Is Chris Paul Overrated?

Something big, something definitive, is supposed to happen in Los Angeles tonight. Not saying it will, but if you’ve been paying attention to those who promote and report on the NBA, that’s the plan.

The wheels were set in motion last season, when Blake Griffin turned his official rookie campaign into an Albino Shawn Kemp mixtape, followed by Kobe Bryant experiencing a playoff series loss via sweep for the first time since 1999 – also the last time Kobe averaged less than 20 points per game as a pro. The wagon gained momentum this past December, when Chris Paul was traded to the L.A. Clippers days after a would-be trade sending CP3 to the L.A. Lakers fell apart. The wagon broke the speed limit when the Clippers beat the Lakers in two preseason games, and the pedal met the floor when Paul put up 33 points to lead the Clippers to a win over the Lakers in their first regular-season meeting on Jan. 14.

And so tonight, after the Clippers and Lakers play on NBA TV, your regularly scheduled sports media hyperbole machine must produce something definitive and bold to drive the headlines – even if it’s just a regular-season game in late January. Either the Clippers will be crowned by Twitter as L.A.’s “new” team while the Lakers suffer a sudden death; or the Lakers will lead “SportsCenter” as the front-runners to win the West; or some nationally respected reporter will begin co-signing Pau Gasol‘s “Welcome to Orlando” postcard; or some loud-mouthed maniac with a wireless mic will put Kobe back atop the pedestal as the best player in the league.

Or, with Paul returning for his first game since injuring his hamstring earlier this month, the takeaway from Wednesday will be that Chris Paul is once again known as the best point guard in the world. Never mind that it’s just one game.

Yesterday I was listening to Seattle’s local sports radio KJR 950, and when I heard midday host Ian Furness drop some startling comments about CP3, I took them both seriously and with the proverbial grain of salt. During a segment with Seattle Times columnist Steve Kelley that centered on local NBA product Isaiah Thomas and fanned out to a number of basketball topics, Paul’s name came up. To paraphrase, Furness said:

1. He thinks Chris Paul is the most overrated player in the NBA.
2. He could name at least 10 guards in the league better than Chris Paul.

One direct quote by Furness about Paul that stuck with me: “I just don’t see it.”

Now I’ve listened to Furness on the air for a while, and I know him to be a knowledgeable NBA and college hoops guy. He’s not one of these blowhard radio/TV personalities who screams just to hear his own voice, or throws out wild opinions just to get a rise out of people.

At the same time, I realize that when your job is to cover local sports in a city that no longer has an NBA team – or when your job is to cover all sports, period, and you only have 24 hours in a day – you probably can’t watch so much NBA basketball that you’d be considered as much an expert on Chris Paul as, say, an NBA beat writer or a New Orleans/L.A. radio host. So again, that grain of salt should temper the validity of Furness’ opinion.

Personally, I’ve been a fan of Chris Paul’s game since I watched him at Wake Forest, since I wrote his first (and my first) national magazine cover story for Dime #23, and since I worked with him again when he penned his own cover story for Dime #61. So while I probably do have a bias, I do “see it” with CP3’s game.

I think Paul is the best ballhandler among point guards in the league (Jamal Crawford gets my overall vote). I think CP3 is one of the three-to-four best pure passers in the league, and when he goes into Takeover mode, one of the 2-3 best scoring and on-ball defensive point guards in the league. Paul went from being an “if he improves his jumper” guy to a player who consistently hits about 40 percent of his threes. He led the Hornets to three playoff berths in six seasons while staging entertaining rivalries with the likes of Deron Williams, Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo. And if the worst thing you can say about CP3 is that he sometimes plays dirty, well, he has lot in common with John Stockton, whose famously dirty tricks are now seen as nostalgically badass.

But I also see where some would say Paul is overrated. There was a time when CP3 was being called the next Isiah Thomas (too early) and the NBA’s best point guard since Magic Johnson (too much). That was over the top. But between the injuries he’s suffered in recent years, the Hornets’ inconsistent track record during his tenure, the little bit of halo he lost when he “pulled a Carmelo” and forced his way out of New Orleans, and the rise of peers like Derrick Rose, Rondo and Russell Westbrook, I think the general media/public perception of CP3 is accurate. He MIGHT be the best point guard in the NBA today, and he COULD be one of the all-time greats if he keeps is up.

I’d rank CP3 top-three among point guards, top-10 among guards in general. And that’s at his worst.

After hearing Furness’ take on it, though, I wanted to get the opinion of the Dime community. Do you think Chris Paul is overrated? How many guards in the league would you take over him?

What do you think?

Follow Austin on Twitter at @AustinBurton206.

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