I’ve been reading and talking quite a bit lately with people about whether what Chris Paul did this season (and is doing this post season) is coming out of nowhere.
For the most part, the opinion seems to be that it is. For instance, read what Eric Neel wrote on Page 2, just today:
Part of it is that he didn’t come to us the way LeBron did, prepackaged for greatness, so hyped that every remarkable thing about him feels ordinary and expected. And he didn’t emerge — as Kobe did — alongside a giant, in the shadow of the Hollywood sign, below a baker’s dozen’s worth of championship banners. We didn’t see Paul coming. We saw him selected fourth in an uninspiring 2005 draft, after a Bogut and two Williamses and just before a Felton. We figured he could play, but we weren’t thinking he would bowl us over. Now every insane 30-15 line he posts is amplified by our surprise and delight at the way he’s toying with Manu Ginobili on the perimeter or taking it to Tim Duncan at the rim. (Emphasis added)
This surprises me. Not Chris Paul, but this opinion. Because I think it’s entirely wrong. I’ve had this argument with a couple of train buddies (these are lawyers, so for the most part, they were arguing over the semantics and what the words like “superstar” and “saw” and “coming” meant, and whether better in college means as good now and other such nonsense) and I’ve tried to impress upon them, that at the very least I saw this coming. And since my opinion isn’t informed by personal knowledge, that means that other people, people who know things, saw this coming. They argue that he wasn’t this good in college. I argue that the skills he’s displaying now are/were the same skills he had in college, just with a couple of years of extra maturity and growth and polish. Obivously, the numbers won’t be the same because his teammates are better and he’s playing longer games, but the skills (if not the stats) are the same.
But like I said, my opinion isn’t informed. So I looked it up. Needless to say, as I am posting this on my blog, I was right.
Here’s Aran Smith, writing for NBA Draft.net on September 20, 2004:
Strengths: Paul is the consummate point guard. He is a mature leader, wise beyond his years. He can score and get into the paint and drop the catchable pass with the best of them. A 3 point marksman that will knock it down if given room. His foot quickness makes him a capable ball hawk on defense when he picks his man up. To lead the ACC in steals as a freshman tells you a little about his defensive ability. His character and heart on and off the court make him a GM’s dream. Will have a chance to be a star in the league, and it will be his passion for the game that will keep him from falling off.
Weaknesses: At under 6 foot, he’s very small for the pro game. His intangibles and athleticism help to make up for it some. Improved strength and a year of maturing will help him avoid the dreaded sophomore jinx that Chris Thomas suffered a two years ago. Point guards are judged by their teams play, and with his team this year should reflect the type of player he is, a Champion. (Emphasis added)
Or Maybe Chad Ford writing a draft recap/preview for ESPN (Insider access only, aren’t you glad you know me?):
Recap: The Hornets are the big winners early on in the draft. They get an elite point guard at No. 4 who will push the ball and be a leader on and off the floor. When the Hornets gave away Baron Davis at the trade deadline, it looked like the franchise was in ruins. But Paul has more potential than Davis on the court and has the intangible leadership qualities that Davis lacked. When you factor in that he makes much less money and doesn’t have the injury issues of Davis, the Hornets just made a huge upgrade at a key position.
Similarities: ISIAH THOMAS
Positives: Paul is T.J. Ford with a jumper. He’s lightning quick, has unbelievable court vision, is a superb decision-maker and shoots the lights out from the field and the 3-point line. He pushes the ball relentlessly on offense and already is one of the best penetrators in the game. Despite the pace he plays out, he keeps turnovers to a minimum. His defense is also top notch. He’ll be one of the steals leaders in the NBA when he gets there.
Negatives: Size does matter in the NBA and Paul just barely cracks 6 feet, the bare minimum for point guards in the league. Allen Iverson is the last player under 6-foot-8 to go No. 1. Teams wish Paul was stronger, but given his age they believe that will come.
Summary: Paul is the complete point guard prospect. He’s quick, athletic, shoots the ball extremely well, and most important, is a true floor general who knows how to lead. (Emphasis added)
His destruction of the Knicks notwithstanding, Isiah Thomas is generally regarded as one of the greatest pure point guards in history, if not the best, and was named as one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all time. With all the praised heaped on Chris Paul at draft time, about his leadership, his defensive ability, calling him a champion, and on and on and on, I think it’s pretty clear that comparing him to one of the best point guards ever, who lead his team to back-to-back titles, is pretty high praise. And, an indicator that living up to that hype is not at all shocking. He is doing exactly what you’d expect someone who drew comparisons to Isiah Thomas (as a player) to do. Be a leader and lead his team to greatness. I don’t mean to degrade CP3 at all. What he’s doing is magnificent. But let’s not call it unexpected, either.