Praising Chris Paul is kind of like praising kittens and puppies; it’s hard to find a fresh angle. The real joy of watching him, however, is the promise that there will be more like him.
Consider who the role models for NBA guards have been for the past decade. If you were a shooting guard, your role model was Kobe Bryant, who has basically spent his entire life trying to be Michael Jordan. And if you were small — and there’s more of us than there are of the latter, especially because we all start short — your model was Allen Iverson.
There is no greater AI fan on the planet than me. He remains, to this day, a singularly unique player, utterly compelling, and on the short list of best players ever under 6 feet tall. But in terms of a player to emulate, he’s toxic. (Don’t believe me? Go watch Sebastien Telfair, DaJuan Wagner, Stephon Marbury, Damon Stoudamire… and the list goes on.)
A tangent: Led Zeppelin is, by any measure, one of the best rock bands ever. They’ve also inspired tens of thousands of other bands, almost all of them unlistenable. The reason why is that Bonham, Jones, Page and Plant were singular talents that meshed perfectly… and your local band with the guy that needs oversized floor toms to sound like Bonham, or the singer with the screech that wants to write lyrics about elves… well, we’re sorry, but the copy isn’t good. They’d have been better off emulating Aerosmith. They still wouldn’t have been any good, but at least that way, they wouldn’t peel the paint off the walls.
So it is with CP3. He does make his teammates better, and unlike AI’s bullet passes and indomitable will, not as turnover prone. Since he’s an utter joy to play with, he gets more and better screens from his bigs. He’s also playing, of course, in the era where moving screens have become more or less accepted, so it’s even more accepted.
CP3 has, of course, other advantages. While he’s had the live body of Tyson Chandler to catch alley oops, AI had the broken-down body and bad hands of Theo Ratliff. The Sixers have never had a shooter like Peja Stojakovic in the entire history of the franchise. David West is simply a great player, and the Bug Bench and other players (Julian Wright, Bonzi Wells, Jannero Pargo) can all carry the team for brief stretches of time. When Paul sits, they don’t fall apart. Paul hasn’t had the carnival of clown coaches to start his career, either: by the time Larry Brown got here, AI was what he is.
But all if this is chicken and egg. CP3 makes basketball fun for his teammates, and the more successful he is, the greater the chance that the next era of NBA guards will be like him. He’s got nothing to do, really, with anyone that has come before him, but he’ll have everything to do with what comes after… and for the next 5 years, health permitting, every playoff season in the West will be better because of him, because each matchup will feature a top drawer point guard matchup. Which means every playoff season will start off as watchable, and maybe go a lot farther than that… and maybe, just maybe, we’ll finally have a playoff run that’s more fun to watch as it goes along, rather than less.
Happy birthday, CP3. But it’s happier for the Association.