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Stephen Curry or Chris Paul: Who is the NBA’s best point guard?

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Chris Paul and Stephen Curry are the two best point guards in the NBA, and they're set to clash again Wednesday night. But which one will claim the Point Guard Champion's Belt this season?

Trust me, you wouldn't like Chris Paul when he's angry.
Trust me, you wouldn't like Chris Paul when he's angry.
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Since I'm highly biased, I figured I should be the one to address this pressing question.

First, a word about the title: I believe Stephen Curry and Chris Paul are the best two point guards in the NBA in some order. If you disagree feel free to tell me in the comments and I'll be sure to read it.

Next, kudos to the notable point guards who won't be incuded in this discussion (by notable, I mean the guys who are most commonly mentioned. Let the record show that I think Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry are very, very awesome, as well). In no particular order:

Tony Parker: Gets crushed by either guard in advanced stats. Very hard to make an argument for him without counting rings.

Russell Westbrook: Going to miss four to six weeks with a foot injury. It will be almost impossible for him to outperform either Curry or Paul so much as to make up the difference.

Derrick Rose: I just can't trust this guy to stay healthy, yet. Check back in 2015.


Styles Make Fights

Part of the fun of comparing Paul and Curry is the old boxing idea that contrasting styles are more fun to watch. In this case, we've got the traditionalist Chris Paul and the avant-(point)-garde Curry. While CP3 appears to be the perfect manifestation of everything we've always known and loved about the point guard position (setting up teammates, running fast breaks, lockdown defense and bulldog toughness); Stephen Curry flips the equation on its head with an impossibly large shooting radius and a lightning-quick release-seemingly more video game than reality.

The case for Chris Paul...

Chris Paul is the more well-rounded guard, and that's a good news for the Clippers. Since coming to Tinseltown, the Clippers are annually at least +6.7 points better overall per 100 possessions when Chris Paul is on the court per basketball-reference.com. The all-star continues to help the Clippers every facet of the game, improving team defense, rebounding, assists rate, turnover rate and shooting when he enters the lineup.

Despite turning the ball over much more frequently and being labeled a shooting guard by some, Curry has a similar impact on the Golden State Warriors. In 2013-2014, Curry posted an incredible +15.1 on/off figure, no doubt aided by former coach Mark Jackson's archaic hockey-style player rotations.

Real Plus Minus, designed to control for Mark Jackson coaching, recognized Paul as 1.74 points per 100 possessions better than Stephen Curry, which quickly tells us that Paul was the more effective player last season, as he was each year before that. However, what about this season?


Passing (to the Human) Torch

It sounds strange to write it, but compared to Stephen Curry, Chris Paul is injury prone. While Curry has played back-to-back 78-game seasons since a disastrous 26-game 2011-2012 campaign, Chris Paul has fared worse: 62, 70, and 60-games played per season since joining the Fighting Ballmers. At 29 years old, Paul isn't exactly Steve Nash, but his recent track record nevertheless factors into my decision.

Injuries aside, Stephen Curry was already a better offensive player than Chris Paul by RPM a year ago despite playing in an iso-heavy pick-and-roll offense that really failed to effectively capitalize on his talents (or put more optimistically, allowed Curry to showcase the fact that he might have had the hardest job in the NBA last year). While RPM controls for teammates on the court and opponent, it does not account for unnecessary "hero ball" turnovers and contested shots.

...and the case for Stephen Curry.

Curry was assisted on just 45.6% of his league leading 261 three-pointers last season, down from a much more reasonable 61.4% a year earlier (likely due to the free agent departure of Jarrett Jack). Further, Curry led the NBA in unassisted field goals and three-point field goals last season—no player scored more with less help. What’s more, Jackson’s isolation-attack made precious corner three-pointers hard to come by, as Curry posted a very low 11.5% rate in this category, the lowest of his career (when’s the last time you saw a Curry highlight reel that featured a barrage of short porch three-point attempts? If you're unsure, play the video in front of you).

As Steve Kerr and his staff continue to tinker with a more "Spurs-ian" attack, we may see Curry begin to realize a frightening upside. What will happen if the best shooter in the NBA were able to take thrice as many corner threes, a spot from which Curry has shot 52.7% for his career (per basketball-reference.com)? For comparison, Spurs' star Tony Parker shot 59.7% of his three-pointer attempts from the corner last year (to Curry's 11.5%), a big reason why Parker, and many of his teammates, have turned into quality three-point marksmen. Stephen Curry doesn't need the corner: but there's no telling how great he would be if he could rely on his offense to get him shots at a rate even close to other great shooters.


The Verdict

I believe that Chris Paul is (for his career) one of the greatest point guards in NBA history. But while he's essentially flawless, he still plays within the well-defined confines of typical basketball players (think Morpheus' description of your rank-and-file Matrix Agents). Curry's incomprehensible range and the introduction of a rim-or-corner hyper efficient offense represents the potential of something much more spectacular and unknowable.

Admittedly, I'm putting a ton of blame on a former coach, and heaping a ton of expectations on an unproven first timer in Steve Kerr. That might make me an idiot a year from now-stay tuned. But if I have to pick one player this season, knowing fully well that I'm betting on volatile NBA futures: the possibility of Curry taking another leap from hyper-efficient to utterly game-breaking fills my sports-nerd head with awe. Adding in the injury track record and staff changes that I'm so bullish on, as well as the fact that I'm totally not biased, I feel as confident as your typical sports blogger in this pick.

I'm taking Neo. Bring it on.


*all stats from ESPN.com unless otherwise noted