By David J Cohen
The reserves for the 2006 NBA All-Star Game were finally announced Thursday night. Now the rosters are set for the game where the NBA’s elite come together to put on one entertaining show. This game, unlike all-star games in Major League Baseball and the National Football League, has meaning to the players chosen to participate. The label of “all-star” is still an honor to NBA players. This means that it is actually important to ensure the most deserving players are chosen to represent their conferences.
Of course, our world isn’t perfect. Every year there are players watching this game that should be playing in it. This year is no exception. A serious case can be made for Milwaukee Bucks guard Michael Redd in the East and Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony in the West to be participants in this year’s game. However, there is one player left out this year that without a doubt should be an all-star. He can be argued as an MVP candidate. He has carried a team projected to finish last in its conference on his shoulders. He has led a team of second-string players into position to be a playoff team. And he has accomplished all of this while simultaneously adjusting from the college game to the pros at its most challenging position. He is New Orleans/Oklahoma City point-guard Chris Paul.
Chris Paul has played incredible basketball since going 4th overall in last year’s NBA draft. His play and the coaching of Byron Scott have transformed a team that was supposed to be an easy win for virtually everyone into a possible playoff team. Paul’s numbers would be noteworthy for anyone playing point guard in the NBA: 16.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 7.7 assists, and 2.17 steals in 35.7 minutes a game. He has balance, which is something a lot of point guards in the NBA lack. Most NBA point guards can either be talented passers or have the ability to score at will. Most are offensive or defensive oriented. The beauty of Paul’s game is that he is extremely versatile, having the ability to play well on both ends.
On offense, he has terrific dribble-penetration skills and court-vision, which allow him to get to the rim and get other players in the offense open shots. This is reflected in his assist total, which is 7th highest in the league. It also shows in how often Paul gets to the line. He is 18th in the NBA in free throws made. Another striking ability of Paul’s is his ability to run the offense without committing turnovers. He is 8th in the league in assists-to-turnover ratio, which is outstanding by itself and remarkable for a first-year player.
On defense, Paul is just as effective if not better at setting the tone and creating plays. His poise and overall feel for the game really shows in his play against the ball. A majority of his 5.6 rebounds per game are defensive rebounds, which shows his court awareness in the fact that he is only 6 ft. tall. Among all NBA guards and guard-forwards, Paul ranks 10th in rebounding. Most of the players ahead of him are 6’6″ and above. Paul also has quick hands, allowing him to create turnovers and generate easy baskets. He ranks 3rd in the league in steals per game and 2nd in total steals, behind only Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash. His defensive success is even more staggering when you consider who he is guarding. In the West he has to guard players like Earl Boykins, Baron Davis, Sam Cassell, Steve Nash and Mike Bibby. And he gets extra helpings of guards Jason Terry and Tony Parker, who play for divisional opponents of the Hornets. Paul’s ability and success on both ends of the floor have made him a very consistent and efficient player. He is 19th in the NBA in efficiency. Remember, he’s a rookie.
Paul’s superb play has been a major factor in the Hornets 25-23 record and 7th ranking in the West. This doesn’t seem like much until you look at the Hornets roster. The rest of the starting lineup is SG Kirk Snyder, C P.J. Brown, SF Desmond Mason, and PF David West. On most NBA teams, three of these four players would be seeing limited time off the bench. The other players in the rotation are G Speedy Claxton, G J.R. Smith, F Rasual Butler, F/C Aaron Williams and F Bostjon Nachbar. This is more like the makeup of a minor league team. Only two of these players would see regular action on most teams. On paper this team has no business contending for anything and should be a bottom-dweller. However, great coaching and terrific play from Paul have elevated this team of mostly second-stringers and benchwarmers into the playoff chase and an above .500 record. When you think about it, it really is amazing.
Paul has played like an all-star all season and deserved to play in the all-star game February 19th. This means that someone on the West team shouldn’t have been named onto the team. That person, in comparison to the year Paul is having, is Seattle Sonics G Ray Allen. Looking at the overall production of the two players shows that Paul is clearly superior. While Allen scores more points, averaging 24.8 a night, and shoots a higher percentage than Paul in all aspects of the game, Paul has outplayed Allen overall. Allen averages 4.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.57 steals a contest. Paul trumps these numbers, getting an extra rebound and nearly an extra steal over Allen per game. And in assists, Paul dominates Allen by more than doubling Allen’s total a night. The stats don’t lie: Paul is clearly having a better season. Paul has also been a better leader to his team. Allen and the Sonics have much more talent than the Hornets, such as F Rashard Lewis, G Ronald “Flip” Murray, G Luke Ridnour, F Vladimir Radmanovich and F Reggie Evans. Yet they are tied for 2nd worst in the West with a record of 19-30. Part of being an all-star guard is elevating your team and making everyone around you better. Paul is doing that. Allen is not. Paul has played like a seasoned veteran. It’s just a shame he was left out because he isn’t one.
It’s clear that Paul has been one of the most effective players in all of basketball on both ends of the floor. Based on his performance Paul is clearly an all-star. Yet he was snubbed or overlooked by the coaches. Neither is acceptable or understandable. I’m sure the lack of exposure from playing in Oklahoma City greatly hurt Paul’s chances of being voted in. It’s really unfortunate that Paul’s year has gone mostly unnoticed to most of the nation. The NBA missed a chance to put one of its rising young stars on the map.
But if Chris Paul continues his phenomenal rookie season, the NBA’s best kept secret won’t be one for much longer.