Will Paul join the list of elite players to never win the most important game?
Legacy. Legacy is something that all young athletes strive to achieve someday. There are over 540,000 male high school basketball players each year. Only 3.4%, about 18,000, will play college basketball at the NCAA level. Of these 18,000, about 4,000 are draft eligible. Only 1.2% of these athletes are drafted from the NCAA to the NBA, and only a portion of those athletes actually have impactful careers in the NBA.
There are many factors that contribute to an individual’s legacy, but only two seem to really matter.
Statistics and championship rings.
An extreme amount of subjectivity gets involved when discussing the ranks of present superstars compared to past athletes. Earlier this week, ESPN.com released their Top 10 Point Guards of All-Time, generating discussion around the ranking of Chris Paul. Paul was ranked 6th all time, behind Isiah Thomas (5), Stephen Curry (4), John Stockton (3), Oscar Robertson (2), and Magic Johnson (1).
Here is a look at how Chris Paul stacks up against these other historic point guards:
As you can see, there is not a huge discrepancy in the players’ career averages. Robertson holds an advantage to the naked eye, but it is worth noting that he played in a different era making it difficult to compare. Besides that, Chris Paul matches up well against the other point guards. There is, however, one glaring gap next to Chris Paul’s name: zero championships and zero finals appearances.
Chris Paul has been one of the best point guards in the league for the past several years. Since he was drafted by New Orleans in 2005 fourth overall, Paul has amazed fans across the NBA with his ability to pass the basketball. He took a struggling franchise that was 18-64 the year before he was drafted, and helped them win 20 more games. Just two years later, The Hornets finished first in their division with a 56-24 record and lost a tough seven game series to the San Antonio Spurs. Paul stayed a few more years and continued to lead a roster that lacked the talent that contending teams had, but was eventually traded to the Los Angeles Clippers to pursue a title dream.
Here is a look at how The Clippers have benefited from that 2011 trade:
The dramatic change in win percentage has a lot to do with Chris Paul. The Clippers were essentially irrelevant before his arrival, and now have been contending for the past couple seasons.
Although Chris Paul has done so much for both the Hornets and Clippers, he is running out of time to establish himself as a top-two or three point guard of all-time. At 30 years old, in the midst of his 11th season, Paul likely only has a few more years at his best. With that said, they have some daunting competition around the league. The Warriors look nearly unstoppable, and it is difficult to imagine a scenario where the Clippers can beat them in a seven-game series. The San Antonio Spurs continue to defy the critics who say they are “too old,” and it seems very unlikely that the Clippers could be this year’s Spurs. But even if somehow, someway, the Clippers snuck into the finals, they would likely meet a Cleveland Cavaliers team seeking revenge, led by LeBron James and a healthy Kyrie Irving.
One could argue that Paul hasn’t been blessed with the same kind of teammates that the other point guards ranked above him had. Stockton had Malone. Magic had Kareem and Worthy. Robertson also had Kareem in his younger days. Isiah had a young Dennis Rodman, Joe Dumars, and a vicious Bill Laimbeer.
With all that said, if Paul does not even make it to an NBA Finals, it’s hard to put him at the top of this list. Patrick Ewing never won a ring, but he did make it to an NBA Finals. As did Charles Barkley. As did Reggie Miller. As did Allen Iverson.
It seemed as though Paul finally had his breakthrough last year, after the Clippers beat the Spurs in seven games. But the Clippers fell apart, losing after being up 19 points in an elimination game to the Houston Rockets, and Paul received a great deal of criticism for the team’s demise.
Now 28-37 in the playoffs, Chris Paul has a lot to prove. On the bright side, the more difficult the path is, the more it would contribute to Paul’s legacy should he succeed.
*All statistics courtesy of NBA.com/stats and Basketball-reference.com.
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