One of the ways analysts project a player’s production is through similarity scores; other players of comparable attributes and stats, then integrate that information into the player one is projecting. ClipperBlog has opened up the archives looking for historical comparables to key members of the 2012-13 Los Angeles Clippers team. Today is 2012-13 Chris Paul and 1991-92 John Stockton. This is the fourth in a series of four.
Whenever the topic of best point guard of all-time arises, the typical names are brought up: Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Bob Cousy, Isiah Thomas, and Walt Frazier among them. For whatever reason, John Stockton is usually forgotten and left off the illustrious list. The all-time leader in both assists and steals never gets the recognition he deserves for perhaps being the second or third best floor general ever, depending on if you consider Robertson a true point guard.
In that regard, he is just like Chris Paul, the unanimous choice for best point guard in today’s age. For all his skill, Paul is often overlooked in the MVP race and the conversation for the NBA’s best player – it seems the attention is always on LeBron James, Kevin Durant or Kobe Bryant.
Paul has quietly put up some of the best statistical seasons from the point guard position, yet is rarely recognized as a soon-to-be legend. When all is said and done, he’ll likely be a top-5 point guard of all-time. If he’s not in the same class as James or Bryant, he’s a step behind at most.
Throughout the years CP3 has drawn comparisons to Thomas, the diminutive scoring point guard who led the Detroit Pistons to back-to-back titles in 1989 and 1990. While that is an apt comparison, Paul is actually more like Stockton than Zeke, who was never the shooter, passer or defender Stockton was.
Stockton and Paul are a rare breed of point guards – they can score at will, and are efficient shooters, but would rather pass and create for their teammates. They see things other players can’t see, make passes that appear humanly impossible, and are at their best when coming off a screen in the pick-and-roll. And, of course, as shown by their steal totals, are experts at reading defenses and anticipating plays.
As a result of their selflessness, though, neither puts up gaudy scoring numbers, which diminishes their perceived value among the general NBA fan.
As you can see, the two are nearly identical per-36 minutes. Paul is the more complete player – he scores more, rebounds better, turns the ball over less and fouls less – but Stockton is the better passer and 3-point shooter. Look at the percentages, shot attempts and steals: they’re almost carbon copies of each other. Paul is such a good passer and thief that it’s difficult to imagine anyone surpassing him in those departments, yet Stockton does historically.
The common knock for both is that since they’re such elite shooters, they should shoot more. But because elite big men flank both of them, Blake Griffin for Paul and Karl Malone for Stockton, it’s less justifiable to jack up shots and take over offensively, despite what their critics may crave. Malone’s rolls to the basket and Griffin’s post-ups seem to work just fine.
Nonetheless, their squads always have an elite offense with them at the helm; the Utah Jazz had a top-10 offense 13 of the 16 years Stockton was the starter, and the Clippers have had a top-5 offense the past two seasons (the only time Paul had any talent around him in New Orleans, the 2008-09 season, the Hornets ranked in the top 5 offensively).
Their most similar attribute, which can’t be measured statistically, is their bulldog mentality. Paul has a nasty competitive streak, one very reminiscent of Stockton’s. Though both are small in stature, they set menacing screens, play dirty defense, and have a knack for going toe-to-toe with larger players.
One of Stockton’s few advantages over Paul may be his durability; Stockton played 19 seasons and missed 24 games total (he played the maximum amount of games in 17 seasons). It remains to be seen if Paul can remain healthy and endure that long of a grind. Besides that, though, Paul appears to be on track to having the better career, at least statistically.
Still, there’s something magical about Stockton’s career. He played for only one team, had a legendary running mate and coach with him nearly the entire time, and if not for Michael Jordan dominating the 90s, would have won an NBA championship or two. He made a career off one simple play, the pick-and-roll. Paul is leading a different legacy, one in which he left a situation where he wasn’t happy, and is looking to do the impossible by taking the NBA’s most futile franchise to the promise land.
To get there, he’ll need Griffin to become Malone-esque. It’s a tough task, as Malone is arguably the greatest power forward ever, but if anyone can replicate Stockton’s ability to turn an athletic big man into a legend, it’s Paul. He just better hope LeBron James doesn’t play the role of Michael Jordan.