LeBron James and Kevin Durant have continued to hold down the No. 1 and 2 spots, but that third spot has served as a source of opportunity for every superstar in the league.
This is not to say Paul wasn't a top three player before nor is it to suggest that he was under or overvalued previously. Instead, it's an emphasis on his now irrefutable place with the NBA's hierarchy.
The point guard is subtly having a career year in every facet of the game. No, his 17 points, 9.3 assists and 2.6 steals aren't career highs, but they have helped put him in a class all his own.
He's first in the league in steals, trails only Rajon Rondo in assists and is currently the only player in the NBA averaging at least 15 points, nine assists and two steals per game. He's also tied for second in win shares with LeBron (7.2), behind only Durant (8).
And yet, while all of that helps separate Paul, it doesn't distinguish him.
The impact he's had on the Los Angeles Clippers.
Paul has proved to be an unrelenting cure-all for the team that he led out of the Los Angeles Lakers' shadow. He directs the offense with ease and confidence, and raises the bar for his teammates as an unyielding two-way force on the court.
It's not just his court vision or his efficient shooting touch either, but what he does with them.
When on the floor he assists on 44.9 percent of the Clippers' field-goals, the third-highest mark in the league. Los Angeles also scores at a rate of 115.2 points per 100 possessions, an obscenely high mark that plummets to 102.9 when he sits down.
Paul's impact doesn't end on offense either. His execution on defense rarely receives due recognition. He's one of the best in the league at reading first steps and his personal footwork is unmatchable. Weak side attacks are also futile, as Paul can lockdown the path to the basket from any direction.
Opposing point guards hardly stand a chance when they take the floor against Paul.
Per 82games.com, Paul is holding opposing point men to a PER of 11.5 per 48 minutes, well below the league average of 15.
You should be.
Some have compared Paul's impact to that of Jason Kidd during his days with the New Jersey Nets, when his impact went way beyond the box score and he turned the perennial losers around en route to NBA Finals appearances in 2002 and 2003. This season is similar for Paul, the five-time All-Star who has raised the collective standards and is worthy of MVP consideration. Paul is averaging 16.3 points, 9.2 assists (second in the league), and 2.7 steals (first in the league).
Paul embodies everything we cherish in a superstar. From his stats to his selflessness to the impact he has on those around him, the man is an athletic stud. One who has changed the narrative of an entire team.
Remember, even with Blake Griffin, the Clippers were a joke, the laughing-stock of the NBA. Yet that's all changed.
Because of Paul.
He's the one who has willingly taken up the mantle as his team's end-all. He's the one who has helped transform Griffin into a versatile scorer. He's the one who makes everyone around him a better player.
And he's the one who the Clippers simply cannot live without.
Can we even say that about LeBron and Durant?
Yes, but only to a certain extent.
James is merely furthering the reputation of a storied franchise in the Miami Heat and while Durant has essentially built the Oklahoma City Thunder, he wasn't forced to take the reins of a perpetually mocked franchise.
And as J.A. Adande of ESPN.com notes, the Clippers would be nothing without him:
The Clippers franchise won only 19 games the 2008-09 season. The delayed debut of Blake Griffin gave them hope and excitement, but nothing close to a winning record. The trade for Chris Paul reset the standards and gave them grandiose visions. In quiet conversations they’ll tell you they are targeting a championship this season, and the only reason more people aren’t agreeing with them is because they’re the Clippers.
I won't sit here and attempt to convince you Paul is better than James and Durant. But understand that outside of those two, no one in the league comes close to Paul—especially when we're talking about point guards.
Take Rondo, the floor general who Paul is compared to most. Many believe him to be the league's best distributor, yet he doesn't even come close to making the same impact as Paul.
Paul's ever-improving reputation is not to be understated or trifled with.
He has taken his game, along with his team, to new heights and become a part of an MVP conversation that was supposed to have a population of two.
But things change.
The Clippers have changed, Paul has changed and our impression of him has changed as well.
How much so?
To the point where anyone in this league not named LeBron James or Kevin Durant can be mentioned in the same breath as Chris Paul
*All stats in this article are accurate as of Jan. 8, 2013.
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