As the time whittled down to zero in Houston, Chris Paul’s team was once again eliminated from the playoffs before the Conference Finals. Although most fans are content with their team being one of the last alive in the playoffs for two consecutive seasons, the Clippers once again went home disappointed after only one playoff series win. After losses, especially ones that end a season, it is typical for analysts to overreact (hopefully I am not doing so right now). However, the same question was once again asked about Chris Paul: is he truly an superstar player in the NBA?
The statistics and numbers speak for themselves and show that Chris Paul has been one of the best point guards in NBA history. Since being drafted 4th overall in 2005, the Wake Forest product has competed in 8 straight All-Star games, been selected to All-NBA first team four times, accumulated 7 playoff appearances, and averaged 19 and 10 throughout his career. Although all of those stats are impressive, his biggest accomplishment may have been carrying the then New Orleans Hornets and Los Angeles Clippers to heights that each franchise has never seen before.
However, the one fact that still haunt the 6 foot ball handler is that he has never achieved success in the playoffs. For NBA players, unlike any other sport, one’s legacy is defined by his success in the playoffs. As many current stars without a championship have realized, they are not seen in the same light as those who have held the Larry O’Brien trophy (ie Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, and previously LeBron James before he won in 2012). Even Carmelo Anthony, who may be the player with the most scrutiny due to the New York market, his talent, and his age, has reached the Conference Finals when he led the Nuggets there in 2009. Like Anthony, other players who are viewed as inferior to Paul have carried their teams to at least the Conference Finals (Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Paul George, and Marc Gasol).
However, the difference between those players and Paul is that they have at least reached the Conference Finals. Maybe it is due to his like-ability, his fiery competitiveness, or his team’s situation, but Paul does not receive the same amount of heat as the other stars. When Paul was with the New Orleans Hornets, he had a legitimate excuse because his best teammate was David West and he was forced to play against great teams like the Lakers and Spurs. During his firs two years with the Clippers, people gave him a pass because Blake Griffin was considered soft and inexperienced and Vinny Del Negro was not a competent head coach. However, over the last two seasons, Paul no longer had any legitimate excuses. The Clippers spent millions of dollars to improve the club, traded for Doc Rivers, one of the five best coaches in the league, Blake Griffin became one of the three best power forwards in the league, and DeAndre Jordan developed into a competent scorer and the best defensive player in the league. In addition, the West, although very difficult, has become more wide open than ever as six different teams have advanced to the Finals over the pat 7 years from the West. However, analysts still attempt to provide excuses by stating that the Clippers’ bench was the reason for their demise or that he always loses to a team that is better than his team.
After this series, even the most ardent of Chris Paul’s supporters cannot defend him. Although they will attempt to point toward the teammates inability and his hamstring injury, they fail to see that it is his job as a point guard to create shots for his role players. The other great players in the league, James, Harden, Curry, have shown during these playoffs that they have the ability to raise the level of their teammates during the most crucial situations. When the Clippers were up 3-1 in the series and had the Rockets on the ropes, it was his job to deliver the final blow. When the Clippers were up by 13 in game 5 AT HOME heading into the fourth quarter with James Harden on the bench, it was his job to deliver the final blow. When the Clippers were in a due or die game 7 on the road, it was his job to deliver the final blow. However, not once was he able to come through and lead his team to a victory.
As I watched Chris Paul this postseason, I was left amazed by his competitive nature, tenacity, and stat line. However, I was also left with an answer to my question above, is he truly an NBA superstar, and the answer is no.