other Western Conference guards for one of four spots. His main competition is Harden, Thompson, Lillard, Russell Westbrook, and Mike Conley (with apologies to Monta Ellis, Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, and Tony Parker).
Only Harden’s credentials are clearly superior to Paul’s. The Houston Rockets’ playmaker is a bonafide MVP candidate, increasing his usage while maintaining stellar efficiency and making major strides on the defensive end. The Beard is a lock, and rightfully so.
But Paul is right behind him in the pecking order.
There’s a viable argument to be made that the league-leading, historically dominant Golden State Warriors deserve an All-Star in addition to Steph Curry. Fine – give the second backcourt slot to Thompson, who’s all-around offensive game has made a leap this season that very few saw coming. The same could be said for Lillard, too. The Portland Trail Blazers clutch king has pulled off the difficult feat of upping his usage and efficiency, and his team’s defensive prowess has been established in part due to his much-improved individual defense, too.
Is either Thompson or Lillard having a better season than Paul? We don’t think so, but the debate can be had.
In Barkley’s world, that leaves Paul duking it out with Westbrook, Lillard, and Conley for one wild card spot. Pertinent: Kobe Bryant won’t play in the All-Star game, making it probable that Harden will take his place as a starter and thus leave another backcourt spot open.
But Barkley made these comments before Bryant’s fate was known. In throwing support behind Harden, Thompson, and Lillard, he was basically saying that he’d choose Westbrook or Conley – or perhaps a frontcourt player – over Paul for the last wild card position.
Conley’s case just isn’t as strong as Paul’s. The Grizzlies are 9-8 since starting the season 21-4, as Conley and Marc Gasol struggled steering the ship while Zach Randolph was sidelined. The team’s defensive slippage matters, too, especially when weighed against Conley’s career season and crunch-time theatrics on the other end of the floor.
Westbrook has been nothing short of dominant this season and was basketball’s best player for a majority of December. But his efficiency has taken a drastic turn for the worse of late, and the fact remains that he’s missed 14 of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 42 games – a third of the schedule.
Paul, meanwhile, has been typically and consistently brilliant on offense and played in each of the Clippers’ 43 games. Though he’s perhaps taken a step back on the other side of the ball, it’s not like he’s been a sieve, either. Los Angeles defends worse with Paul on the bench than the floor and he ranks eleventh in Defensive Real Plus-Minus among point guards – just ahead of Jrue Holiday.
Reality is that the coaches know enough to select Paul as a reserve almost without question, and injury circumstances make him as close to a lock as Harden. But Barkley hedges toward headlines when he can, and the notion that CP3 isn’t deserving of an All-Star nod certainly creates them. We just wish there was more merit and nuance behind Chuck’s take.
What do you think?
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