When Chris Paul was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder last offseason, many expected him to get shipped to another team quickly since the Thunder appeared headed towards an immediate and complete rebuild.
That was the logical assumption, too, since Oklahoma City had just traded away Russell Westbrook, arguably the franchise’s most accomplished player ever, and Paul George, who finished third in the prior season’s MVP vote. (No, really.)
Little did we know the Thunder would actually improve upon their win percentage under Paul’s leadership and production, comfortably make the playoffs and push further than anyone expected them to before the season tipped off.
One could easily make the case that because we underrate Paul so much, we didn’t realize he might be able to singlehandedly make Oklahoma City a better team, despite what they lost from their roster last summer.
Below, more reasons why we think the future Hall-of-Famer is so underrated.
Despite lack of rings, he’s a beast in the playoffs…
In sports culture today, it has become all too common to criticize players if they never win a championship, even if they went above and beyond what was expected of them in the playoffs and it really wasn’t their fault.
This is true for Paul more than any other active player.
Paul’s postseason shortcomings – never making it to the Finals, only reaching the conference finals once, getting injured in huge playoff moments – are overstated, as the Wake Forest product is actually extremely productive in postseason competition, averaging 21 points, 8.2 assists and 2.1 steal over 108 playoff appearances.
Even this year, in a hard-fought Game 7 defeat to the heavily favored Houston Rockets, a game that few even expected the Thunder to reach, Paul made history by becoming the oldest player to have a triple-double in a Game 7.
It is fair to knock Paul on his durability in the postseason, which became especially problematic in 2018 when his team at the time, the Rockets, had their best chance to take down the dynastic Golden State Warriors featuring Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry, taking a 3-2 series lead in the Western Conference Finals before losing the final two games of the series.
Nevertheless, Paul has always performed at an extremely high level in the postseason, he’s just very seldom had a championship-caliber team around him to help reach the top of the mountain. It’s just really difficult, if not borderline impossible, for an undersized point guard like Paul to be the best player on a title team.
He’s had an unreal sustained level of excellence…
Because of his size and injury history (nothing major, but he has missed a lot of time throughout his career with random knocks), not many expected Paul to be this good today, at 35 years of age.
And yet, Paul is coming off an All-Star campaign this season – in the Western Conference, no less – where he averaged 17.6 points and 6.7 assists and led a young-but-hungry Thunder team to a playoff appearance as the West’s No. 5 seed.
It was the 10th All-Star showing of Paul’s career, the first of which came in his age-22 season back in 2007-08. That’s a difference of 12 years between his first and latest All-Star campaign, proving just how incredible his longevity has been, especially when you factor in his physical shortcomings.
It must also be noted that Paul is the only player since 1983-84 to play at least 1,000 games and be a starter in every single one of them.
How’s that for longevity as a top-notch point guard?
He elevates teams like few others in history…
That’s not an opinion either, but a statistical fact, as, per our research, Paul has raised two teams’ winning percentages by an extreme margin.
During his time with the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul lifted the franchise’s win rate from a laughable 37.9 percent without him to 68.5 percent with him on the roster, an absolutely absurd feat. In fact, that 30.6 percent raise in win percentage was the highest among the players we researched.
What’s even crazier is that Paul actually made two appearances on the list, as Paul also raised the Hornets’ win percentage by 12.8 percent when he was on the team.
He may not have the rings to show for it, but there’s no doubt Paul is a winning player and has been for his entire career. You don’t make it to 12 playoffs in 15 seasons by accident.
This year was like a microcosm of Paul’s overall career, where he was the main reason his team was even in the playoffs and made it as far as they did. No, he didn’t win a title, but it was noteworthy and impressive nonetheless.
It was nothing new for Paul, either, as even in his New Orleans days early on in his career, he was dragging an often mediocre (at best) roster to the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference. For comparison’s sake, the star point guard qualified for the postseason three times during his time with the then-Hornets; Anthony Davis was only able to do that twice while in New Orleans.
He comes up big in key moments…
It may not necessarily always be with the final shot (though it has been in the past), but Paul is usually a force late in games with results hanging in the balance.
A perfect example of that came this season, where Paul led all players in total clutch scoring (defined as points produced when a game has fewer than five minutes left and a score is within five points) with 150 points, which he scored quite tidily on 52.2 percent shooting.
Without Paul’s ability to step up late in games this season, (the Thunder were tied for No. 1 in the league in games with clutch situations while leading the NBA in clutch wins), Oklahoma City wouldn’t have come close to making the playoffs.
There are also historical examples of Paul’s clutchness, the most memorable one taking place in Game 7 of the first round of the 2015 playoffs, where the 6-foot-1 ball-handler, with his team down by one, sank an unforgettable bank shot over Tim Duncan to send the Clippers to the second round of that year’s postseason.
Paul being able to get crucial buckets at his size against some of the NBA’s scariest behemoths is a testament to his greatness.
He’s got some truly wild statistics accumulated so far…
When you’ve been as great for as long as Paul has, you’re going to have some pretty ridiculous stats by your name in the record books.
For example, Paul, with 9,653 career assists and 2,233 career steals, ranks seventh in both categories historically in the NBA. That makes him one of just three players, along with Jason Kidd and John Stockton, i.e., two of the greatest point guards who ever lived, to rank in the Top 7 of both major categories.
What’s more, Paul’s 9.5 career assist average and 2.2 career steal average place him fourth and seventh historically in those two statistics respectively. He’s the only player ever to rank in the Top 7 in both of those stats, average-wise. That’s nuts.
Paul is also the only player in league history to lead the NBA in steals on six separate occasions (the No. 2 finishers in most times to lead the league in takeaways all merely did it three times), he was the youngest player to ever lead the NBA in assists (which he did at 22 years old while averaging 11.6 nightly), and one of just two players with multiple 20-point, 10-assist, 2-steal campaigns, along with Isiah Thomas.
Oh, and for good measure, he’s the fourth-leading rebounder in NBA history among players 6-foot-1 or shorter.
For Paul to be able to do that while being generously listed at that height without being a super explosive athlete like the Russell Westbrooks or Derrick Roses of his era, and while doing the majority of his damage efficiently in the midrange during a time where that shot is beyond frowned upon, is wild.
And it’s why he’s the ultimate floor general of his era, a no-doubt first-ballot Hall-of-Famer even if he never wins a title, and why we think he’s so underrated.