Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NBA [Print without images]

Thursday, November 21, 2013
Will Chris Paul be the best PG ever?

ESPN.com

Chris Paul broke Magic Johnson's record on Wednesday for consecutive double-doubles (points and assists) to start an NBA season. Will CP3 also take away Magic's "best point guard ever" crown one day?


1. Is Chris Paul the greatest point guard since Magic Johnson?


Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: I'll go further and say he's the greatest point guard since Oscar Robertson. Ring counters might disagree, but when you start examining Paul's numbers, they're outrageous. If his knees hold up and he can hang a red-and-blue banner in Staples Center, that will become more than just a minority view held by stat heads.

Israel Gutierrez, ESPN.com: It's incredibly difficult to say with any certainty, but yes, with John Stockton having the greatest argument. When comparing numbers to Stockton, Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Steve Nash and the like, it's not as obvious. But when you consider how complete Paul's game is, he has the best case.

Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Los Angeles: He could be, but it's hard to elevate him over guys like Jason Kidd and Steve Nash at this point in his career. I think Paul will tell you the same thing, too. Any discussion of his place in history ends rather quickly these days, as he's the first to point out he's never taken his team past the second round of the playoffs, and that's the only measure that matters. On pure ability and talent, I'd give CP3 the nod over Kidd and Nash, though.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss, TrueHoop: Yes, and more people would recognize this had Paul's early career happened almost anywhere besides the NBA Siberia that is New Orleans. He's actually never been the same since injuring his knee in 2010, and while Paul's not quite so quick as he was in the past, he remains the best point guard going by a comfortable margin. For some advanced stats backup, Paul actually boasts three seasons of better PER and more win shares than Magic's best.

Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Headed that direction for sure. He has emerged as the clear-cut best point guard in the game at a time when there are quality point guards almost everywhere you look, and he can change the game defensively. Even as the biggest Steve Nash devotee on the staff, I know my guy's limitations. CP3 has the whole package.


2. Will CP3 surpass Oscar Robertson in the all-time point guard rankings?


Arnovitz: There are few things harder in sports than juxtaposing the careers of two NBA point guards across historical eras. Robertson was 6-foot-5, while Paul is 6-foot-nuthin' in a much bigger league. Robertson led the league with a true shooting percentage of 55.5 percent as a rookie. Paul's 56.3 mark this season would be his lowest since his sophomore season. The demands of the position have changed, but if Paul can stay healthy and win in June, he could pass the Big O.

Gutierrez: No. Robertson had eye-popping numbers for his first nine seasons, including the incredible triple-double average (a healthy triple-double at that, with 30.8 points, 11.4 assists and 12.5 rebounds). When it comes to well-rounded players, not even CP3 can hang with that. And we don't even know what would've happened with a 3-point line.

Shelburne: Having grown up in Los Angeles when it seemed like every night Magic Johnson was either breaking one of Oscar's records or challenging it, I have an appreciation for the Big O that I think many younger folks don't. Supremely athletic at 6-5, 220 pounds, Robertson was the LeBron James of his era. He's the first and probably the last person to average a triple-double over the course of an entire season (1961-62). So honestly, I just can't elevate CP3 to that level yet.

Strauss: The public will probably never get behind that one. Robertson has such an advantage in that he played at a fast pace and branded "averaging a triple-double." I do believe that Paul will end up the better player, relative to the competition of his era.

Stein: I give him a chance, sure, since I'm a believer in the Kevin Garnett doctrine of "anything is possssssssibullllllll!" But I have to say that it does bug me that CP3's odds here would be boosted by the fact that so many of us never really saw the Big O. It's tough for Robertson to get his due from the fans of today and future generations because there's so little footage available to remind us how good he really was. It was gratifying to see the Big O end up No. 2 in our all-time point guard rankings in 2006, but let's be honest: How many voters had actually ever seen him? That was all done on numbers. We all have a fair idea of how Bob Cousy played, but it's a shame we can't say the same about the Big O.


3. Could CP3 surpass Magic Johnson as the No. 1 point guard of all time?


Arnovitz: His numbers already surpass Magic's at this juncture of their respective careers. The answer to this question hinges upon the value you place in hardware when evaluating careers.

Gutierrez: No, unless Paul brings three or four championships to Los Angeles. Among the many remarkable accomplishments in Magic's career, his shooting percentage stands out to me. Without much range, Magic didn't shoot lower than 52 percent in a season until his ninth year in the league. And with his career cut short because of his HIV status at 31 years old, he missed an opportunity to pile on at least three more years of elite-level play.

Shelburne: When he was traded here in 2011, I had this very thought. Maybe it's because Los Angeles has been so starved for a charismatic leading man at the point guard position ever since Magic retired. Maybe it's because that first year when he and Blake Griffin founded Lob City reminded a lot of people of the Showtime Era. But again, we come back to the issue of championships. Magic's got a whole hand full of rings. CP3 is still searching for his first.

Strauss: No, I can't go that far. Shorter point guards only have so many years, and sadly, Chris Paul will be past his prime fairly soon. He won't have time to challenge Magic's incredible playoff success. Also, Magic's size allowed for a versatility that transcended the point guard position.

Stein: There's a five-ringed gap between them now, and there is no way that can be overlooked. The conversation about the Big O, despite everything I just said in his favor, isn't complete until we mention that he didn't win his one and only ring in the NBA until he hooked up with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Milwaukee in his early 30s. So let's make sure we don't forget to mention the fact that CP3 has never had the supporting cast to be in the championship conversation until this season to keep this fair ... but let's slow down, too. Magic has set the bar pret-tay, pret-tay high.


4. Do you think a championship and/or MVP award should be required for CP3 to be considered the greatest point guard ever?


Arnovitz: This is one of the great debates in sports, whether we're talking about point guards, starting pitchers or quarterbacks. Evaluations of individuals should be just that -- individual.

Gutierrez: Yes. The best player at any position has one or both of those on his mantle (for argument's sake: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Tim Duncan, LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Magic). You have to be dominant enough to win at least an MVP, if not a title or two. It's essentially an unwritten prerequisite.

Shelburne: I do. That may not be fair to him because, as Tom Haberstroh puts it, "As far as NBA teammates go, Johnson came into the league with a basketball in one hand and a silver spoon in the other." But that's just how the greatest players are measured. I don't think CP3 needs to win five titles to stand next to Magic or Oscar. But he's gotta get at least one. That's the entrance ticket.

Strauss: Yes, he's got to get at least one of the two, and probably both. People still lean on [Allen] Iverson's MVP when defending his legacy and they still lean on championships when touting Isiah's [Thomas]. Paul will need a traditional marker of success to help his case.

Stein: 100 percent yes. Like it or not, championships especially (and MVP awards, too) are factored into any of these debates, more so in basketball than any other North American team sport. CP3 has to play by the same rules and, knowing how competitive he is, I'm sure he wants to be judged by the same tough standards as everyone else.


5. Where will CP3 likely end up on your all-time PG rankings?


Arnovitz: Longevity and durability count, so it's hard to project where a 28-year-old point guard is going to finish his career. But if you peek at Paul's file, the list of similarity scores (the players throughout history his record most resembles) includes Robertson, Magic, Jerry West and John Stockton. If Paul doesn't experience a precipitous falloff in the next decade, he'll have them all beat.

Gutierrez: Third, behind Magic and Oscar, and just ahead of Isiah Thomas, who gets the benefit of those two titles. Paul is only 28, which probably means another four to six years of putting up similar numbers and chasing rings. When he's done, it'll be hard to argue he's not top three at his position.

Shelburne: He can be in the top 5 if he never wins a title or MVP award, but no higher. That's actually saying a lot, though. What's interesting about Paul is that he's not the biggest, quickest, fastest or strongest. He really has no standout physical gift that elevates him over his peers. It's his intelligence, toughness and savvy that make him stand out in what's become something of a golden era for point guards. Now, if he gets that ring, everything changes.

Strauss: He could retire today and be second behind Magic in my estimation. That's likely where he ends up for me. Stats aside, I've never seen a point guard so effortlessly control the flow of a game. He always evoked a sense that he's moving time and space with his mind out there. It's been (and remains) a special experience.

Stein: Magic. The Big O. Isiah. Stockton. Cousy. That, in case you've forgotten, was ESPN's top five back when we ranked the all-time greats in '06. Without team success or multiple MVPs a la Nash, it's going to be hard for him to get any higher than No. 6 because, well, just read those five names again. The guys sitting in the next five slots ain't slouches, either: Frazier, Kidd, Archibald, Nash and Payton. So CP3 is going to need some big-time team success, with a dash of individual success of the highest order, to nudge any of those guys aside. The good news? I'd also say he's got some serious bonus points looming in his future if he can be the guy who breaks through to take the Clippers all the way to the promised land.