There's been a return to excellence for Chris Paul this season.
Some may say he never left it, but there were loud voices that didn't believe he could ever return to All-Star form this year.
He did that.
And before the abrupt pause of the NBA season due to the coronavirus pandemic, Paul was playing some of his best basketball of the season.
The 34-year-old ended a three-year absence from the All-Star game this year, but will he end a three-year exclusion from the prestigious All-NBA list? Not only should he be included, but when you dig a little deeper, he should be a first-teamer.
All-NBA isn't the All-Star game and it isn't the lifetime achievement award either. It's always been known as the best players in the league for that particular season, period.
From 2008 to 2016, Paul made All-NBA every year except one - the 2009-10 season, where he played in just 45 games due to injury. And while his numbers this season don't compare to the ones he put up in his prime, he's still been the best point guard in the league this season.
First and foremost, Paul has been healthy. He's played 63 of a potential 64 games this year, already the most he's played since his last All-Star season in 2015-16. Availability is the best ability and Paul has been there for the Thunder day in and out this season. His availability has led the Thunder to a surprising 40-24 record, good for the fifth seed in the tough Western Conference. According to Oddshark, the Thunder's projected win total this season was 32.5, a figure that they've comfortably surpassed.
OKC finished with 49 wins a season ago. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Thunder were on their way to a 50 win season. Considering what they lost in the offseason - two all-NBA performers - and what they replaced them with, the Thunder had no business eclipsing their win total from a season ago. They were on their way to doing so, and Paul was the main reason.
One of the biggest things Paul has been able to do in OKC is perform in the clutch. No team has played more (42) clutch games than the Thunder. No team has won (29) more clutch games than the Thunder. Chris Paul is the reason.
In the clutch this season, Paul is averaging 3.4 points while shooting 53.5% from the field. And when you want to ice the game at the free-throw line, there are few better than CP3, who's shooting 93.5% from the line in the clutch - ice water in his veins.
The best players in the league always have the ball in their hands whenever the game is on the line - this year Paul has been one of the best players in the entire league in money time which was never more evident than during the All-Star Game in Chicago in February. Yes, it's an All-Star Game, it's normally a meaningless game - except this year it wasn't.
When the game got real, both teams wanted to win and both coaches put their best five out on the floor to get a win. Chris Paul was not only one of those five, he was the best player on the floor. Paul finished with a team-high nine points and was a game-high plus-11 in the uber-competitive final frame of the All-Star game. When others may have run from the competition, Paul was standing right there in the heat of the battle declaring that he was still here and he was still as magnificent as he used to be.
.@CP3 shares the 10 things he can't live without #GQ10Essentials pic.twitter.com/RScAqzljLy- GQ Magazine (@GQMagazine) March 9, 2020
It's easy to dismiss CP3 when you put him up against the other guards who are likely to be considered for All-NBA first team. James Harden leads the league in scoring again and will likely finish in the top five in MVP voting. Luka Doncic has become one of the most dynamic stars in the NBA seemingly overnight. Damian Lillard, who made second-team All-NBA last season, is having an even better year this year, but Paul should be considered right alongside them for what he's done this year.
According to ESPN's real plus-minus (RPM), Paul has been one of the best guards in the league. Paul ranks in the top five for guards in RPM. Ahead of him is Steph Curry - who's played only five games - Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Luka Doncic.
Of the top five guards in RPM, Paul is the only one who isn't a complete negative on the defensive end. Paul's defensive real plus-minus 1.44 is far and away better than any of the four players ahead of him.
It's not a perfect stat - no stat is - but when measuring the impact a player has on his team's defensive performance, it's as good as it gets. And if we're going to use All-NBA to reward the best players in the league, we have to account for both ends of the floor. Is Paul the offensive threat that those other great players are at this point in his career? No, but he's a far better defender and that has to count for something.
Think of it like this: You can eliminate Curry, who's only played in five games this season while Harden doesn't quite measure up, seeing how he has Westbrook as a backcourt mate and the Thunder currently hold a better record than the Rockets. In Dallas, Doncic has a one-time All-Star in Kristaps Porzingis to help carry some of the load and in Portland, Lillard, who ranks 10th in RPM among guards, has C.J. McCollum as a running mate. This only makes the case for Paul stronger, as the second-best player on his team is his backcourt mate - a 21-year-old sophomore - Shai Gilgeous-Alexander that is still working to figure out the league.
"We always got a chance" - @CP3 after the Thunder's massive comeback victory over the Bulls on Dec. 16, 2019.- FOX Sports Oklahoma (@FOXSportsOK) March 18, 2020
Relive that magical second half tonight at 6 pm and 9 pm during special #encore presentations of the @OKCThunder on FSOK. #ThunderUp pic.twitter.com/A3azZGHF7B
The bottom line is this: Chris Paul is going to be an All-NBAer again this season. He's done enough to prove to many that he still has it and to the others who were arguing for him that he never lost it.
But he deserves consideration for not just being an All-NBAer, but being on the First Team.
This break allowed us all to take the time to go back and truly see that CP3 is back to being one of the best in the league.
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