Chris Paul may be the last of his kind, and the National Basketball Association will suffer a great loss if he actually is. With the proliferating numbers of athletic scoring guards and the disappearance of the classic post, the pure point guard has slowly become less necessary in today’s NBA. The lack of real basketball coaches who teach fundamentals and the rise of individual AAU teams who focus solely on spotlighting raw talent have failed the last few generations of basketball players. Basketball at the lower levels has become about highlights instead of basics. Kids today know how to dunk on the break and can hit three pointers from the corner, but do not know what a give-and-go is or how to perform a basic pick-and-roll. Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose (especially before the knee injuries), John Wall and other talented athletic points have shifted the focus of small guards towards slashing and scoring instead of facilitating. And, while the game of basketball is just as exciting as it was in the past, it is less polished. Historically great assist leaders like Magic Johnson, John Stockton, and even Steve Nash are quickly becoming relics of an old game instead of role models for the next generation of point guards. Fans are drawn to the high-scoring and sharp-shooting of Steph Curry and the ball-handling of Kyrie Irving rather than the controlled pace of great guards like Chris Paul. Paul may be the last pure point guard to play in the NBA and that would be a travesty.
Chris Paul embodies the consummate floor general. He controls games with leadership and decision-making like all the classic point guards. His lowest season average in assists was his first season at 7.8 per game. Paul has averaged over 10 assists per game in 5 separate seasons, is the active leader in assists average with 9.9 per game, is third in NBA history in career assists average, and led the league in assists 4 times. John Wall is 8th in his short career with 8.83 assists per game, Russell Westbrook is 20th on that list with a career average of 7.47 per game, and Steph Curry is behind LeBron James (a small forward) on the list at 6.86. No contemporary point guard compares to Paul. He only trails Magic and Stockton, the quintessential one and two best points in NBA history, in assists average.
The best point guards at any level serve as leaders for their teams on the basketball court. They get players to the spots on the court where they are needed, get the ball to teammates to keep them involved in the game, and create easy shots for the more limited offensive players on their squad. A great point guard has a deeper understanding of the game of basketball than the average player. They understand how to assuage the big egos on their team while keeping their role players immersed in the offense. They are manipulators of their teammates and opponents. They probe the minds of their teammates to better understand their needs and motivations, and comb through defenses to exploit weak spots in the strategies. Chris Paul, specifically, is a master at both skills. In addition to his superb ball-handling skills, his deadly midrange game, and his affinity to score over men who are a foot taller than him, Paul also controls the pace and flow of the game. He can dominate games without scoring, moving into the heart of defenses to open passing lanes and creating space for shooters by attacking defenders off the dribble. The new NBA point guard attacks the lane, but they are generally interested in getting their own shots. Westbrook, Curry, and Wall are dynamic basketball players who demand double-teams, however they are more effective when they search out their own shots. Everyone knows that Paul is trying to set up his teammates, but no one can stop him. Like his predecessors at his position, his gift is making others better.
Chris Paul is a true point guard who leads by serving his teammates, and true to the spirit of his position he works to make his team better. He gets his players to the places on the court where they can be most successful and gets the basketball to them on time. He uses his athleticism to push the team instead of using it for self-glorification. And, when the Clippers need a shot he is as deadly as some of the most feared pure scorers in the game. Like Magic, Paul knows when to trust his teammates and when to assert himself. He is one of the last real point guards, and if he there are no more after him the game of basketball will have lost an important piece of itself.