Chris Paul? Don't stop at 'great'
The point guard's first five years in the league are better than, well, anyone else's
NBA commissioner David Stern was right.
Everyone else was undervaluing Chris Paul.
Maybe it's because it has been so long since we've seen Paul on the court. Maybe that's what made it easier to forget his production and focus on the fact that he's a 6-foot-guard with a history of knee issues.
Somewhere along the line this offseason, Paul's perceived value diminished. The Hornets' return on Paul in the originally proposed three-way deal with the Lakers and Rockets was more than respectable, but the benefits a star brings -- ticket sales and marketability -- were no longer present. It's understandable that you can't win when trading a superstar; you just try to move on the best you can.
More from ESPN.com
By trading for Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Clippers have changed the perception of the franchise. They're no longer the Clippers, writes ESPN.com's J.A. Adande. Story
Which side won the Chris Paul trade? Did the Hornets get enough from the Clippers? The 5-on-5 panel takes a closer look. Story
The Clippers' deal for Chris Paul never would have happened if not for their prized superstar, Blake Griffin, writes ESPNLosAngeles.com's Ramona Shelburne. Story
The initial trade accomplished the Hornets' quest to get good players, but only that. After that trade flopped, a new objective was sent down from the league: Find young players (not older, known entities like before) and hoard draft picks in the hope that one could eventually turn into the next Kevin Durant or John Wall.
Essentially, the league wanted the Hornets to sell their fans (and again, prospective buyers of the team) on what the Clippers have sold since the beginning: Potential.
It made for a perfect match. The Clippers could provide the Hornets with the things every rebuilding team needs. The Hornets got money off the books with Chris Kaman's expiring deal, a budding star in 22-year-old scoring machine Eric Gordon, an intriguing talent in Al-Farouq Aminu and a seemingly guaranteed top-5 pick (via Minnesota) in what looks to be a loaded 2012 NBA draft.
It would have all been for naught if Chris Paul didn't want to be a Clipper.
It still sounds odd: Chris Paul wants to be a Clipper.
The Blake Griffin Effect? Sure, but don't discount Paul's bold move. To make a commitment to the Clippers is a pledge to fight the stigma attached to the team. Griffin had no choice but to fight it because he was drafted by the franchise, but Paul chose it.
That choice will also give Paul the chance to make his stamp on the franchise like no player ever has. As soon as he slips on that red, white and blue jersey, Paul will instantly become the best player to wear the uniform in the last three decades.
But there's more at stake for Paul than being the best Clipper ever. All-time leaders for the franchise include players like Eric Piatkowski and Corey Maggette. Paul can set his sights a little higher than that, obviously.
With Griffin and three other former All-Stars (Mo Williams, Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler), Paul now has a legitimate shot, health willing (there's not enough wood to knock in all of Los Angeles), to leave the game one day as the best point guard ever.
That's not hyperbole. Paul truly has a chance to retire as the best point guard to ever play. Take a look at Paul's numbers compared to those of Magic Johnson, John Stockton and Isiah Thomas across their first five years in the league.
At this point in their careers, Paul is better than Magic, Stockton and Isiah in Player Efficiency Rating, offensive rating, win-shares, 3-point shooting, free throw shooting, turnovers and turnover rate. He also ranks second in points per 36 minutes, assist rate, total rebounding percentage and steals per 36 minutes.
If you put nostalgia aside and just looked at their stats, you could easily make the argument for Paul as the best of the bunch. He's a superior long-range shooter and takes care of the ball better than Magic did, he's a better rebounder and scorer than Stockton, and he's a better distributor than Isiah. Chris Paul, to this point in his career, has been better than three of the best point guards to ever play.
I'll beat you to it: But what about the rings?
Let's not forget to factor in supporting casts here, either.
Magic had the best scoring big man of all time in Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, an electric wing in James Worthy and the rest of the run-and-gun Showtime crew. Stockton had the game's best pick-and-roll big man ever in Karl Malone. Isiah had a Hall of Famer in Joe Dumars as well as Bill Laimbeer next to him.
Look at it this way: If Paul can maximize Tyson Chandler, David West and others to the best of their abilities (and carry them within a win of the Western Conference finals in 2007-08), what will he do with a guy like Blake Griffin?
More to the point, if Paul can put up "best point guard ever" type statistics to this point in his career with mediocre talent surrounding him, what can he do with elite players finishing for him?
Luckily for the Clippers, they're about to find out.
D.J. Foster writes the ClipperBlog for ESPN's TrueHoop Network.