After converting an "and one" late in the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night, Chris Paul surpassed Magic Johnson on a dusty page in the record books. With 20 points and 11 assists, Paul registered a double-double for the 12th straight game to start the season, breaking Johnson's record, set in 1990-91.
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 no one 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: Paul has the highest player efficiency rating of any point guard in history (25.6) and considerably higher than 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 future 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 cuts 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, because voters tend to fixate over team win totals.
No doubt Johnson was elite and deserves the "greatest point guard ever" moniker, but let's not overlook that he was also gifted with great teammates. To illustrate this phenomenon, I compared the 50 best teammates of Johnson's first eight seasons next to Paul's in his first eight seasons, using win shares, which can be found on Basketball-Reference.com.
The results might shock some, but it shouldn't if we consider the enormous talent gap on the Lakers against the Hornets/Clippers. To wit, Johnson enjoyed six seasons of Abdul-Jabbar that were better than anything Paul has been gifted in the NBA. Furthermore, 31 of Johnson's teammates put up at least a five-win season on their own merits; just about half as many for Paul, with 17.
You can see the jarring difference in the chart below. Johnson played with Hall of Famers like Abdul-Jabbar, Wilkes and James Worthy. Paul has played with West, Blake Griffin and Tyson Chandler. In all, Johnson's 50 best teammates contributed 314.3 wins in eight seasons. Paul's best slapped together nearly 100 fewer, just 219.8 wins.
[b]right here a big graph of chris vs magic that won"t copy[/b]
If you prefer more traditional standards, Johnson shared the court with an All-Star 13 times in the first eight seasons of his career. Paul? Try four. That means once every couple of seasons on average, Paul would get lucky enough to play with an All-Star. Johnson enjoyed at least one All-Star on his team every season he played in the league until he left the game in 1991. And often times, he had two of them.
To be clear, this study is not meant to diminish Johnson's career, but rather to provide some important context to Paul's. As irrational as it is, it has become standard practice these days to reduce a player's rsum into a count of championship rings and MVP awards, which are heavily influenced by teammate quality over player quality. It remains a mystery how Kobe Bryant won the 2007-08 MVP over Paul, who bested Bryant in just about every meaningful category except for points per game.
So what else does Paul need to do to top Johnson? For one, he needs to keep up this level of play for a few more seasons. He currently ranks in the top five in PER this season, and ranks second in his career among active players behind LeBron James.
But the truth is that no matter how unfair it might seem, the court of public opinion will ultimately judge Paul by titles and MVP awards. And in that department, Johnson owns three MVPs and five rings, so Paul has some work to do there. With J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley added to the fold, this Clippers roster probably contains the most talent he's ever played with (though the bench goes maybe three players deep). If the Clippers put together a 60-win season, Paul might indeed win his first MVP award, which will help boost his all-time standing.
But statistically, he's closed the gap on Johnson, regardless of the record Paul broke Wednesday. Now Paul just needs the hardware. The question is whether his roster is finally good enough to get it.