This situation is a mess, particularly with Paul being an unrestricted free agent this summer, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see Chris Paul do something drastic. Why? He has a big ol’ shadow looming over his shoulder, the shadow of Tony Parker. As great as Paul’s career numbers are (18.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 9.8 assists a night), at this point, here’s the only number that matters: two. As in, the man’s won only two playoff series in his entire career. Ouch. Parker? He’s about to play in his fourth NBA Finals.
Obviously, it’s more complicated than that. But with Parker playing like a MVP this year, ballin’ better than he ever has, the topic is hotter than ever before. Who is better? Who is the best point guard in the league? Chris Paul… or Tony Parker? We argue. You decide.
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In a league filled with All-Stars, superstars and super-duper stars, we yearn for a pecking order, for an alpha dog to emerge while the rest of the pack falls in line. It’s why the league hands out hardware for things like Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP. The league does not, however, hand out positional awards like the Best Point Guard (unless you count All-NBA First Team selections), which is the source of endless debate among fans and Internet trolls, not to mention the gallons of ink spilled at the hands of effusive sports scribes.
The point guard hierarchy, in particular, is a hotly-debated topic. The position evolved so dramatically in recent years with the speed, athleticism and scoring prowess of new-generation players like Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and John Wall. Collectively, they’re redefining what it means to helm an NBA team in the modern era.
But with Rose, Rondo and Westbrook all currently sidelined with injuries, and with Deron Williams languishing through a subpar year (by his standards), the title of best point guard in the game has been whittled down to a two-man race between Tony Parker and Chris Paul — a conversation that could easily double as who’s the better flopper (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).
Conventional wisdom says that Paul has been the league’s best point guard for some time now, but with Parker’s surge over the past two seasons, the distinction isn’t so clear anymore.
After all, Parker led his Spurs back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007 while Paul — who has never been past the second round of the playoffs — went home fishin’ weeks ago. Parker, with three championships and a Finals MVP under his belt, clearly has the edge in team success, but if we’ve learned anything from the Kobe vs. LeBron/Kobe vs. MJ/MJ vs. Lebron debates (besides the fact that such debates are increasingly pointless and altogether insufferable), it’s that team success as a barometer for individual talent is fraught with all sorts of complications, variables and intangibles.
Even a head-to-head comparison of Paul’s and Parker’s stats doesn’t reveal a clear frontrunner. For instance, Paul averages more assists (9.8) for his career than Parker (6.0), which seems to suggest that Paul is the better distributer (which I believe to be true), but Parker is averaging more points per game this season (20.3) than Paul (16.9). Parker’s increased offensive output can be attributed to Manu Ginobili‘s offensive decline, while Paul’s dip in scoring can be seen as a direct result of Jamal Crawford‘s arrival and the overall depth of the Clippers’ second unit.
But because stats don’t tell the entire story, and because my gut tells me that Paul is the league’s best pure point guard, here are five reasons to help justify the case for Paul:
5. Handles â€“ Parker is certainly no slouch when it comes to handling the rock, but he relies more on quickness and subtlety to break down his opponents. Paul, on the other hand, has a more spectacular array of moves: the hesitation, the in-and-out dribble, the Shammgod, and a variety of crossovers often used in combination with one another that routinely keep defenders on their heels and allow him to get anywhere he wants on the court. To be clear, nobody’s advocating style over substance here, but we expect our point guards to be entertaining, and Paul wins by a landslide in the showmanship category.
4. Coach/System â€“ For his entire career, Parker has always had the luxury of operating within Gregg Popovich‘s strictly-regimented system. The Spurs, as a unit, move the ball extremely well, space the floor superbly, and are practically flawless in terms of offensive execution. Though Paul thrived initially under Byron Scott‘s tutelage those first few years in New Orleans, he’s spent the past two seasons floundering in Vinny Del Negro’s “run a few pick-and-rolls, and if that breaks down, clear out and let CP3 make something happen” offense. Because of this, Paul has assumed the bulk of the leadership responsibilities and has adapted into something of player-coach this season.
3. Supporting Cast â€“ Since he entered the league in 2001, Tony Parker has played alongside three future Hall of Famers in Tim Duncan, David Robinson and Manu Ginobili, while Paul has only played with two legitimate All-Stars â€“ David West and Blake Griffin. Remember that Tyson Chandler wasn’t an All-Star during his tenure in New Orleans and ended up as trade fodder. When it comes to the Clippers, everyone likes to talk about their depth, but Griffin still doesn’t have an effective post game or a reliable jump shot, and the rest of the roster is filled with aging and injured stars and largely unproven talent.
2. Defense â€“ Paul has twice led the league in both steals and assists, one of only five players ever to accomplish that feat. He led the league again this season in steals at 2.4 per game, compared to Parker’s 0.8, and his thievery is the catalyst for Lob City’s easy transition buckets and highlight plays. Paul also has three All-Defensive First Team selections to his name. Parker has never made even a Third Team All-Defense.
1. Overall Value â€“ Paul finished second in assists (9.7 per game) this season behind only the injured Rajon Rondo, meaning he essentially finished first for all practical purposes, while Parker finished a respectable sixth (7.6 per game). But Paul’s career average of 9.8 assists per game ranks third all-time behind only John Stockton and Magic Johnson. Paul also has three All-NBA First Team selections compared to Parker’s two Second Team selections and one Third Team selection. The Clippers were a lottery team before Paul came to town, and his arrival immediately transformed them into perennial championship contenders and arguably the most exciting team in Los Angeles.
Without a doubt, Parker has been criminally underrated throughout his entire career, so there’s plenty of temptation to christen him as the league’s top point guard at the moment. Although there is very little separating the two, the nod goes to Paul as the league’s best pure point guard.