The NBA’s 30 best go-to players (#9: Chris Paul)

10.15.09 9 years ago 35 Comments

Who do you want your offense to run through with everything on the line? Counting down 30th to 1st (one per team), I’ve ranked the League’s go-to guys…

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#9: CHRIS PAUL, Hornets

Whether it’s the Western Conference standings, fantasy drafts, NBA Drafts — really everything but the realm of media hype and endorsement deals — Chris Paul is never too far away from Deron Williams. On this list, CP3 sits one spot ahead of D-Will for a trio of reasons:

(1) Shot selection — Neither is a great three-point shooter, but Paul was better last season, hitting 36.4% beyond the arc compared to 31% for Williams. Some chalk that up to CP taking significantly fewer threes (176 to 226); I give him credit for recognizing where his game isn’t strongest and exercising discretion. Paul actually takes more field goals on average (16 per game to 14), he just takes better shots and makes them more consistently. Not to mention, CP’s three-point percentages stayed consistent in clutch time, where he knocked down 37%, while Deron’s dropped to 23% in the same scenario. Small margins for the most part, but these things add up.

(2) Ball security — All respect to Jamal Crawford, but CP and D-Will are the two slickest ball-handlers in the League. Paul is just slightly better protecting the rock, turning it over 3.0 times per game last season versus 3.4 for Williams. You won’t see either of them getting picked clean, but Deron is more likely to throw a bad pass in a big situation or try to force something that isn’t there. Taking a page from the Steve Nash blueprint, Paul has become extremely adept at maintaining his dribble when most would pick it up, allowing him more options and avoiding turnovers. A go-to point guard has the ball in his hands 90 percent of the time down the stretch; not wasting any possessions is crucial.

(3) Circumstantial evidence — However you choose to judge it, CP has a larger load to carry in New Orleans. David West is an All-Star who will stick a game-winner when given the chance, but a large percentage of West’s buckets come off wide-open jumpers created by CP’s drives that draw the defense in his direction. When Tyson Chandler was with the Hornets, he had no offense if it wasn’t for CP setting him up with lobs. Peja Stojakovic is an effective scorer, but mainly a spot-up shooter who also capitalizes off CP’s playmaking ability. This year’s Hornets have Emeka Okafor in for Chandler, who can do a few more things on his own offensively, but with major questions at two-guard and unproven Julian Wright taking over at the three, Paul will again have a lot on his shoulders. Simply getting this group to the playoffs in the West is about as much an accomplishment as Deron’s Jazz advancing one round.

So that’s enough for me to give CP rank ahead of D-Will, but what exactly makes him an elite go-to guy? Simply put, he does just about everything a point guard can be expected to do when his team is in trouble or needs to settle down and hold off a rallying opponent. On top of the handful of game-winners CP hit last year on his own or assisted, or the games he won with his defense, he’s also become known for going on one-man runs of seven, eight, 10 points in a row in the fourth quarter to get the Hornets back in a game or put a close game out of reach.

After sticking a game-winning three to beat the buzzer against Indiana on MLK Day, Hornets coach Byron Scott recalled the exchange after Danny Granger had hit the game-tying three to set it up:

“As soon as Granger hit that shot, Chris came up to me and said, ‘Coach, give me the ball,'” Scott told reporters. “Chris is a great player, and as they say, great players make great plays.”

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10. Deron Williams
11. Vince Carter
12. Joe Johnson
13. Danny Granger
14. Steve Nash
15. Kevin Durant
16. Gilbert Arenas
17. Derrick Rose
18. Chris Bosh
19. Andre Iguodala
20. Tracy McGrady
21. Baron Davis
22. Michael Redd
23. Devin Harris
24. Kevin Martin
25. Al Jefferson
26. O.J. Mayo
27. Stephen Jackson
28. Nate Robinson
29. Boris Diaw
30. Rip Hamilton

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