Thursday, May 14, 2009

Everyone forgets Chris

If the voters really want an All-NBA backcourt of Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade, I'm not really going to put up much of a fight. How could I? The case for their inclusion is so obvious that it needs no explanation.

But then what do we do with Chris Paul?

By most accounts, Paul is the best point guard in the League and potentially one of the best to play the position since Isiah Thomas. He finished fifth in this year's MVP voting race, a year after coming in second to Kobe.

This season, with a thoroughly underwhelming supporting cast in New Orleans, Paul became the first player to ever lead the NBA in assists and steals for consecutive seasons, scored a career-high 22.8 points a game and set the league mark for consecutive games with a steal. He also shot an amazingly efficient 50 percent from the field (he's 6-foot and 175 pounds, for chrissakes!), 36 percent from 3 and 87 percent from the line despite being the nightly focus of every team's defensive gameplan.

And when all the votes were tallied, Paul was still considered the third-best guard in the league.

In detailing the exclusion of Paul from the first-team, John DeShazier of the New Orleans Times-Picayune notes that "by consensus, Bryant is the best player in the world, or second-best player behind LeBron James. The credentials of the three-time NBA champion, one-time MVP basically are unrivaled. And after two injury-riddled seasons in which Wade combined to play 102 of 164 games, he returned to lead the league in scoring and to finish second in steals and eighth in assists."

But why must we bend to consensus here? Paul might have, once again, done more with less than any star in the NBA not named LeBron or Wade. He plays with one All-Star caliber teammate in David West, who I suspect that, much like Kenyon Martin during his stint with the New Jersey Nets, has benefitted greatly from playing with a point guard (Jason Kidd) that takes all of the trouble out of creating his own shot.

The rest of that motley crew in New Orleans? Blech. Devin Brown? Julian Wright? Morris Peterson? A creaky Tyson Chandler? A fossilizing Peja Stojakovic? Against Denver in the first-round of the playoffs, it was easy to feel as if Paul was going one-on-five against the Nuggets.

So if I can make the case for Paul, I have to - I suppose - think about who doesn't belong on the first five. Since we must have only two guards, then I have to say Kobe should be banished to the second team.

Keep in mind that Kobe is surrounded by a bevy of talent, from the beautifully skilled Pau Gasol to the enigmatic freak Lamar Odom to the frustratingly tantalizing big man Andrew Bynum. Most NBA teams could find a place for Trevor Ariza in their starting lineup.

And though I'm nitpicking a bit here, Kobe fires up a lot more shots (though he's still a solid 46-percent shooter), Paul might be the toughest player to stay in front of in the League and the All-NBA first team is missing a true point guard - in the sense of a willing creator of shots. All five players - with the possible exception of Dwight Howard - can't shoot 25 times a night on a "team," right?

Feel free to disagree. But Paul, at least this year, shouldn't finish behind Kobe again.

Post-script: Since I'm being a contrarian today and all, I must note that I agree that Carmelo Anthony might be the best scorer in the NBA. Which, of course, is different from the best player. But this sounds about right: (Carmelo and Dirk Nowitzki) are unpredictable weather patterns of offensive force, capable of anything, feeling the game out and then having their way with it."

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