Throughout his career, Chris Paul has done nothing but be a guiding light for efficient production at his position. Most all point guards who have donned their team's jersey and bounced a ball over the last decade or so have tried their best to match what Paul has done. Whether it's through sheer efficiency with shooting, passing efficiency, or just the determined nature that makes Paul hate losing more than he loves to win, Chris has managed to stay at the top of his position since his arrival. However, as this season has ran its course, it seems like the love for Chris Paul has waned more and more. And while he is in the midst of yet another downright great season, it seems like the respect for his craft is at an all-time low.
When it comes to just his position alone this year, only Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, and Damian Lillard have eclipsed Paul in scoring. Among that group of guys, he only ranks second to Curry in field goal percentage and third behind both Curry and Irving in three-point percentage. He's also second in free throw percentage. Even if you expanded the parameters to include the top fifteen scoring point guards in the league, all of whom are averaging at least 15.0 points per game, Paul would still be second in field goal percentage and second in free throw percentage but dropping slightly to fifth in three-point percentage. When it comes to rebounding, he's sixth among point guards and he's the top assisting man at his position while being third in steals and first in assist-to-turnover ratio. To put it simply, he's been great even according to the most basic of metrics.
And then you peel back some of the layers to expose even more of his greatness this year. Among point guards who qualify for the minutes leaderboard, Chris Paul ranks second to only Curry in Effective Field Goal Percentage. Goran Dragic would have qualified and been second if he hadn't played the majority of his minutes at shooting guard this year. When it comes to True Shooting Percentage, Paul is third behind Curry and Irving. To echo what we've already known this year based on their play, the only point guard to definitively outplay Chris Paul over the entire course of the season has been Stephen Curry. Yet, it is extremely likely and a mortal lock, Paul will not make First Team All-NBA this year. He'll be relegated to Second Team All-NBA and people will think slightly less of his season.
This isn't to mean that Paul should make First Team. He shouldn't. Not with the way that Curry and James Harden have carried their respective squads throughout the year and helped guide them to their place in the standings. The problem lies in the fact that you see nothing but general vitriol towards Paul these days. Whether it has to do with him being a "flopper", "whiner", or even some who might think he's sexist and hates women because of comments he made about a rookie referee. Let's face it, no one likes Chris Paul. At least no one in other fanbases. But rather than getting the same hatred flung at them like Paul endures, guys like Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry are able to flop and do the same things without any ramifications from the outside world. Reputation is an interesting thing, to say the least.
There's also the fact that Paul's jersey sales have actually dropped from this time last season. Last year, Paul had the 8th highest selling jersey in the league. This year, however, it's dropped all the way to 13th. Whether casual fans are buying into the narrative remains to be seen on a wider scale. Perhaps a lot of the people who would buy Chris Paul jerseys have already bought Chris Paul jerseys. Then again, LeBron James -- for what seems like the 80th year in a row -- has the highest selling jersey in the NBA. So perhaps the casual fans have grown tired of seeing and hearing about Paul.
Then there's the defensive side of the floor. Paul, unlike the majority of his point guard brethren, loves to compete on the defensive end and take on the opposing team's top dog. Stephen Curry, for instance, doesn't have to do that. He does, at times, but also delegates a lot of the responsibility to Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala, as well as Draymond Green. Russell Westbrook, to his credit, does go one-on-one in defensive action most of the time but can also pass guys off to Andre Roberson if he needs to take a few rounds off. Kyrie Irving tries to guard guys, and has gotten better at it, but he can still pass them off to Iman Shumpert for a quick blow or two throughout the game. Or even LeBron James when LeBron really wants to disrupt an offense. Tony Parker has Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Damian Lillard had Wesley Matthews but still has Arron Afflalo and Nicolas Batum. Mike Conley, for as great a defender as he is, can pass duties off to Tony Allen and Courtney Lee. Even James Harden, while not a point guard, can defer to Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley, or even Corey Brewer. However, Chris Paul doesn't have that luxury. He has to do everything. He can't take a single possession off like those guys have the ability to do.
In no way, shape, or form is this a way to get Paul towards the top of the list in the Most Valuable Player discussion. That race is pretty firmly a two horse gallop between Curry and Harden. No one can really dispute that at this point in time. The issue lies in the fact that Paul isn't getting the respect he deserves for the season he's putting up right now. Without him, the Clippers are nowhere close to where they are right now. You could say the same for Curry and Westbrook, but not to the extent of Paul probably. Golden State could still make the playoffs even without Curry's dazzling crescendo of long-range mastery. Oklahoma City, as shown this year, would not be good without Westbrook and Durant but if Durant were back in the fold, is there any doubt they'd be a playoff team? None whatsoever. Take Paul off this current iteration of the Clippers, even with a healthy Blake Griffin, and there's no telling where the team would be. While Griffin is the ice that brings it to temperature, Paul is the straw that stirs the drink.
So if Paul is putting up such a great season yet again, and leading a team that's broken down and battered to the upper echelon of the Western Conference yet again, why the sudden dismissal of him as both a top point guard and a top player? It's a baffling thing to witness. For all one knows, it could be for the reason that we've seen Paul be great for so long that most people are just numb to it by now while Curry and Westbrook have stormed to the forefront through sheer force and determination. Almost a situation where the new shiny thing is cooler than the older not-as-shiny thing. And still, despite all of that, there's Chris Paul. The old man on the mountain. Just doing his thing. Outplaying those point guards head-to-head and commanding respect on both ends of the floor. Maybe his constant embellishment and yapping to the officials has worn the basketball world down. Maybe he just needed this time without Blake Griffin to remind everyone how great he truly is. Maybe he just needs everyone to hate him so that it drives him for more.