Los Angeles Clippers guardChris Paul
(3) motions to his team in the first half against the Memphis Grizzlies during game four of the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs at the FedEx Forum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
In the coming days, we’ll be taking a look at the “wish list” for Danny Ferry and the Atlanta Hawks for the summer of 2013. The Hawks are blessed with around $30 million to spend in free agency, and while they have two internal options to consider (Jeff Teague and Josh Smith), there is a nice list of both restricted and unrestricted free agents available. The next few months could be crucial for the organization as they attempt to construct a “championship-level” roster, and all eyes are on Danny Ferry. In part one, we examine Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul.
Flash back to June 28, 2005.
The Atlanta Hawks were coming off of a wretched, 13-69 season, and as a result, held the #2 overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. With 7-foot center Andrew Bogut off of the board at number 1, the Hawks selected Marvin Williams, a small forward from the University of North Carolina who couldn’t crack the starting lineup on his college team.
Williams was the typical “upside” pick, as a 6-foot-9 swingman with alleged “elite” athleticism and skills as a freshman in college, and in a vacuum, the pick would have been excusable. The problem was that this draft pick wasn’t in a vacuum. The Hawks were in desperate need of a point guard, having started Tyronn Lue the previous season (not a joke), and there were two big-time point guard prospects on the board in Deron Williams and Chris Paul.
The rest is history, as Williams and Paul have both gone on to All-Star careers while Williams has toiled in mediocrity. Today, Chris Paul is the best point guard in the NBA and, as of July 1st, is an unrestricted free agent in a year where the Atlanta Hawks have the cap space to offer one or more maximum contracts. Coincidence? Probably, but Paul would look fantastic in a Hawks uniform.
During the 2012-2013 season, Chris Paul finished 3rd in the NBA in player efficiency rating (PER) at a sparkling 26.43. Only Lebron James and Kevin Durant (the consensus top-2 players in the league) had better efficiency numbers, and while PER isn’t the overriding statistic that many claim, it’s certainly a baseline to illustrate how valuable Paul has been. Paul also led all qualified players in assists per game at 9.7 (Rajon Rondo averaged 11.1 in limited time due to injury) and shot an impressive 48/33/89 slash line. It was his worst three-point shooting season since his rookie year, but as a career 35.6% three-point shooter, that’s not really a concern.
Defensively, Paul’s exploits garnered him a selection on the NBA All-Defensive first team for 2012-2013. Paul isn’t the “lockdown” defender that the rest of the players on that team are (think Tony Allen), but his positioning is consistently tremendous and he led the league in steals at 2.41 per game. Even if the first-team selection was potentially unwarranted (due to steals being wildly overrated), he’s an above-average defender without question, and when compared to the other “elite” point guards, he stands out on the defensive end.
The other side of Paul’s contribution is his noted leadership qualities. The Hawks have a tremendous leader in Al Horford, but he doesn’t have the same level of reputation as Paul around the league, and doesn’t seem to be the vocal guy that Paul displays regularly. He has one of the highest basketball IQ’s in the entire league, and is basically the picture of everything that a pure point guard represents.
Lastly, it would be irresponsible to discuss Paul without mentioning his semi-chronic knee issues. He has played 60 and 70 games respectively in his two years with the Clippers, and while it was generally accepted that he could play “if needed”, it is a concern to see a 28-year-old player taking extra rest with a documented injury. His level of play hasn’t suffered visibly, but giving a 5-year commitment to a small (6-foot) point guard with a leg injury doesn’t come without risk.
In the end, Chris Paul is the best player available on the free agent market this season. With the bloom coming off of the Dwight Howard rose (we’ll get to him in the coming days), Paul should be the number one target for Danny Ferry as July approaches, and while it is generally accepted that Paul is likely to stay in LA, he was quoted as saying that he wanted to play in Atlanta when he came out of college. There are also big-time whispers of dissension in Los Angeles between Paul and Blake Griffin, and if the situation becomes untenable, Atlanta could swoop in and collect the game’s best point guard. I would hope that Danny Ferry would be parked in Chris Paul’s driveway when July 1st comes around, and anything less than an instant “max” offer would be a shock.