Shortly after his team was swept 4-0 on Sunday, Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone paid Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul the ultimate compliment. Of all the great point guards in league history, Malone said that Paul had leapfrogged past all of them.
“Chris Paul could arguably be the greatest point guard of all time,” Malone said of the 11-time NBA All-Star.
Malone may have been too gracious after the Nuggets lost 125-118 to the Phoenix Suns in Game 4. That rounded off a surprising sweep when many had predicted the series to be one of the most competitive in the semifinals.
Chris Paul dominated Nikola Jokic and company to the tune of 25.5 points, 10.3 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals and only 1.3 turnovers on average per game. Moreover, he shot an unbelievable 62.7 percent from the field including 75 percent from the three-point arc.
This was total domination by the 36-year-old who had been hampered by a shoulder injury in the first round of the playoffs against the LA Lakers. But Paul was back to his normal self (and then some) in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Given the circumstances, the Nuggets coach can be forgiven for his recency bias after they were just annihilated from the 2021 NBA Playoffs.
Is Chris Paul the best point guard ever?
Players like Magic Johnson, Isaiah Thomas, Oscar Robertson, John Stockton and Bob Cousy are just some of the names that are considered to be the best of the best at the point guard position. For Paul to be in the conversation for greatest-point-guard-ever status, he has to be at par with those names at least.
But the problem with Malone’s assessment of Chris Paul’s status in the point guard community is how much the other players have accomplished compared to the Phoenix Suns playmaker.
Johnson, considered by most to be the best point guard in league history, already dwarfs his contemporaries in terms of accomplishments. The LA Lakers legend has acquired five championships, three MVPs, three Finals MVPs and two All-Star MVPs. He is sixth in all-time assists with 10,141 and third in all-time triple-doubles with 138. And that’s just for starters.
Chris Paul hasn’t won any of the awards that Johnson has acquired except for All-Star MVP, but he already passed Magic in career assists with 10,275 and counting.
So if the 16-year veteran isn’t the greatest point guard of all time, does Chris Paul’s name belong in the top five point guards ever? Especially after an MVP-worthy season with the Phoenix Suns and a trip to the conference finals.
What Chris Paul has accomplished so far
To fully appreciate Chris Paul and what he has done for his career, let’s take a look at his accomplishments:
- Rookie of the Year (2005-06)
- All-Rookie First Team (2005-06)
- 11x All-Star
- 1x All-Star MVP (2012-13)
- 4x assists champion
- 9x All-NBA (4× First Team, 4× All-NBA Second Team, 1x All-NBA Third Team)
- 9x NBA All-Defensive (7× First Team, 2× Second Team)
- 6x steals champion (most all-time including four consecutive)
- 1x free-throw percentage leader (2020-21)
- Number 5 all-time in steals (2,332)
- Number 5 all-time in assists (10,275)
16.4 points / 4.5 rebounds / 8.9 assists / 2.1 steals / 87.3% FT
Note that at the time of this writing, the league hasn’t announced the 2020-21 All-NBA teams yet and it’s a safe bet that Chris Paul will be on one of those teams.
Paul’s accomplishments certainly put him in conversation among the most elite floor generals in the league annals. Since the discussion about his place in history is quite subjective, let’s take a look first at the top 10 point guards of all time because this is the group where he unmistakably belongs.
Where Chris Paul ranks among the all-time greatest point guards
So far, we’ve mentioned Johnson, Thomas, Stockton, Cousy and Robertson. All five are most definitely in the top 10. To complete the list, I would add Jason Kidd and Steve Nash from the retirees, then Paul, Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook from the active players.
A case can be made for New York Knicks legend Walt Frazier to be in the top 10 but I sincerely believe the three active players have surpassed him already.
By almost any measurement of greatness available, Magic is arguably far and away the best point guard of all time, so the No. 1 spot isn’t up for grabs. As for the rest of the spots on the list, each position is highly debatable depending on what one values most in a point guard i.e. championships, MVPs, assists, etc.
Here’s how I would rank the top 10 point guards of all-time:
1. Magic Johnson
2. Stephen Curry
3. Oscar Robertson
4. Bob Cousy
5. Chris Paul
6. John Stockton
7. Isaiah Thomas
8. Russell Westbrook
9. Jason Kidd
10. Steve Nash
It was a difficult set of players to rank because of their massive accomplishments. But after looking at their stats, accomplishments and awards, Chris Paul absolutely belongs in the top five point guards of all time.
The Phoenix Suns are in the midst of a title run mainly because of Paul’s leadership and on-court performance. If the Suns end up winning this year’s championship, his status among the game’s best point guards will be further cemented.