The reason I'm chiming in today is because J.A. Adande wrote something that caught my attention a few days ago:
I like Paul as much as the next guy... But it's hard to ignore what Williams and the Jazz have done. And you can't forget the way Williams has dominated Paul in their head-to-head matchups.
Hmmm. Interesting. As of today, the Jazz are 41-25 and the Hornets are 41-24. I suppose he could be referencing the Jazz's recent winning streak of 11, but both teams are 8-2 over their last 10, so I'm not sure that really settles anything.
On the other hand, if the Hornets were doing worse (record-wise) than the Jazz, how could you penalize Paul for this? Most of our losses this season have resulted from a thin bench and declining numbers from a few of our starters (none of whom are named Paul, Chris). Is there really an argument for CP being the inferior player if he's stuck on a team with significantly less depth? I'm not sure there is.
It's Adande's second statement that really prompted this post. For most fans of either team, it's generally accepted that Deron outperforms Chris when the Jazz square off against the Hornets, but, despite the fact this has become "common knowledge," I've never actually seen any numbers that back up the argument.
Is there really a sharp drop in Chris' (or Deron's) production? Or are we maybe remembering a handful of only the most recent contests that may have favored Deron? Let's star by looking at these guys career stats. Then, we'll look at some composite stats for the 12 games in which these guys have faced off*:
Career per game totals
Head to Head per game totals
Difference in production per game
A quick look at the tables reveals that almost all of Paul's statistical contributions see a drop (the exception being FT attempted and FT%), while Williams' numbers seem to shift in both directions. What's interesting is that I wouldn't call either stat line from the head-to-heads amazing (which both players are) or terrible (which both players are not). It seems that they both affect the other's numbers pretty significantly, and why not? After all, they're pretty worthy adversaries.
The real story that these numbers tell is that Williams' size (he's got 3 inches and 30 pounds on Paul) and the Jazz's strong interior defense give him an edge over Paul. The former allows Deron to penetrate in the paint much easier, prompting an increase in points and FG% (and likely explaining the drop in AST). Similarly, the size advantage (and the defensively superior Jazz) prevent Paul from effectively running the pick and roll for easy floaters or even kick-outs to the the open man during a double-team. As a result, we see a sharp drop in points and FG% from Paul. Though he is able to make up some of his scoring ground by going to the stripe much more often – another instance of the Jazz's aggression in the paint – it's hard to argue that Paul performs at the same level against this team as he does against the rest of the league.
From these tables, we might assume that Williams is in fact the better player, since beating your opponent head-on seems to be the ultimate competition. But the problem with that assumption is that it ignores one pretty crucial fact: the Jazz are better than the Hornets. Plain and simple. Their starters match up well against the Bees and their bench is something like a gajillion times better than ours. As a result, Paul is forced to carry the load for a team of under-achievers and gets burned because he's matching up against a larger version of himself.
So there you have it: we've seen that Paul is probably the better individual player**, but that's not much consolation to Hornets fans who have watched their team go 2-10*** in the games featuring both point guards. It will be even less of a consolation if we draw them in the playoffs.
In sum, both of these guys are phenomenal basketball players, and they're both a pleasure to watch (yes, I secretly enjoy watching Williams). But they will continue to be locked into this debate until someone is able to assemble a better team around Paul. Let's just hope that team is the Hornets.
* Unfortunately, the above tables ignore pace, something that might swing the results more to CP's favor, since he has amassed his per game stats playing a much slower game than Deron's Jazz ever play. While the disparities between career and h2h might have been a little less significant if we accounted for pace, it probably would not be enough to change the story.
** My cohort from At the Hive did a pretty thorough examination of both players and their career numbers. Call it biased if you want, but it's a pretty irrefutable argument that Paul is the better player.
*** Though our record sucks against the Jazz, it's worth noting that both times we've played Utah on the road this year, it was a back-to-back with the Lakers as the previous night's opponent. At the Staples Center. Thanks, David Stern.
If you're interested, check out the Basketball-Reference info I used on Paul and on Williams for the tables. You can also download a pdf of the spreadsheet I used to compile the totals and averages.