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Vince Thomas

From The Floor

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Does anyone around here know how good Chris Paul really is?

By Vincent Thomas, for NBA.com
Posted Apr 8 2009 11:01AM

Consider this a public service announcement for the NBA's only slept-on superstar. Nobody dares to sleep on Kobe and LeBron. In fact, if I see one more superficial, meaningless, make-me-yawn Kobe or LeBron sit-down interview between now and the Conference finals, I'm slinging a Wii controller at my flat screen like the dude from the "Wanna Get Away" Southwest Airlines commercial. DWade's season has churned out infinite news stories and television debates centered on the "On the real, DWade is right there with Kobe and Bron" maxim that everyone has nobly -- and rightfully -- trumpeted. And Dwight Howard gets too many accolades. If I didn't know better, I'd think Dwight was wrapping up a 2001 Shaq season.

Lost in that shuffle? Oh, just the best point guard of the past two decades. Last season, I wrote that I had a Basketball Crush on Chris Paul, which happened a couple days before I went on television and said he'd probably go down as the greatest point guard not named Magic Johnson. I'm not alone. Last month, ESPN.com's John Hollinger penned what had to be the two most appropriate, sports-related sentences I've read all season: "Those in the know," he wrote, "are seeing the best point guard since Magic Johnson and arguably the best little man of all time. The lack of attention to his exploits continues to bewilder me." Word to PER, John. No disrespect to Mo Williams and Dan Gilbert, but the continued under-appreciation of Chris Paul is the true "shamockery" in this league.

I know he was the runner-up MVP last season and an All-Star starter this one (narrowly edging-out an injured T-Mac, albeit). I know he's repped Team USA in the 2006 World Championships and Beijing Olympics. I know we see him in his fair share of commercials. I know, on a fundamental level, he's one of the more celebrated players in this league. But I'm all about degrees. It's the extent to which he's celebrated that bothers me. Make no mistake about this: Chris Paul is as good as Kobe and LeBron. And he probably has both the most concentrated and broad impact of any player in the league. Paul is arguably more valuable to the Hornets than any other player is to his team. And if I'm honest, I only used the word "arguably" because I know folks would argue with what I really feel -- that CP3 is unarguably the most valuable player in the league. So let's clarify. He might be the best. He is the most valuable and he has the most impact.

The tragedy here is that, because New Orleans is on pace to win fewer games this season, people are somehow concluding that this makes him less of an MVP candidate than last season, when, in fact, he's having a better year.

Not that Hornets GM Jeff Bower and I hit Bourbon Street and do whiskey shots on the reg, but I've talked to the man enough to know that he's one of the more reserved, monotone execs in the league. But even he had to laugh at the assumption that the 2009 CP3 is somehow not playing on the 2008 CP3 level. Last season, the Hornets' top six guys played in no fewer than 76 games. This season, Tyson Chandler, Morris Peterson and Peja Stejakovic have all missed large chunks of the season.

"When you look at all of our injuries and lineup changes," Bower said after his split-second chuckle, "his contribution to the team is even more impressive, this season."

Paul is averaging about 23 points, 11 assists and three steals per game. Those are unprecedented numbers. Gary Payton, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Isiah Thomas, Kevin Johnson, Tiny Archibald, Tim Hardaway, John Stockton -- no one has produced like that. But I'm about to slay you. I'm about to drop a stat that'll make your eyes bleed.

This dude that stands about 5-foot-11 is grabbing more than five boards per game, too. None of the classic point guards under 6-foot-3 have ever come close to doing this. That's more than Kobe, DWade and little big men, like, Andrea Bargnani. Chandler has been hurt and under-performing -- at least on the boards -- so Paul just goes and the grabs about five defensive rebounds himself. In March, this dude gave you about 24 points, 11 assists, six boards and three steals every time he hit the court. That stat-line makes me wince.

And it's the way he does what he does. His steals aren't typically the result of "getting in passing lanes." Those are gambling-steals, Allen Iverson steals. Paul actually takes the ball from dudes. "Gimme dat." No point guard, other than maybe Rajon Rondo, pressures the ball, like CP3. The difference between Paul and Rondo is that Paul also intimidates. Rondo is like a Bruce Bowen. Paul is the point guard equivalent to Ron Artest. He bullies his comp. And no one has to manufacture points the way he has to Houdini up buckets for the Hornets. His 11 assists aren't the result of a glorious system and expert finishers, like the D'Antoni-Nash dimes. There's a chore-like quality to Paul's 23 points and 11 assists. It's just that he does it in a way so foreign to our eyes (I like to say he's like a basketball Barry Sanders with the way he manipulates space and inertia to create holes and, hence, scoring opportunities) that he makes the chore look like he's vacuuming on a Sunday afternoon with Q-Tip's The Renaissance as backdrop, as opposed to say, say, taking out a leaky bag of garbage in a winter storm.

Think about the downright thorough and all-encompassing impact he has on the full 94 feet of hardwood. First he runs the offense, then he'll create some type of bucket for him or a teammate, then go and disrupt the other team's offense with ball pressure, either take the ball from some nervous schlep or barrel his way to a rebound and start the process all over again. Not only should he be in one the MVP discussion, he should be the leader in the Defensive Player of the Year debate, as well.

And it's not just that he does what he does, it's that he does what he does when he does it.

"There have been several games when, in the last two minutes or the whole fourth quarter," said Bower, "where he just says that he's not going to let us lose and then he goes out and wins the game."

Like that early season game against the nemesis Spurs when -- after a brief CP3-Red Rocket scrum, where Tim Duncan tells Paul to "calm the f%$& down" -- the Hornets go on a fourth quarter run and he picks San Antonio apart, on his way to 19, 12, 6 and 3. Plus, the little dude is tough as clichéd nails -- maybe even mean. Not'fa'nuthin, but I call him the Black Joe Pesci for a reason and the Hornets follow his vocal and emotional lead.

I need for all of this to be recognized and regurgitated ad nauseam. Drink the CP3 Kool Aid like everyone drank the Nash-flavored batch during his MVP apex, because Nash was never this good. No one was this good (besides Magic), to be honest. And he's getting better, which is so scary that I feel like I need to cover my eyes.

Vincent Thomas writes "The Commish" column for SLAM Magazine and is a contributing commentator for ESPN. His "From The Floor" column appears weekly on NBA.com. Vince invites you to email him at vincethomas79@gmail.com or follow him on twitter at twitter.com/VinceCAThomas.

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