Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Next Magic Johnson?

Is Chris Paul as a good (or better) of a point guard as Magic Johnson?

John Hollinger addresses this question one of his latest PER Diems, and he seems to think that the answer is probably "yes." (Though Dave Berri did say it first.) Hollinger admits that both players come from remarkably different eras of play, but this doesn't deter him from making a case for Paul:

Yes, it's easier for a small guard to dominate today's game than it was for John Stockton and Isiah Thomas to dominate in the '80s, and it's true that we don't know whether Paul will have the longevity that the players above enjoyed.

Nonetheless, compare Paul's first four seasons to the first four seasons of any point guard from the postmerger era, and one conclusion becomes evident really fast: The only player who can even plausibly compare to him is Magic Johnson.

This suggestion will obviously set off a bomb of "no ways" and "impossibles" and "don't even bothers" from Laker fans everywhere, but I have yet to find anyone who has written a comprehensive defense of Magic. In fact, most fans think the suggestion is so outrageous that they would rather just dismiss the discussion as opposed to engaging in it.

Fans like J.A. Adande. Mr. Adande not only disagrees with the comparison, but his sole remark on the subject was a terse dismissal of the argument (in his "CP3 vs D Will" article). Here's the mini-rant on why it is "sacrilege" to compare Paul (or anyone probably) to Magic Johnson:

Tell any aspirants to the throne to fill in at center in a Finals game, win five championships and set the career assists record ... maybe after all that we can hold a discussion.

So, apparently CP is out of the running to ever fill Magic's shoes since he probably won't be playing center anytime soon. Never mind the fact that Magic has the height edge by 8 inches (that's right, Magic was a 6'8" point guard) and Paul is probably finished growing. (I suppose it also doesn't matter that Paul, despite his height, is averaging over 5 rebounds a game this season which is only 2 off from Magic's career average.)

But what if we took height out of the argument? Now Paul has to win at least 5 rings and break the assists record. Let's be honest here, the former is not happening. Though I expect Paul will retire with at least 1 ring, he probably won't amass 5. I think it's worth mentioning, though, that Paul doesn't have the same squad of legends playing with him. Who would you rather: Kareem, Worthy, and McAdoo or West, Chandler, and Peja? Neither option is terrible, but the Showtime crew is light years ahead of the Bees.

Ok, so he's too short and he won't win 5 championships. What's left? Oh yeah, the assists record. This is probably the most ridiculous statement of all. While it's no small feat that Magic broke the assists record (his 10,141 edged out the Big O's 9,887), it's preposterous to suggest that Paul has to accomplish the same feat in order to be considered on Magic's level. This is primarily due to the fact that a man named John Stockton came in and beat out Magic's record by 50%. Magic's total: 10,141. Stockton's: 15,806. So now, CP has to amass almost 16K assists just to be in the discussion.

While I agree that putting Paul on the same level as Magic is a bit premature, I don't think it's even remotely sacrilege to make comparisons. Dave Berri said it best:

Chris Paul in 2008-09 compares favorably to Magic Johnson. And that is a point I would emphasize. Chris Paul is developing into one of the all-time great players in NBA history. It’s not a stretch to start thinking of him in terms of players like Magic, MJ, and Bird. Yes, Paul is that good.

"Developing" is the key word in that sentence. Mr. Adande should just be happy that a point guard as exciting as CP (and possibly the most exciting since Magic) is in the league right now. Not to mention that he gets to watch that player's "development" unfold. He should also try watching more than 2 or 3 Hornets' games a season. It might help.


Ok, so having the best point guard in the league (and arguably ever) is a small consolation if this team can't bring home a championship. These arguments that circulate through the blogosphere are ostensibly meaningless since we really have no way of be 100% certain about something as subjective as how "good" a player is/was, never mind the fact that some of these comparisons are made between players who were stars in totally different eras.

In the end, these discussions are just a way of biding our time until our respective teams take home a championship. We don't like to admit it, but it's the truth all the same.

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