Friday, November 7, 2008

The Great Point Guard Debate

Every position on a basketball court is immensely important. Ideally, there is the center, a big man who can either bang down low with post moves, shoot mid-range jumpers exceptionally well, sink hook shots, grab rebounds, block shots or all of the above. There is the power forward, another low-post threat on offense and defense, again with the ability to clean the glass, and occasionally having the ability to knock down three pointers. There is the small forward, a slasher who is generally the most athletic on the team, with above average scoring ability and great all-around numbers. There is the shooting guard, the three point specialist who looks to take the mid- to long-range shots on the perimeter. Then there is the point guard, the court general, having the best court vision on the team, able to draw opponents and find the open man, picking up numerous assists and, ideally, a good amount of points to complement it.

In the NBA, comparisons to other players who share their position are frequent. Some of them are obvious; LeBron James is the best swingman in the game and Kobe Bryant is the best two guard. But for the other positions, there are many debates. There is the Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett debate for the best power forward, two top enforcers who are also team leaders. There is the Dwight Howard and Yao Ming debate for centers, a pair of elite big men who rack up the boards, blocked shots and points for their respective contending teams. This leaves us with the debate for the best court leader, the point guard. What has been done on the court has narrowed the candidates for best point guard down to two; the young Deron Williams and Chris Paul.

Deron Michael Williams was born on June 26, 1984 in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Deron was raised by his mother, Denise Smith, with barely any help from his father, Byron Williams, who disappeared altogether from Deron's life in the early '90s. When Williams was young, he and his mother moved to suburban Dallas, where he was raised. Denise was a computer programmer, and was also a star multi-sport athlete in high school and college. She was the one who taught Deron the game and how to play the demanding point guard position. His mother had another child, Kendall, when Williams was ten, and Deron was and still is very close to his little brother and mother.

When Deron was in elementary school, he was an elite wrestler for his age; as an eight year old he won the Texas State Championship in the 67 pound weight class, and he did so again when he was twelve, winning in the 116 pound weight class. Playing ball at a high level through middle school, Deron was recruited by The Colony High School in The Colony, Texas, one of the top high school programs in the country. In his junior year in 2001, he posted averages of 17 points, 9.4 assists and 2 steals per game, en route to the Cougars going 32-2 and visiting the Class 5A State Semifinals.

His senior year he had iced his rep as a superb ball handler and play maker, even though his main feature is the ability to make his teammates look better. Again, he averaged 17 points, along with 8.4 dimes and 6 boards per game. But when the college recruiting came to Texas, his teammate and best friend Bracey Wright was given the load of the attention, while Deron was a McDonald's All-American snub, with point guard Bryan Hopkins in his place in this prestigious competition. Hopkins relied on teammate forward Chris Bosh to score on the assists, and with Bosh's domination, Hopkins was greatly overrated. But Williams was not overlooked, being the star point guard for one of the top hoops high schools in the country. He accepted a scholarship to the University of Illinois, joining fellow freshman guard Dee Brown, a flashy guard who was great in the fast break.

In his freshman year for coach Bill Self, Deron started 30 of 32 games for the Fighting Illini, while ranking third in the Big Ten with 4.5 dimes per game, while averaging a measly 6.3 points per game. That year Illinois bowed out of the NCAA tournament in the second round after going 11-5 and finishing second in the conference.

For his sophomore year, D-Will's scoring ability was realized, upping his former 6.3 to 14 per game, leading his team in this category. He averaged 6.17 dimes per game, and emerged as Illinois' most consistent player. He was selected First Team All-Big 10 by the media and coaches. The fighting Illini surprised in the NCAA tournament, making it through Murray State and Cincinnati before falling to Duke in the Sweet Sixteen. Set to dominate in his junior year, the threesome that was Williams, Dee Brown and forward Luther Head had high expectations. Illinois started to rack up the wins, with Brown grabbing the bulk of the headlines because of his elite scoring ability. Illinois continued to play their exciting team basketball, marching to a 30-1 record, with the loss by one point in the last game of the season to the powerhouse that was Ohio State. They dominated in March Madness action, appearing in the National Championship against North Carolina.

Their road to the Final Four included a scary win against Arizona in the Elite Eight, with the Illini coming back from a 15 point deficit with under five minutes of play left. They lost to a North Carolina team that was full of current NBA players, including Sean May, Marvin Williams, Raymond Felton and Rashad Mccants by five points, 75-70. The loss had a sizeable impact on Deron, but it was a great run in the tournament, and Deron won many awards for his play, including being named a consensus Second Team All American, as well as winning First Team All-Big 10 honors, Big-10 All Tournament Team honors and All Final Four team honors.

Williams entered his name in the 2005 NBA Draft, right after Steve Nash was selected MVP of the league. Because of Nash's success, teams were searching for the next great court leader, and the Utah Jazz recognized Deron Williams as the top choice. He was selected third overall, before Chris Paul came in at fourth, and he was chosen after the so far unproven Andrew Bogut and Marvin Williams. He was signed to a 4 year, $16 million deal, and the Jazz were very confident in their young guard. Utah needed a reliable point, with many great forward-centers (Boozer, Kirilenko, Okur, to name a few) and no guy to lead them on the offensive side.

In the 2005-06 year, Deron's first season, he started the year on the bench, although he did get somewhat significant minutes. They finished at 41-41, with Williams their starting point guard at the end of the season, and the Jazz had improved dramatically on the 26 wins that they had the year before. D-Will finished his rookie year averaging 10.8 points and 4.5 assists, great numbers for a guy who played only 28.8 minutes per game. The ROY honors went to his counterpart, Chris Paul, but Deron still impressed the doubters. He was selected to the All-Rookie First Team

The year after that, in his second season, he was on the radar as a future star point guard, and in his second year in the NBA people were excited to see him get nearer to his endless potential. He broke out in this 06-07 season, averaging 16.2 points, 9.3 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1 steal per game, with numbers coming very close to his draft mate, Paul. His assist count per game was the most ever by a Jazz player (not including one guy named Stockton). Led by Williams, they surprisingly made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals where they matched up against the very experienced San Antonio Spurs. The vet-powered Spurs took the series, but it was still an incredible year for Deron, putting him on the board as an elite point guard, not just a future elite point guard.

In his third year, the comparisons to Paul came pouring in. Who's a better complete player? Who's better on offense? Who's better on defense? Who's a better passer? Scorer? The fans, sportswriters and players alike weighed in on their opinions, but we have yet to know who is really the superior player. But D-Will played like a true all-star, averaging 18.8 points, 10.5 assists, 3 rebounds and 1 steal per game, all career highs (save the boards). For the 2007-08 mid season All-Star festivities, Williams was snubbed, much to Utah's chagrin, even though he was playing just as outstanding as the guys who took his place, Allen Iverson and Steve Nash. The dynamic guard still made his mark on all-star weekend, winning the NBA Skills Competition over such players as Paul and Dwyane Wade.

At the end of they year Williams got his due, winning All-NBA Second Team Honors. The Jazz made another playoff appearance, but they bowed out with a series loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he was one of the top guards on the gold-medal winning team and turned out to be the most reliable in this competition.

As a player, Deron can do it all. He is a very big point guard at 6'3", 205 pounds, which allows him to use his body against the smaller guards, posting up on them included. He plays with incredible maturity and confidence, and coach Jerry Sloan in return trusts him greatly, allowing him to take complete control of their offense. He is a smart player, knowing where his teammates are at all times, which allows him to make great passes. He knows how to take it to the hole, and has the ability to either lay it up softly or dunk on you thunderously. A savvy player, he is a great ball handler and is improving his shooting, which is already on par with the rest of the league. Look for D-Will to get snubbed from all star games no longer, and look for 20/10 (11? 12? 13?) stat years to become a habit. Deron Williams is a leader on a legitimate team.

Chris Emmanuel Paul was born on May 6, 1985 in Lewisville, North Carolina. Paul grew up with his parents, Charles and Robin, and his brother, C.J., who is a few years older than him. The members of the Paul family were huge sports fans, highlighted by an insane love of the Dallas Cowboys by Chris's father. Chris's grandfather was Nathaniel Jones, known as "Papa Chilly", and he operated Jones Chevron, the first African-American operated service station in North Carolina. Papa Chilly was a legend in the area, and nobody knew him better than Chris. When Paul was a pre-teen, Jones and Chris worked together on the cars that were brought to them to repair. Chris also had a strong relationship with his older brother, and perhaps it was too strong. For C.J.'s liking, anyway. Chris followed his big brother everywhere, and C.J. and his friends often found Chris to be a pest. He just didn't know when to shut up.

His parents were good at moderating Chris's life, expecting him to pay attention, study, and get good marks in school. Foul language was not allowed in the Paul household, and video games were only to be played on the weekends. Chris was raised in a sports family, and he did play hoops, but football was his best sport, and it got him the most attention. He played quarterback, running back and linebacker, despite being smaller than most everybody else on the field. He was a fast, smart leader, much like he is now on the basketball court. For college hoops, growing up around Wake Forest, rooting for the Demon Deacons was a default, especially with the dominant Tim Duncan entering the school in '93.

Chris started at West Forsyth High School on the JV team, while his older brother was tearing it up on Varsity, the best player on his team. Paul was on Junior Varsity for his first two years of high school; he was about 5'8", and simply couldn't hack it against the taller, stronger players. But in his junior year he had a growth spurt, growing to six feet tall, and with that, his game grew as well. As a senior, Chris Paul averaged 30.8 points, 9.5 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 6 steals per game, outstanding numbers. Those stats were enough to earn 2003 McDonald's All American honors while leading his school to a 27-3 record. Paul was recruited by every ACC hoops program, but he was set on the college that he had been rooting for his whole life, Wake Forest.

He signed a letter of intent in 2002, and within a day of him doing this, Papa Chilly was robbed and murdered by a group of teenagers, and Paul's life was flipped upside down. He was in a daze. About 2,000 people went to his funeral, and Paul decided how he would honor his grandfather's memory. He was set on scoring 61 points, one for each year of his grandfather's life, in his next game. Paul scored the 61 points, intentionally missed a free throw and was taken out of the game, going to his father who hugged him while Chris sobbed.

The Deamon Deacons' basketball program was in a state of rebuilding, and coach Skip Prosser found Paul to be his best asset. With the great back court duo of Chris and Justin Gray, a player with great range from long, Wake Forest didn't look half bad. Chris won ACC Rookie of the Year honors, averaging 14.8 points and 5.9 assists, while leading Wake Forest in assists, steals, three point percentage, free throws made, free throw attempts and free throw percentage. He also won All-ACC Defensive honors, while many were calling him the best frosh in his class, including College Insider, Basketball News, Basketball Times and Dick Vitale.

Chris Paul came back to the Demon Deacons in his sophomore year, and the hype and expectations were sky-high for the young point guard. Wake Forest came out strong before the tournaments started, winning 12 of their first 13. Paul was voted a pre-season All American, but once the regular season came to call, Chris seemed to be feeling a little too much pressure. In their first regular season game, Paul punched NC State's Julius Hodge in the crotch, resulting in a suspension for the first game of the ACC playoffs. In the end, he took responsibility for this action, and he acknowledged that they made the right choice in suspending him. The loss of CP had left a big impact on the Demon Deacons, and they were upset by Florida State.

In the NCAA Tournament, they beat Tennesse-Chatanooga with any problems, but after that they were to match up against a hot West Virginia team in the second round of the tourney. They fell to the Mountaineers 111-105, despite a 22 point, 9 assist showing from Paul. That ended their season at 27-6. Paul decided to enter the 2005 NBA Draft, realizing that he didn't have much else to prove at the college level. The teams that were showing the most interest in Chris was the Hornets, the Hawks and the Bobcats. The Bucks selected big man Andrew Bogut with the first overall pick, and the Hawks selected Marvin Williams with the second pick. This left the Utah Jazz to select either Deron Williams or Chris Paul. The Jazz went with size, maturity and experience, selecting Williams, leaving Chris open to the Hornets, who gladly took him fourth.

The New Orleans Hornets were coming off of a horrendous 18 win season, and hurricane Katrina, a true natural disaster that left a big impact on our country. The hurricane forced The Hornets to play all but three games in Oklahoma City, as opposed to their regular arena in the Bayou. Paul dominated the rest of the rookies in his first year (05-06) leading all the rooks in points, assists, steals and minutes and was the obvious pick for Rookie of the Year, and with that came an All-Rookie Team selection. He averaged 16.1 points and 7.8 dimes per game, leading the Hornets to a season that doubled the year before's win total, winning 38 games. If it were not for a Jazz broadcaster's vote going to Deron Williams, it would have been a unanimous ROY selection. After that season, CP won the ESPY award for Best Breakthrough Athlete. Paul was ready to come back the next year to show the world that he can improve on this incredible rookie season.

Paul's soph season was injury-riddled, with him appearing in only 64 games, sitting for 18. The Hornets still improved (barely) on the year before, winning 39 games, with help from newly acquired sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic and beast in the paint Tyson Chandler. Paul still improved, averaging 17.3 points, 8.9 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game. Again, the Hornets missed the playoffs, but had Paul been there the whole time, they might have managed an eight seed.

The 2007-08 season was one of hope for the Hornets and the whole city of New Orleans. Coming back to NO for a whole season was a relief for the team and city, and with their great 22 year old point guard, things were looking up for them. They flirted with having the best record in the league last year, finishing with a 56-26 record, the best in team history, and they earned a number two seed in the Western Conference Playoffs.

They hosted the All-Star game on their home court, with Chris and forward David West representing the Hornets. Paul had a monster (MONSTER) year, averaging 21.1 points, 11.6 assists, 4 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game. He led the league in assists and steals, and he finished second in MVP voting behind the dominant Kobe Bryant and ahead of LeBron James. He was also selected All-NBA First Team, three votes shy of unanimous. For the playoffs, they defeated the Mavericks in the first round, but ultimately fell to the more experienced Spurs in seven games afterwards in the semis. That summer, he was also a member of the gold medal-winning 2008 Beijing Olympics USA hoops team.

As a player, Paul has the best vision in the NBA. He sees the entire court, has great instincts and always knows what to do. It is nearly impossible to defend him, if you play him close he'll break out his hesitation dribble that looks like a bounce pass for a second, leaving you standing there, looking for the ball, and he drives right by you. If you play him loose, he can either lob it up for an alley-oop to Tyson Chandler (which happens many times a season), pass it to a teammate or shoot the jumper. He is very unselfish, and his assist-to-turnover ratio is among the best in the league. He isn't very big at all, standing at 6'0", 175 pounds, but he still dominates all opponenents. And he plays some of the best defense in the league. What more can you ask for?


These two young point guards will be forever linked in the National Basketball Association. Picked third and fourth and roughly the same age, the two best court generals in the league will be compared forever. Now it's time for me to make my pick on the better of the two.

  • Body: Paul is only 6 feet tall, 175 pounds. His body gives him a quickness advantage, and when driving to the hoop fouls are called often. But his small body will catch up to him in the long run, when he isn't as quick. Deron is three inches taller and thirty pounds heavier than CP, and D-Will is still one of the quickest players in the league. Williams is stronger, and is more powerful driving to the hole with his size advantage for a guard His size will also help out in the end. Edge: Deron Williams
  • Scoring: This one is very close. Paul averaged 2.2 points more than Williams per 40 minutes, but Deron's efficiency is unmatched. CP scored on .488 percent of his shots, whereas Williams shot .507. Deron's True Shooting Percentage (FG% with FT% and 3PT% mixed in) is 59.5, to Paul's 57.6. Williams is also a much better three point shooter than Paul, with a .395 average, thirty percentage points higher than CP's .365. But Paul is better at the line, shooting .851 to Deron's .803. But Williams gets to the charity stripe more often than Paul. If Deron were on a team that had more possessions (like Paul's Hornets) then he would have more points per game. Edge: Draw
  • Passing: This is another close call. They both registered assists on just over 35% of their teams possessions, and Chris Paul averaged one assist more than D-Will because his team had more possessions. But, a good reason that the Hornets had more possessions was because Paul averaged a league-leading 2.7 steals per game. It's very close. Edge: Chris Paul
  • Possession: On offense, Paul turned it over only 7.8% of the time his team went down the floor, one of the lowest percentages among players at his position, where Deron turned it over 11.4% of the time. Still a great percentage, but Paul gets the spot here. On defense, Chris was selected to the All-NBA Defensive Team, led the league in steals and averaged a rebound more than Deron. Edge: Chris Paul
  • Team Leadership: Deron definitely ressurrected the Jazz after some terrible seasons, but Paul is the pick here. Coming out and playing great right off the bat, he uplifted a city from a disaster and brought more attention to New Orleans. His team is also my title favorite. Edge: Chris Paul
  • Matchups: Deron Williams is the clear winner here. Since college, D-Will's team has beat Chris Paul's 7 out of 8 times. Some of them blowouts. Edge: Deron Williams

And, through all of this rivalry, it's almost impossible that the two could be friends. Right? Wrong. The two text eachother regularly, they hang out, and they don't talk about hoops. "They can't be that close without some kind of tension." Says Hornets coach Byron Scott, "But when I talk to Chris about it, he says it's not there. I told him, 'I know he's your boy, but he could also be seeing what we're doing. He could be a spy.' CP promised me that they don't talk about basketball." They also know the other's game better than everyone. "People say he's not quick enough or athletic." Says Paul of Williams, "Man, D-Will will dunk on you in a heartbeat." Deron also says of Paul's hesitation dribble, "The tendency is to stand up and relax, then he goes by you. He actually likes you to back off. Then he can throw that lob to the rim for Tyson. It's really pick-your-poison." Paul feels equally lost when he matches up against his buddy, "I try to crowd him and live with jump shots. He's going to score, but when he gets everyone else involved, you can put your head between your legs and kiss your butt goodbye."

These two young point guards will be forever linked, and unless Brandon Jennings and Ricky Rubio have anything to say about it, they will be the best point guards in the league for a very long time. In order to be seriously considered two of the best ever, rings are involved. But this is an intriguing storyline for the next ten years or so. Who's better?


Anonymous said...

Nice comprehensive piece, Moose. Perhaps the first guy to win a title will end the debate? Both Utah and Nawlins have very good supporting casts.

I think we might find out sooner than later which one of em'll win a ring first.

I just thought of this while reading your piece, but the duality between these 2 points reminds me a lot about the great rivalries between boxing/MMA champions. Ali-Frazier? Or more recently, Liddell-Couture?

What a great story, too, how Deron and Chris are such different people and players, polar opposites in some ways, yet it truly is impossible to tell which is the superior player.

Anonymous said...

Didn't ESPN do a piece not too long ago about this comparison?

They're both great players, but I like D-Will better. I love how he's able to use his size to muscle his way to the hoop. Truly a fun player to watch

Moose said...

I wanna go with the Hornets as the first one to win a championship. I think they have a great chance. And for the Jazz, I think Boozer's on the move; I see him in Miami in at least a year. That'll definitely be a blow for Utah. And with Paul, West, Stojakovic, Chandler--they are great for a title with that. But by adding James Posey, title machine, the Hornets are even better. I see great things in N'awlins this year. To add to it, CP has gotten MUCH more exposure than Deron. D-Will has made TWO national covers (one of them shared with Paul) in his life, and CP has gotten numerous ones, he was followed through HS. But titles must be won between the two. Good point with the boxing thing, Joel. But the thing is, they are very good friends, as I showed in this piece, they not only respect eachother. Thanks for reading, fellas.

JoeBasketball said...

A great piece Moose. The point guard position is undoubtably the most important player on the floor (i did a simpler piece on it not too long ago), and these two teams would be ridiculously different without their leaders. The two are gonna be compared to each other throughout their career, and in the long run i'm gonna have to choose chris paul.

The Hornets are my finals pick this year with CP3 my MVP. Chris Paul runs the New Orleans offense to perfection, beautifully efficient every game. Him and Chandler on a fast break are unstoppable. He runs the pick and roll with West perfectly, with so many angles to score on you from. When a play breaks down he can penetrate, and if help defense leaves a man open, Chris will find him (that's deadly if it's Posey or Stojakovic). The only matchup i see Paul struggling with is ironicly against Utah, he just can't seem to handle his counterpart Williams when they go at each other. Aside from that, i believe paul can lead the hornets to the finals out the west. They almost beat the spurs last postseason, with Tim Duncan now slowly losing his dominance, Parker's good, but not Chris Paul standard good. Houston have no point to matchup to him and we saw him abuse Jason Kidd and the mavs last year. If they play the suns or lakers (which they probably will at some point), they can't defend the hornet's pick and roll.

As for Williams, it looks like Boozer will bolt for the sunshine this offseason, something that won't help D-will's career. Talent-wise, their isn't a huge difference between the two. Deron has both size and speed, whereas Paul's lack of physical ability (despite his quickness) is made up for with his ridiculous court vision. Sometimes i watch him play and he finds the open man before i even realised myself that he was open.
Both are phenominal players who's team would be incomplete without them. If i had to choose between them, i have to go with Paul, due to his unbelievable talent, and as we'll see at the end of this year, his ability to win.

Moose said...

joebasketball, I agree with most of what you said (Boozer in Miami, CP being better, Hornets winning the title), as I have said in my piece/comment. Thanks for reading. Should be interesting who comes out on top in the long run, huh?

Hursty said...

Its sorta surreal that Moose can keep producing these uber high quality pieces with such speed.
Again, the belated 'great job Moose' is obvious here, but I think that definitely your writing is getting better.
If I were to predict a team winning out of those two it would likely be N.O for several reasons
such as team speed, length, perimeter shooting and long term team stability.
Utah has limited amounts of it, but dont showcase it frequently enough to be a top tier team right now.

Hursty said...

*your writing is definitely getting better*... I'm such a battler.

Roy said...

CP3 all the way baby!!! :D

Moose said...

Thanks, Hursty. I also agree with your Hornets>Jazz comment.

Edmond said...

Hornets are better. CP3 is better. individually, deron is better but chris is more of a team player, team oriented game. Deron can dribble the ball like crazy!

Eboy said...

Moose is the man!

Moose said...

Thanks E. By the way, I'm going to the December 23rd Warriors @ Heat game . . . any special things about American Airlines arena that you could tell me about? Secret stuff, maybe? lol

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