An appreciation of Chris Paul’s ridiculous rookie year

Photo credit: nikk_la [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

I always romanticized the idea of a pure point guard who used guiles and wits to conduct his operatic offense. A player who could score but chose to empower his teammates first, who threaded the needle to hit a rolling big or flipped a pass to the corner mid-air. I spent hours playing NBA Live 2007, shooting and passing only with Steve Nash.

Today, we’re looking at arguably the best of our time, the State Farm legend himself, Chris Paul. Do please enjoy his below-the-rim top ten rookie plays, broken out in this VHS quality NBA video.

Since 2000, Paul produced the single best rookie season in my model, broken out in the attached graphic. Everything over zero is good, everything over one is really good, and anything above four is ridiculously, transcendently great.

I love this graph because it so perfectly shows the value of a floor general. CP3 is below-average in turnovers, but nearly all unsurprising for rookie PGs struggle with that. He blocked fewer shots, but produced well above-average in nearly every other stat. Paul scored often and efficiently, nearly a full deviation above his contemporaries in true shooting and two in points per game. Crucially, he’s over four standard deviations better in assists and steals per game. Paul even tops our entire list in Value over Replacement Player. 

Methodology results

Let’s dive into that a bit more. Paul produced assists and steals per game four full standard deviations above the mean. He’s effectively the 99th percentile for assists and steals among our rookies.

Despite a higher usage rate, he still scored more efficiently and often than other rookies. Paul actively contributed to wins on the court with such a high box-score plus minus. With Paul on the court, the Hornets produced a six point advantage, per Basketball Reference. 

The press release for his Rookie of the Year award summarizes his case well.

Paul won the Western Conference Rookie of the Month Award for each month of the 2005-06 season. In doing so, he became just the fifth rookie (Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James-2002-03, Tim Duncan-1997-98, David Robinson-1989-90) in NBA history to capture the award in every month of his rookie season.

Paul finished the 05-06 season ranked first in total steals (175), third in steals per game (2.24) and seventh in assists per game (7.8) in the NBA. Paul became just the second rookie in NBA history (Brevin Knight-1997-98) to lead the NBA in total steals. He led all rookies in scoring, assists, minutes, double-doubles, triple-doubles and steals for the season.

In addition, Paul recorded two triple-doubles, 23 double-doubles, scored in double figures in 65 games and had 20+ points in 23 games in 78 games (all starts).

He nearly won the award unanimously, missing out by one vote.

CP3’s competition

Deron Williams, the Utah Jazz rookie point, stole that other vote. This rivalry would only grow in the following years, as debate raged over who was the best point guard in the league.

Our projections had Williams far, far below Paul in any sort of awards conversation. Williams was the 203rd ranked rookie in my dataset, and the 11th in the 2005-2006 season behind players like Sarunas JasikeviciusSean May, and David Lee. He posted above-average assist totals, but really struggled with his efficiency and contributions to wins; he was below league-average for every single advanced metric that we analyzed. 

These metrics project nicely against future performances for both Paul and Williams. Paul led the league in assists four times and in steals six times. His career most aligns with legends like Jerry WestMagic Johnson, and Oscar Roberston, per Basketball Reference. Deron Williams improved his efficiency slightly but never had the impact that Paul did, especially on the defensive end. His analogues are Kyle Lowry and Tim Hardaway, fantastic point guards in their own right but never the league’s top guard.

I score Paul’s rookie season as the most dominant since 2000, and little has happened since to dissuade me from faith in my scoring system. Despite his well-publicized beefs, flops, fights, and increasingly strange fan-fiction with Oscar Nunez, he’s likely to end his career as one of, if not the greatest point guards to play the game. His rookie year showed the defensive, scoring, and playmaking chops that became his calling card, and our chosen advanced stats hinted at future greatness.

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