January 28, 2011

Chris Paul is certainly not the only reason the New Orleans Hornets are the biggest story in the NBA in 2011, but hes the MAIN reason for all the chatter.

Hes been so good for so long its easy to take him for granted; and its easy to forget hes still just 25 years old. But, since turning pro out of Wake Forest University in 2005 at the age of 20 hes developed into the most complete point guard in the NBA. Ill get to the comparisons with up-and-coming, young point guards in a moment. For the time being though, lets stick to the story.

The story is that Chris the Catalyst is the driving force behind this amazing season. He surgically dissects defenses, leaving carcasses sprawled across the court. He runs fast breaks and half court sets with equal proficiency. He knows when to feed the hot hand, and he knows when to set up a teammate who needs to start contributing. He breaks defenders ankles with his spellbinding crossovers, and steals passes as if they were initially intended for him in the first place. As first year head Coach Monty Williams has echoed on many occasions, Paul has the ability to cover up a lot of mistakes, to make something out of nothing, and of course to make every player around him better. Hes so good, he makes BROADCASTERS around him better broadcasters!

When Paul was voted a Western Conference All-Star starter on Thursday it validated what most of us in the Hornets organization already knew: CP is the best at his position. Hes not getting votes like Yao Ming is getting votesinternationally beloved and honored by his native country. Hes not getting votes like Shaquille ONeal is getting votesfor what he WAS not what he has become. No, Chris Paul won his election without campaigning, without a PAC fund, without a campaign manager, and without buying any television ads. His play on the court sold fans on Chris Paul. And remember, he won the Electoral College without benefit of a single national TV broadcast of a Hornets game so far this season.

He has now been an NBA All-Star four consecutive seasons, becoming the first Hornet ever to make it more than three in a row (Glen Rice was named from 1996-1998). The fact that fans voted him in as a starter two of the four seasons is even more impressive.

*CHRIS PAUL 2010-11
CHRIS PAUL 2008-09


But, the honor of playing in the other LA in February pales in comparison to what hes accomplishing on the court for this Hornets team. Paul, who spent the offseason recovering from knee surgery and has battled various bumps, bruises, and sprains to play in every game this season, is helping New Orleans disintegrate the franchise record book, beginning with a team best 8-game winning streak to start the 2010-11 campaign. He started with a 17 point/16 assist effort against Brandon Jennings and Milwaukee on opening night. In 37 minutes he had one turnover. Two days later against Chauncey Billups and the Denver Nuggets he had ZERO turnovers, 18 points and seven assists. Several days later he dismantled the star-studded Miami Heat to the tune of 9 first quarter dimesfinishing with 19 assists in one of those tone-setting early season victories. Paul had more than three turnovers just once during the streak. 16 times this season he has finished a game with one or fewer turnovers (34%)!

But CP will get mad reading this if I make it all about his numbers, because Chris Paul only plays for one number: wins. I could go on and on about how The Man of Steal leads the NBA in steals (something he has done twice before). Or how Paul Ball is all about the dish (he leads the NBA in total assists and is 3rd in assists per game). In fact, why get him all riled up by reminding you that his shooting percentages have been steadily rising to the point where this season he is among the league leaders in both free throw (.895) and three point (.469) percentage.

When he scored his 7,000th career point in December (this will really get under his skin!) he became the third-fastest player in NBA history to amass 7,000 points and 3,670 assists:

1. Oscar Robertson 348 games
2. Isiah Thomas 355 games
3. Chris Paul 367 games

In case you didnt catch it, the two ahead of him on the chart are Hall of Fame point guards.

Chris Paul is a giant among his peers, despite standing 6-feet-tall and playing a game where the average height is 6-7. Hes a giant because of his attitude, his approach, and his demeanor as much as for his talent. Hes one of the toughest players, pound for pound, in the league. Hell play through aches and pains AND injury.

By the way, he is also as valuable to the New Orleans community as he is to his Hornets teammates in the locker room (he received the NBAs Community Assist Award for October).

As for the comparisons some like to make against the other young point guards in the league, do yourselves a favor and look at these four numbers before making your decision: wins, assists, steals, and turnovers. All are team-oriented numbers:

Chris Paul Hornets 31 457 123 109
Deron Williams Jazz 27 434 55 158
Rajon Rondo Celtics 34 426 87 127
Russell Westbrook Thunder 29 376 88 173
Derrick Rose Bulls 31 355 47 155
John Wall Wizards 13 299 52 125
Raymond Felton Knicks 23 391 82 150

Paul wins EVERY category except wins (Rondos Celtics are the best in the Eastern Conference). For those of you wonderingCP also beat out Tony Parker, Jose Calderon, Michael Conley, Brandon Jennings and any other young point guard you put against him. (Hey, its my column; I get to pick the parameters!).

The former NBA Rookie-of-the-Year also recently passed Larry Johnson into 4th on the Hornets all-time scoring list, but Paul will tell you that moving up that chart is not important to him either.

This is a 25-year-old superstar who has his priorities straight. Its not about him, and hell be the first to tell you that. When the Hornets throttled Golden State on Wednesday, but let their guard down as the Warriors were making a late run all Paul would talk about after the game on the Hornets Radio Network was how that ending left a bad taste in his mouth and complained about all of his turnovers (a rare 6 turnover night against an up tempo team on the road). Didnt want to talk about the franchise record-tying 10th straight win, or how nice it was to begin a west coast road trip with a win. Just thought about the details of the game that, if not discussed and worked on the next day, might prevent the team from winning the next game. Are you still wondering how this Hornets team stays motivated?

What a breath of fresh air he is in an age when top 10 highlights seem to mean more to players than the outcome of the game.

Remember all that when you come to the Hive in February. Youre witnessing a special Hornets team this season with a great collection of hungry players, knowledgeable coaches, and driven front office talent. But the bottom line reason this group is the talk of the NBA is that it is led by a special superstar who understands what it takes to be a winner.

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