I’ve been a Suns fan since the 1988-1989 season where they acquired Kevin Johnson and Tom Chambers. It set off a period in my life where I didn’t miss watching, or listening to, a Suns game for almost five years. The same was basically true of the Nash era, where I managed to watch nearly every game. I even watched what games I could when Kidd and Marbury headed the team.
Which why it feels almost like a betrayal to say that Chris Paul is the best point guard to ever play for the Suns, even as a 36 year old in the twilight of his career
I can easily find ways in which each of the star point guards of the past surpasses Paul. Kevin Johnson’s reckless, lighting quick dashes to the hole are something the aging CP3 can’t hope to emulate. Jason Kidd was a defensive menace and perennial triple-double threat at 6 foot 4. Marbury carried a larger offensive burden. Steve Nash was a better shooter and more capable of making passes that left you wondering if he experienced space and time differently than the rest of humanity.
But none of those make them better players overall. Each of them had glaring weaknesses, or holes in their game, that other teams were capable of ruthlessly exploiting.
Kevin Johnson was frequently stripped of the ball during those mad dashes to the bucket, and never really had a three-point shot (except during those few years the NBA shortened the line). Teams could sag a bit to clog the lane, and hope that his stop-and-pop 20-footer wasn’t falling. His defense was also average at best. Yes, the Suns went to the finals in 92-93, but that was Barkley’s team, not KJ’s.
Jason Kidd came into the league shooting less than 70% from the free throw line, and usually a player that you could dare to shoot the three pointer, because it was as likely to be an air-ball as it was to go in. As brilliant a passer as Kidd was, and as good as he was at keeping turnovers down, his attempts to make the spectacular play resulted in some equally spectacular, and wholly unnecessary, turnovers.
Marbury, for all his ability to shoulder the scoring load, also dominated the offense and turned it into a one man show. This wouldn’t be terrible if he was a great shooter, but he wasn’t. Stephon was also a disinterested defender on a good day. The result were Suns teams that were mediocre at best, and generally landed in the draft lottery. His “Starbury” persona didn’t exactly lend itself to team play either.
The Nash-era teams from 2004-2007 were an offensive juggernaut and changed the meta of the NBA game with Seven-Seconds-Or-Less (SSOL). What was a blistering pace in 2004 would now be near the bottom of the league today. Nash had several brutal weaknesses though. First, his defense. Nash’s lack of foot speed made-him terrible one-on-one defender against quicker PGs, and his lack of strength made it too easy for bigger stronger ones to bull-doze their way through him. Also, for all his wizardry with the ball, he was a league-leader in turnovers with his high-risk passes that were still only worth 2 or 3 points when successful. (If the NBA awarded points for degree of difficulty like gymnastics, Nash would have been the league’s Simone Biles. But it’s not.)
Chris Paul, however, suffers none of these weaknesses. In terms of assist to turnover ratio, it can be argued that he’s the best PG ever, and his numbers in Phoenix are right in line with his career averages. You don’t dare leave him open or foul CP3. He barely missed out on the elite 50-40-90 shooting club this season, at .499-.395-.943, despite most of his two-pointers being from mid-range. He remains one of the elite defensive point guards in the game, based on finishing a close third in defensive real-plus-minus.
In short, teams can’t go at Paul on either end of the court, and the Suns don’t have to hide him on defense. You can’t leave him alone on the three-point line. You can’t run him off of it, because he will take you off the dribble and break the defense. Don’t switch on him, unless you’re prepared to be on a highlight reel of broken ankles. You don’t double him, because he will find the open man on a team full of shooters. You don’t drop off of him into the paint when he’s one of the most efficient mid-range shooters in the history of the NBA.
No matter what you do, he will find the optimum way to break your defense.
Paul’s intangibles are through the roof as well. He’s hacked the game of basketball by min-maxing his game. He sometimes knows the rules better than the refs, and he uses it to his advantage. He’s changes his approach to the game constantly throughout the contest to eke out every possible point of advantage and hold onto it once the Suns have the lead.
He understands the value of efficiency over everything else: of squeezing every possible advantage out of every second of the game. He’d rather wait to make the right pass a few seconds from now, than try to make the amazing one now. CP3 is a floor general who manages the game better than any other I have seen play for the Suns.
There’s also the intangibles of leadership. The man lives to play basketball and expects his teammates to take the game just as seriously. But, in a year of COVID with a team full of players who have never been to the playoffs, this was exactly the leader the team needed. Even if Booker, Ayton, and Bridges are the young stars, there is no question this is CP3’s team after he put his mark on it. He’s not interested in being MVP or being the face of the franchise: he’s here to win games.
Finally, a breakdown of why CP3 is the “Point God” wouldn’t be complete without mentioning how he still consistently has the ability to hoist a team onto his shoulders and carry it home in the 4th quarter. During the playoffs this year, even with a dinged shoulder and nights where it’s not falling in the first three quarters, Paul has been finding another level in the last 12 minutes. When he shoots a three with nine minutes to go and the game close, you just know it’s going in. He’s been one of the best clutch players in NBA history, and this post season is just a continuation of it.
CP3 is not the best point guard to play for the Suns because he’s the best passer, shooter, rebounder, or athlete. He is none of these things. It’s because he’s good to elite at everything a point guard should do, and there’s no glaring weaknesses in his game, the intangibles of forcing everyone around him to bring their game up, and having an uncanny ability to enter “the zone” on command in the 4th quarter.
If the Suns make it to the finals, it will be the first time in 28 years. Should this happen, Paul will likely be remembered as the best point guard to ever play for the club for many of the same reasons why Barkley is still seen as the best power forward to suit up for the club in its 51 year history. Eventually, his intensity and expectations will rub his teammates the wrong way, and father time will catch up with him. But in this glorious moment, he is the best Suns point guard we’ve ever seen.