December 30, 2008
Originally I wanted to talk about just how brilliant Chris Paul has been this season, and how it's probably going to have to take a few 40-point games from Chris to force the general public (already somewhat in the process of getting it) to really, truly get it. But as I worked along, there seemed to be less Paul and more Hornets issues swirling around my notes. That was an inadvertent pun, but if this is in your head as a result, oh well. Worse things have happened.
The Hornets are 18-9, and that's not bad, and the team is on pace for 55 wins. Pretty good, but you get the feeling that this team should be better off, even as you want to tell people that New Orleans as a whole isn't as hot as they're usually regarded.
All sorts of holes pop out at me. Paul's pacing himself, to be sure, but I wish he'd try to score a little more in the first three quarters of close games. David West has played fine, his little hesitation move after grabbing a kick-out pass may cost CP3 a few assists per game, but the pull up jumper usually goes in, even if you don't hear "from Chris Paul" over the PA seconds later.
The center position has been a big worry. Statistically, it's been the squad's biggest weakness, and that's not all attributable to Hilton Armstrong (one of the least, if not the least, productive rotation players in the NBA) experience. Tyson Chandler's been off this year, and I don't know if injuries are entirely to blame with this guy. His shooting's been off, but it's his defensive rebounding (Chandler grabbed 19.5 percent of all available defensive rebounds last year, now that's down to 16 percent) that's off.
And, though I haven't noticed the difference watching games, his block numbers per minute have nearly doubled, which suggests that he's looking to roam more and send things back instead of boxing out and ending the possession with a rebound. I don't want to attribute New Orleans' defensive drop off (from 7th to 11th this season) completely to Tyson, but his new interest in chasing down shooters doesn't appear to be helping.
Other things hurt. James Posey has had some fine nights staying with shooting guards, but he's been better off defending small forwards this season, something that doesn't bode well for the expected Posey vs. Manu showdown that should happen sometime this spring. Also, for whatever reason, the Hornets have been better as a team defensively with him off the court, and much better offensively with him off the court. Read into that what you will.
The offense has dipped as well, down three spots from the year before. Peja Stojakovic has already missed more games in 2008-09 than he did last season, and though Rasual Butler has picked things up a bit, both of these wing types are playing below-average ball. Devin Brown has been pretty awful, though it's not his fault he's had to work as a backup point guard for most of the season, as the Hornets bench is easily the worst among all the championship hopefuls.
So instead of putting together a piece begging Paul to take over more just so that the punters out of Louisiana can appreciate him more, perhaps we should just start to demand you appreciate this kid as is.
Especially when you consider the spectacle we had to endure on ABC last week: Stuart Scott and co. incessantly referring to Magic Johnson as "the greatest point guard ever," almost entirely apropos of nothing.
It's not that we disagree with the declaration. It's just that, and this is only a guess, we don't think of Magic as the insecure sort who has to be reminded of his brilliance every 12 seconds, and the shoe-horns grew more and more nauseating every time they were forced down our throats.
So, as a counter, dig this:
Magic, age 23: 16.8 points per game, 10.5 assists, 8.6 rebounds, 3.8 turnovers, 55 percent shooting, 2.2 steals, .6 blocks per game.
Chris Paul, age 23: 20.1 points per game, 11.4 assists, 5.2 rebounds, 2.9 turnovers, 50 percent shooting, three steals, .2 blocks per game.
Seems to me Paul has the edge, and would be bound to giggle on his own TV set in 2034. Magic might pull in 3.4 more rebounds per game with his nine-inch height advantage, but I'll take the 3.3 point increase, the one assist more per game, the fewer turnovers, and the increased steals.
The biggest difference you need to remember? Magic's Lakers averaged 103.8 possessions per game that season. Paul's Hornets average 87.5 possessions this year. That's over 16 more chances per game for Magic to tack on more and more stats. I know that the venerated Tom Ziller has gone over these differences in more detail and more expertly than I, but it doesn't mean it should be gone over and over in every corner possible until people wake the H up about Chris Paul.
This guy is absolutely carrying a substandard team to well over 50 wins, and it still doesn't feel as if we've seen the best of him yet. That's probably because he's 23, and we haven't.