Tom Haberstroh of ESPN.com examines the careers of Chris Paul and Magic Johnson through eight seasons in today’s Per Diem (Insider), making the claim that Paul indeed holds clear statistical advantages over Johnson. What Paul lacks, of course, is advantages in the MVP and championship ring departments, which has more to do with the teammates each player has had in their respective careers than their individual talent or ability. Regardless, Haberstroh acknowledges that Paul has closed the gap statistically, and will likely surpass Johnson by the time his career is over. Here’s an excerpt:
Get used to hearing Paul displacing Johnson’s standing in history. Because Paul already is on pace to be the best point guard to ever step foot in the league. At least he is statistically. The sad thing is that almost nobody even realizes this is happening.
I know what you’re thinking: “Better than Magic? Paul has never even been to the NBA Finals. He’s never even won an MVP. How dare you stomp on Magic’s legacy!”
Stomp on this: Now in his ninth season, Paul has the highest player efficiency rating of any point guard in history (25.6) and considerably higher than Magic Johnson (23.5). And if you look at win shares, which estimates the number of wins a player contributes to the bottom line, it tells the same story. Just 12 games into his ninth season, Paul already has more career win shares than Johnson had through nine seasons.
Here are Paul’s per-game and advanced metrics next to Johnson’s so far:
CP3 vs Magic: Through nine seasons
PLAYER MPG PTS AST TOV FG%/3FG%/FT% WS/48 WS PER
Paul 36.5 18.6 9.9 2.4 .472/.353/.860 .244 105.4 25.6
Johnson 36.8 19.1 11.0 3.9 .533/.192/.823 .213 104.2 23.5
So why don’t people think of Paul in this light?
Behold, the power of Hall of Fame supporting casts.
As far as NBA teammates go, Johnson came into the league with a basketball in one hand and a silver spoon in the other. As luck would have it, the Lakers drafted Johnson No. 1 overall and immediately he joined a star-studded Lakers team that featured two Hall of Famers in their prime — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes. At 32, Abdul-Jabbar still was dominating the league and won the MVP award in Johnson’s rookie season by averaging 24.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 3.4 blocks per game on 60.4 percent shooting. Sure enough, with Abdul-Jabbar, Wilkes, future two-time All-Star Norm Nixon and defensive stud Michael Cooper in tow, Johnson won a championship in his very first season in the league, due in no small part to his own heroics in the clinching Game 6.
You know who Paul had on his team his rookie season? David West and Speedy Claxton. That’s not a knock on West or Claxton, but Claxton isn’t a future Hall of Famer and West isn’t one of the top handful of players to ever pick up a basketball. But these were the cards that Paul was dealt. Unlike Johnson (and Tim Duncan more recently), Paul wasn’t fortunate enough to land on a team with a Hall of Famer in his prime.
This is a trend that holds throughout Paul’s career. The guy has had pretty crummy teammates by any reasonable standard. Paul’s lack of support cut two ways in the legacy-building department. Not only did his teams rarely contend for a title, but the weak rosters hurt his MVP credentials since voters tend to fixate over team win totals.