After being predicted this season to be one of the two teams in the Western Conference expected to be some form of competition to the Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Clippers were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. The day after the Clippers lost, during some friendly lunchroom banter while I was at work, one of my co-workers felt compelled to make an incredibly bold statement: “Chris Paul is the most overrated NBA player of all-time.” Now my first initial thought was, "shut the hell up!" Chris Paul is in the playoffs every year and he would not be the first NBA star to be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. But before responding, I had to take a step back and really ask myself if he had a point.
Even after taking a quick gander about it, I proceeded to argue with him in favor of Chris Paul (to a fault). This is when he stopped me and said he had one question, "what has Chris Paul accomplished in his career?" It was at this moment that I literally got stuck trying to think of what I could say. So I will list the good and bad of Chris Paul’s career as far as the numbers go, and after the stats, I will dive into the context of everything which is very important in Chris Paul's situation.
Chris Paul is a 9-time All-Star and has been named to 8 All-NBA and All-Defense teams. He has career averages of about 19 points and 10 assists per game, so he averages a double-double for his career. In his rookie season, Chris Paul entered the league with the New Orleans Hornets and they instantly won 20 more games than they did the previous year. He essentially made the careers of players like David West and Tyson Chandler by being a pick and roll surgeon. Before the arrival of Chris Paul, David West had averages of 6 points per game and 4 rebounds. West's numbers increased to 17 points and 7 rebounds per game in Paul's first season. Tyson Chandler was an athletic big, however, he had not averaged a double-double at any point until his time with Chris Paul as his point guard.
Paul was able to utilize Chandler's unique athleticism and execute the pick and roll to a tee. Chris Paul won the Rookie of the Year award and took a franchise that had been shattered by the after-effects of Hurricane Katrina and gave them a fighting spirit again. Paul made the playoffs in three out of his six seasons with the hornets (averaging a double-double in each one I might add), and one could even make the argument that he was robbed of an NBA MVP award by Kobe Bryant in the 2007-2008 season. As a die-hard Kobe Bryant fan from youth, it pains me to say this but there is a strong argument that could be made that Paul may have possibly deserved that MVP slightly more than Kobe did that year. Paul was averaging 21 points, about 12 assists, and nearly 3 steals that year while leading the Hornets to the second-best record in the Western Conference.
The argument was that people felt that Paul had done more with less talent on his team than Kobe had. Moving on from his time in New Orleans and on to his current stint with the Los Angeles Clippers, Chris Paul has once again taken a team from irrelevancy to the playoffs every year since he's been in uniform. Once again, he has made the career of another towering, skyscraping center, this time around being Deandre Jordan. If we're going to be honest about it, Los Angeles Clippers fans AND THE ORGANIZATION, should probably still be on their knees thanking former commissioner, David Stern, for vetoing the Chris Paul trade which would have sent him to the hometown rival, Los Angeles Lakers, and instead allowed him to be sent to the Los Angeles Clippers. Since Paul has arrived, the Clippers have been in the playoffs every year which already serves as the most successful stretch in the team's history. Paul's averages with the Clippers after 6 seasons are about 19 points, 10 assists, and 2 steals per game. If not for Chris Paul I'm not sure what Deandre Jordan's career would actually be at this point. Deandre Jordan was second round pick and was seen as a project that needed a ton of work. He has literally made a career off catching lobs from Paul and playing defense. Not to mention, Chris Paul also gets forced to shoulder a more significant portion of the scoring load as his fellow All-Star running mate, Blake Griffin, is often injured. Because of Chris Paul the Los Angeles Clippers were actually allowed to steal a hint of the spotlight from the Los Angeles Lakers for the last few seasons.
In the last decade only two teams have not been to a conference final, ladies and gentlemen those two would be the New Orleans/Charlotte Hornets and the Los Angeles Clippers (yes, both of the teams that Chris Paul has started point guard for). Chris Paul has played in 76 career playoff games, which is the most games for a player all-time for a player that has never been to a conference final. Now, I don't necessarily hold the playoff losses in New Orleans against him nor do I think too many people will. He was on a team that did not have the elite talent necessary to really make deep playoff runs. The playoff series losses that he has suffered in Los Angeles however, are going to be the ones that haunt Paul and may ultimately tarnish his legacy forever if he cannot capture an NBA championship (or at least make it to a conference finals).
The Los Angeles Clippers are the first team in NBA history to blow a series lead in five straight postseasons. Yes, five. In 2013, Paul's first year with the Clippers, they blew a 2-0 lead to the Memphis Grizzlies. Granted it is the first year right? Okay cool. In 2014 they blew a 1-0 lead to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Now, this was the series that Chris Paul uncharacteristically turned the ball over TWICE in the 4th quarter of a close game. This loss was where people really started questioning if Paul was a choke artist or not. But nonetheless, they only had a 1-0 lead against a Thunder team with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Moving forward. The playoff loss in 2015 may have been the one that sealed the deal in some people's minds that maybe Paul just wasn't good enough to lead a team to even a conference final. The Clippers held a 3-1 lead over the Houston Rockets and could not get one win out of three games to close out the series. What made this loss even worse was that in game 6 the Rockets did most of the damage in a comeback when their best player and MVP candidate, James Harden, WAS NOT EVEN PLAYING. That's only number 3, there's two more. In 2016 they blew a 2-0 lead to the Portland Trailblazers. They lost 4 games straight to a Trailblazer team that had significantly less talent than the Clippers. In case you thought it couldn't get worse, in this year’s postseason, they lost a 2-1 series lead to a decent Utah Jazz team, IN THE FIRST ROUND. Sure, you can make the argument that this Utah Jazz team has been together for a while so they have great chemistry, blah blah blah. The Clippers have been together just as long and had the better overall team.
I have laid out the good and bad statistical aspects of Chris Paul's career, but there is much more to the story than statistics, and ultimately why I DO NOT believe that Chris Paul is overrated. Chris Paul is the ultimate floor general. He orchestrates the offense while on the court and gets players into the places that they need to be. He is a pick and roll wizard that can pick a team to pieces if he is flowing. Once again, I already stated that I do not hold the losses in New Orleans against him because he would not be the first superstar to lose with mediocre players surrounding him. As a little guard (being 6 feet and under), Paul is a pass-first point guard and is not one to look for his shot although he can create if necessary. This is one of the main reasons I believe that Paul should not be compared to other little guards such as Isaiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons), Allen Iverson, and Isaiah Thomas (Boston Celtics). The difference between Paul and the gentlemen I just listed is that those guards are shoot-first point guards that can create for others occasionally.
Paul prefers to create for others first and make a play for himself last. While it is quite clear that during his time in Los Angeles, Paul has to accept his fair share of the blame, the argument can also be made that Blake Griffin is equally responsible for the playoff failures that have been endured by the Los Angeles Clippers. Being the floor general that he is, Paul needs a trusty, and reliable sidekick beside him to maximize his potential. When looking at the dynamic Hall of Fame duo from the Utah Jazz, John Stockton, and Karl Malone, both players were always ready and available. Ready and available are two things that do not describe Paul's current running mate, Blake Griffin. When Paul first linked up with Griffin in his first season with the Clippers they turned Los Angeles into "Lob City". It seemed that with Paul, Griffin, and Deandre Jordan, that the Clippers were a lock for at least a conference finals appearance. Unfortunately, since entering the NBA, Blake Griffin has just not been able to stay healthy. He ESPECIALLY has not been able to contribute to his team during the playoffs as he has suffered season-ending injuries in three of the five playoff series that he has played in with Paul.
John Stockton was only as good as he was when Karl Malone was available, and when we look back on it the same may be said about Paul. With that being said, Chris Paul does not walk away with no blame to bear. While injury has played a part in the Clippers' playoff failures thus far, there are two losses in particular that fall solely on Paul's shoulders. In game 5 against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2014 playoffs, the Clippers held a 15-point lead in the second half, including a 7-point lead with about 50 seconds left in the game. The Clippers gave that lead up due to Chris Paul making TWO CRUCIAL turnovers in the final seconds that allowed the Thunder to complete the comeback and eventually close the series in 6 games. I described Paul as the ultimate point guard and floor general, so with that comes the responsibility of remaining poised and under control at all times but ESPECIALLY during crunch time, which he did not do at the end of that game. The other loss that I hold Paul solely responsible for is game 6 in the 2015 playoffs against the Houston Rockets. I understand it was a team loss, but as the team leader and floor general, I hold Paul responsible for not being able to get his troops back under control; ESPECIALLY considering the fact that the others team's best player was not in the game during the comeback.
With everything being said, when looking at Paul's career I believe that the focus should be less on making a conference finals appearance, and rather on if the teams he has played for would have been relevant at all without him. The Hornets did not win until Chris Paul arrived and they have not been able to win much after. He revived the city of New Orleans after the catastrophic tragedy of Hurricane Katrina left the city in shambles. And do I really have to mention what the Clippers would be without Chris Paul? He has easily been the most consistent, productive, and reliable player in the Clippers' franchise history. He is the only reason that for the first time in the franchise’s history, they were able to somewhat step out of the shadow of their inner-city rival, Los Angeles Lakers. I believe that the winning culture and constant playoff appearances that Paul has provided for franchises that would otherwise be yearly draft lottery teams, should outweigh him not having a few conference finals appearances yet. So no, Chris Paul is not the most overrated player of all-time.