Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul entered this year's playoffs with all the negative stigma surrounding him. Stuff along the lines of him failing when it matters most, or hovering near the most narrative-driven ideas of the veteran being some version of a failure since he's failed to advance beyond some arbitrary goal set upon him by fans and media.
Now, he's essentially Michael Jordan.
Relax. Deep breaths. He's not actually Michael Jordan. That sort of cloning/body-swapping device has yet to be invented — although, he did join His Airness as the only players to ever score 40 points and hurl around 10 dimes in a series-clincher in NBA playoff history.
In that series-clincher, Paul also became the first player in four decades to have 40 points, 10 assists, and 0 turnovers in a playoff game.
He was, objectively, great. Not just good or maybe great. It's inarguable how incredible he was.
The question most will now ask — outside of what sort of chance the Rockets have against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals — is about the idea of Chris Paul. Does this single playoff run erase all the notions of yesteryear, a place in space and time when CP3 was at the wrong end of every April-May joke?
Like most everything that revolves around opinions, even when factual data is around to sway one's thoughts, people have already made up their minds. If Paul was a choker a month ago, he's still one today, as those folk will use “evidence” from past years to prove this season was a fluke — even if this year is exactly the thing they have all been clamoring for Paul to do to prove he's an all-timer.
That's part of this discussion as well. Paul is so good, so historically great that he's not playing against his peers. He hasn't been for some time. Instead, he's going head-to-head, in a figurative sense, against ghosts. One-on-one versus the NBA's greatest point guards.
Of course, he's not actually playing pickup hoops against the reanimated corpse of Insert Point Guard-X of your choice here.
Few players ever reach this point in their careers, but it is a phenomenon Paul has to live in nevertheless. While LeBron James is no longer matched up against Kevin Durant, but is squarely and forever in the Michael Jordan debate, Paul's legacy is the conversation that appears to matter the most.
Is he above or below guys like John Stockton, Magic Johnson, or whoever else played that position in a different era?
Mind you, it doesn't actually matter. However he stacks up on some fictional all-time power rankings list doesn't justify — or invalidate — his tangible accomplishments. Furthermore, more importantly to this season, it will not change whatever outcome awaits for the Rockets against the Warriors.
And yet, here we are. Still debating the merits of a point guard who is most certainly not perfect, but no player in NBA history is. Instead of enjoying the greatness, we have to nitpick, degrade and wash away positives so we can put players into a larger contextual void. It can never simply be “Chris Paul is great” or whatever. It always has to be “Chris Paul is this ___ in terms relative to a person who hasn't played in a decade or two… or five.”
Our inability to appreciate greatness in real-time speaks volumes about us. Not Paul.
Oddly enough, no one would question regular season Chris Paul. It is this idea of him in the playoffs that gets the most run from the naysayers. This weird, sometimes convoluted theory that a player who has averaged 21.5 points on 49 percent shooting from the floor and 38 percent from distance, while also averaging 9.1 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.2 steals in his career during the playoffs, is also bad in the playoffs.
It's a similar argument to those who love to end debates with #rings. Heck, it's even worse than that, as it is usually the people who will hold someone going to the NBA Finals, but losing there, against a player — as if the player's franchise and legacy would be better served losing earlier in the playoffs just so his overall NBA Finals record looks cleaner.
Alas, if you're reading this, you already have your mind made up. There is no data available to mankind to help me change your mind. Paul could lead the Rockets to an upset over the Warriors, eventually winning it all this season, and there'd be people in the back screaming about him jumping on a bandwagon or only achieving such feats because he joined James Harden.
Still, I beg of you. Even if you won't stop claiming Chris Paul as this inferior (in terms of all-time greatness) player, at least begin to appreciate him now. At some point, his game will be lost to Father Time. His legacy, however, will not — whether or not you understand how special he has been throughout his entire career… including the playoffs.
All stats were acquired from Basketball-Reference.