Ranking the 50 greatest NBA players of all time

The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /
18 of 51
Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images /

34. Chris Paul

  • Resume: 15 seasons, 9-time All-NBA selection, 10-time NBA All-Star, NBA All-Star Game MVP, 9-time All-NBA Defensive Team, Rookie of the Year Award, 4-time NBA leader in assists, 6-time NBA leader in steals
  • Stats: 18.5 PPG, 9.5 APG, 4.5 RPG, 2.2 SPG, .471/.370/.870 shooting splits, 24.9 career PER, 180.4 win shares

This seems a bit high for a player who had once appeared in the most playoff games (76) without making a conference finals appearance, but thanks to his trade to the Houston Rockets, Chris Paul was finally able to get that monkey off his back in 2018. He was sensational in that series, and if it weren’t for a calf injury robbing him of Games 6 and 7, he might have been able to lead a team to the NBA Finals over the mighty Warriors dynasty.

In any case, even if he had still never made a conference finals, Dominique Wilkins cracked the list despite that same omission from his resume. Like the Human Highlight Film, that one drawback on his career wouldn’t have prevented CP3 from being Hall of Fame-bound, and it certainly won’t now that this incredibly stupid asterisk has been removed from his bio.

There have been low points in his career, of course. Not reaching the conference finals with a Los Angeles Clippers team that included Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick and head coach Doc Rivers will always look bad, especially after that unforgettable collapse in Game 6 of the 2015 conference semis, when the Clippers coughed up a 19-point lead and then lost Game 7 to squander a 3-1 series lead. The year before, notable late-game collapses against the Oklahoma City Thunder plagued Lob City as well.

However, to focus on Paul’s shortcomings would be to ignore the overwhelming evidence that he’s up there with Magic Johnson for the title of “best point guard ever.” His lack of championship success (or really, any sort of hardware) keeps him out of the “greatest point guard” discussion, but in terms of his on-court skill-set alone, he’s nearly unparalleled.

There are obviously flaws in his NBA resume, but what about the fact that before he arrived in L.A., the Clippers had an all-time win percentage of .367 over 41 years, making the playoffs just seven times, failing to reach 50 wins in a single season and posting a 24-34 playoff record (.414) in that span?

In his five full seasons there, the Clippers compiled a 273-137 regular season record (.666), won 50-plus games all five times and won nearly as many playoff games (20) as the franchise had in the 41 years prior (24).

Or, if you’re just fixated on playoff heroics, what about his Game 7 game-winner that lifted the Clippers over the mighty San Antonio Spurs in the 2015 NBA Playoffs?

Or how about his 41-point, 10-assist, seven-rebound masterpiece in Game 5 of the Rockets’ second round series against the Utah Jazz that finally secured his first appearance in the Western Conference Finals?

As you can see, Chris Paul is not lacking in statistical achievements. He’s got the All-NBA selections, All-Star appearances and league-leading achievements in both assists and steals to warrant a spot on this list, even without a championship to his name.

Paul’s command of the game and its tempo is otherworldly. He is the NBA’s living, breathing embodiment of what it means to be a “true point guard,” setting up his teammates, seeing the floor, controlling the game, playing stout defense and taking over with efficient scoring numbers when he has to. His seamless integration with another ball-dominant guard in James Harden just proves he’s the kind of teammate you’d want on your side.

This is as high as we can go without a major individual award or a championship, but even without them, and even with his overbearing command of his teammates, sometimes whiny demeanor, his all-around value and winning influence on younger teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and now the Phoenix Suns means CP3 belongs on this list as one of the purest point guards the game has ever seen.