With apologies to James Brown, the NBA is a big man’s world. But it wouldn’t be nothing without a solid point guard. To that end, the 2011 NBA playoffs have showcased two of the league’s best floor leaders – Chicago’s Derrick Rose and New Orleans’ Chris Paul.
The pair have dazzled fans and opponents in their respective first round series. Rose is considered the presumptive winner of the MVP award and having just finished his third season in the league, sits atop the point guard pile in many people’s minds. However, the third time was also the charm for Paul – and his third campaign may have been just a bit more charming.
Put these two seasons side-by-side and it’s hard to go wrong with either player. In fact, both teams’ records from those respective seasons pay tribute to that. The Hornets won the Southwest division and finished just a game behind the Lakers for the best record in the Western Conference in ’07-08. The Bulls did them one better this season, winning 62 games to grab the NBA’s best record and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Paul’s ’07-08 season was good enough to finish second in the MVP voting, behind Kobe Bryant’s amazing 28.3 ppg/6.3 rpg/5.4 apg season. It seems likely that Rose will do Paul one better there by winning the league’s most prestigious individual honor. Paul’s overall ability, however, gives him an advantage in a comparative game of one-on-one when you break down the frequency of different stats from each player’s third season in the league,
Rose had better numbers in points, rebounds and blocks and there’s little doubt that Rose is the more dynamic scorer. Paul was much more efficent however, shooting 4 percentage point higher while average 1 less TO per game. Rose’s advantage in blocked shots and rebounds can be attributed in part to being three inches taller with a greater wingspan. Even still, Paul’s rebounding numbers were comparable to Rose’s totals and scoring-wise he was nearly as consistent.
Yet minutes, assists and steals don’t see height. Paul outdistanced Rose in those categories by a solid margin – especially when it came to thefts. Paul had at least one steal in every game during the 2007-08 season and led the NBA that year in both assists and steals. For Rose to have 32 games without a steal with head coach Tom Thibodeau’s defense-heavy style is an eyebrow raiser. Even more so when you consider another Thibodeau protegé, Rajon Rondo, had only eight games without a steal last season playing in the same defensive system.
Then there’s the issue of supporting cast. Simply put, Rose has better wingmen. In the starting lineups, New Orleans’ quartet of Tyson Chandler, David West, Peja Stojakovic and Morris Peterson isn’t awful. But more head coaches would probably prefer to roll the dice with Keith Bogans, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. That disparity gets bigger when you dip into the benches. If I offered you a Ronnie Brewer–Kyle Korver–Taj Gibson sampler platter, would you pass it up for a Jannero Pargo–Bobby Jackson–Rasual Butler trio?
As much as Derrick Rose did for the Bulls this past season, Chris Paul had to do that and a little bit more. That he didn’t win a Most Valuable Player award had as much to do with circumstance and timing as anything. In fact, you could argue that LeBron fatigue is the biggest reason that Rose’s MVP in 2011 looks to be a fait accompli. Not to suggest that Rose’s numbers aren’t worthy of a look, but if LeBron hadn’t made himself the league’s biggest villain, he’d likely be in line for his third straight MVP award.
All of that aside, Rose deservedly is the point guard flavor of the month, but as Paul is reminding us all during New Orleans’ first round series against the Lakers, he is not to be overlooked.