NBA Legacy – Rising Sun

Eric Rodas
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In the midst of crowning a brand new NBA champion, the trending hot topic has become the legacy of Phoenix Suns’ point guard Chris Paul and his place in the pantheon of greatest players of all time at the position. Given all the discussions about everyone’s top five list, locking down the appropriate criteria and weight each category merits with regard to that list may become a debate in itself.

Here are a few qualifications we should consider when constructing our very own Mount Rushmore of historical floor generals:

In a competitive sport, every team’s success is predicated on whether they won a championship or how close they got to one. Championships matter but should not be the only criteria when ranking the point guard position. Too many factors are involved in a sport that relies on collective endeavors.

However, if the fact that winning a championship would move Chris Paul up everybody’s list, then what does that mean for players that have garnered multiple championships? This is one the most difficult qualifications to count on because of all the circumstances that surround it.

Case in point, there is no doubt that CP3 is a major factor to why the Suns are in the Finals, but should his potential championship run mean less, historically, because of the significant injuries that occurred to each team they faced in the playoffs? Another point in his favor is that he himself had to overcome an injury and COVID exposure in order to land in the Finals. 

In today’s NBA era of analytics, you can’t ignore the fact that statistical achievements should be considered as a form of evaluation with regard to a player’s career. The question now becomes which statistical outputs hold the most weight. Do we use totals or averages? Or both?

Keep in mind that some of these stats, such as turnovers and steals were not officially tracked until 1973-74 and 1977-78 respectively. This directly impacts the ability to track the assist to turnover ratio for New York Knicks’ star Walt Frazier and Milwaukee Bucks’ storied floor general Oscar Robertson.

The length of their career will also have an effect on their statistical achievements. Should there be more emphasis on their statistical accomplishments attained during the playoffs and Finals as opposed to the regular season? For example, Utah Jazz legend John Stockton is the all time assist leader but Los Angeles Lakers’ icon Earvin Magic Johnson is the all time assist leader in the playoffs.

Awards and accolades should be added to the conversation, as they recognize individual achievement and elite level of play per season. MVP, Finals MVP, statistical leaders for the season, all star appearances, as well as all-team selections, count as a representation of each player’s all around effort. Detroit Piston Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas is one of only a handful of point guards to have ever won Finals MVP in 1990.

Evaluating intangible attributes is almost an exercise in futility, as the game and the position have evolved since its inception. Some attributes are pretty evident, such as dribbling skills, footwork, scoring ability and the ability to utilize both hands. The more subjective talents reside in the ability to set the tempo of the game, change the pace as needed, utilization and management of teammates and the capacity to probe and expose weaknesses in the opponent’s defensive rotations and player match ups.

To the untrained eye, this can be a difficult quality to detect. Even those with the most keen vision still have to account for the different eras of the sport. For example, Golden State Warrior Steph Curry has weaponized the three point shot, but the line wasn’t instituted until the 1979-80 NBA season.

The advent of zone defenses, changes in the hand check rule and defensive three seconds in the key are only examples of some of the rule changes that have occurred that would change the texture of how the game is played. Again, whether the game has changed for the better or worse is up to each individual’s personal perspective, but it has transformed. 

With all of these factors in mind, it becomes clear that legends in this position whose names keep coming up in each category should probably end up in the upper stratosphere of your all time lists. Magic Johnson has set a very high standard for point guards in this regard. This fact could be why he was considered an anomaly and why he sits at the very top of almost everybody’s list. However, the battle for the second, third, fourth and fifth position on down is anybody’s pick based on each person’s preference.

As far as Chris Paul’s legacy is concerned, he has already carved out a very compelling argument whether he wins a championship this year or not. The way he has turned around the luck of several franchises has to speak to his acumen concerning the point guard position. Winning a title would only create a shift in our own personal stance with regard to our lists and opinions. However, it would make for some very interesting debates during this year’s off season.

Eric Rodas

Los Angeles, California

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