The Oklahoma City Thunder has had at least one All-NBA player on their roster for ten consecutive seasons. I think this streak will be extended to eleven straight years when Chris Paul is named to an All-NBA team this year.
The All-NBA teams consist of six total guards. Four of those spots are locks; James Harden, Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard, and Trae Young will likely be named to the All-NBA teams. This will mean there are two spots up for grabs between guys like Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Donovan Mitchell, Ben Simmons, Kemba Walker, Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, and Kyle Lowry.
Eight guys fighting for two spots is a bloodbath, but I think Paul deserves a place on an All-NBA team. I will outline Paul’s case for the honor below.
Westbrook dominates Paul when it comes to per game stats, but the Rockets play at a faster pace, and Russell commands more of the ball. In terms of advanced metrics, Paul is better than Russell in nearly every category.
Westbrook has better counting stats, but he benefits from the high volume that leads guards to enjoy in a D’Antoni system. Paul’s counting stats are lower, but he is much more efficient. Paul has shown that he can take on a more significant load when the team needs him to close out tight games.
Russell’s poor performance for the first few months of the season will harm his chances. Paul has been incredibly consistent throughout the whole season; it will be difficult for Westbrook to overcome this consistency. It does not necessarily matter how efficient Russell has been since the New Year. Russell also has to battle against the national perception of being the #2 option on a team with a worse record. Paul benefits from being the #1 option on one of the most surprising teams in the NBA this season. Paul has a slight edge over Westbrook for these reasons.
Mitchell has the better per game stats, but the Jazz relies on Donovan to be a high-volume option on offense. His poor efficiency indicates why Paul has played a better season than Mitchell. Mitchell has scored 411 more points than Paul despite taking 430 more shots.
The only facet of Mitchell’s game in which he beats Paul is scoring. Mitchell gets more opportunities to quarterback the offense in Utah as he is a more gifted scorer than Paul. Mitchell is an excellent scorer from all three levels; Mitchell is comfortable taking challenging shots.
However, Paul is the better passer, rebounder, and defender. Paul is a more efficient scorer from the field when compared to Mitchell. Advanced metrics favor Paul despite Chris having significantly lower usage numbers. Paul deserves a spot over Mitchell.
In terms of traditional and advanced statistics, Paul and Simmons are very close to each other. I think Simmons is a top-five point guard, and both fans and the media exaggerate his shooting shortcomings.
I think the fact that Paul can shoot the ball efficiently and confidently will benefit his case for All-NBA. On the other hand, Simmons’ notoriety for not shooting the ball will, unfortunately, harm his candidacy.
Moreover, Paul has played in nine more games than Simmons; Paul has consistently produced on a nightly basis.
The Thunder have a better record than the 76ers; this is another feather in Paul’s cap. This point must be considered in regard to off-season expectations, Philly was seen as a championship contender. Oklahoma City was projected to win less than 35 games.
When it comes to culture, the Thunder and Sixers are opposites. OKC has the right mix of self-aware veterans who know their roles and hungry rookies who will listen to the team’s leaders. A player like SGA has benefitted from the tutelage providing by the team’s vets.
Conversely, Philadelphia has struggled to establish the pecking order; there is doubt about who is the team’s leader. There are also concerns that Brett Brown is not the guy to lead them to the promised land. Paul should be favored over Simmons.
Kemba has better scoring numbers but is less efficient than Paul because of Walker’s shot selection. Walker takes over half of his total shot attempts from three. Aside from scoring, Paul is better in every other way.
I think the most significant factor that will hurt Kemba’s All-NBA case is his lack of availability as he has played in 13 fewer games than Paul has this season. Durability is a factor when evaluating a player’s situation for All-NBA.
In terms of each player’s importance and value to their respective teams, Paul’s on/off number is +10.1 compared to Walker’s +0.2 this season. This number demonstrates how crucial Paul’s role with the Thunder is when compared to Walker in Boston.
This is another razor-thin debate, but I think Paul deserves it over Walker for durability and importance to his team’s success.
Booker blows Paul out of the water in traditional stats, but Paul beats Booker in advanced metrics.
Booker is a better scorer and shooter than Paul. Devin has displayed an ability to carry a heavy load on a nightly basis. Paul cannot take this kind of pressure every single night; he picks his spots carefully.
I think it is dumb to hold the poor team record against a player when it comes to individual accolades. However, the Suns being bad this season will be held against them. Voters will hesitate to select Booker over a future first-ballot Hall of Famer who is having a career renaissance.
The Suns being wrong and the Thunder being right will be what gives Paul the edge over Booker.
The narrative relating to Booker also applies to Beal. The critical difference is that Beal’s case is on steroids compared to Booker’s numbers.
Beal should quickly make an All-NBA team as he is averaging 30.5 PPG on 45.5 FG% while carrying a substantial offensive burden. The efficiency of both players is nearly identical despite Beal taking 498 more shots and 202 more three-pointers.
The gap between other skills is not wide enough for Paul to make up the scoring difference. For Paul to have a case over Beal, he would need to be significantly better in terms of passing and rebounding.
Beal’s case does have blemishes. Beal has worse value statistics such as Win Shares and VORP compared to Paul. Beal also plays on an evil Wizards team. These two notes will be significant enough for voters to write in Paul’s name over Beal’s on their ballots.
Lowry is the Chris Paul of the East Conference.
He is the veteran leader on the Raptors. Not only does he have traditional pedestrian stats, but he also has impressive advanced metrics.
He also has better per game averages than Paul. However, Lowry has fewer total points, rebounds, and assists as he has played in eleven fewer games than Paul. Lowry also has committed more turnovers despite having lower usage than Paul.
Lowry is a negative when it comes to on/off numbers. Lowry sits at an ugly -0.9 points per 100 possessions. These numbers can be misleading, but Lowry being in the negatives will hurt his case nonetheless.
Paul is more valuable to the Thunder’s success than Lowry is to the Raptors’ success. It is similar to the Westbrook argument above. Lowry is the #2 option on his team; Paul is the No. 1 option. Chris should benefit from the narrative advantage.
The player profiles and seasons for Paul and Lowry are eerily similar. Paul should get the advantage as he is the Coca Cola to Lowry’s Diet Coke.
Overall, if I had to guess on who I think should be the six All-NBA guards and who will be the six All-NBA guards, it will look something like this:
Who I think should be on the All-NBA teams:
First: Harden and Doncic.
Second: Lillard and Young.
Third: Paul and Beal.
Who I think will be on the All-NBA teams:
First: Harden and Doncic.
Second: Lillard and Young.
Third: Paul and Westbrook.
It would be pretty poetic if Paul were able to continue the Thunder streak of at least one All-NBA selection for the eleventh consecutive season by sharing an All-NBA backcourt with the player that the team acquired in his place.