Debating Chris Paul's place in PG history vs. Iverson


Chris Paul is finally having his moment.

The veteran point guard, long considered one of the league's most skilled players, reached his first Conference Finals over the weekend when the Phoenix Suns dispatched the Denver Nuggets in four games.

Paul's playoff failures have been the main knock on an otherwise obvious first-ballot Hall of Fame career, and now this run with the Suns is rewriting his story.

But does one good playoff run launch Paul into "best point guard ever" discussion? And, more importantly to Sixers fans, where does Paul land in relation to another 6-foot legend?

On Monday's episode of the Dan LeBatard show, the discussion of Paul vs. Allen Iverson came up, an intriguing conversation about two players with distinct and different play styles. Here's how the brief argument went between LeBatard and his co-host Stugotz:

"STUGOTZ: What I'm tired of hearing is that Chris Paul is a Top 5 point guard of all-time. They guy has never been the best player on a team that's made it to the NBA Finals, ever. Never been there.

"LEBATARD: It's so hard for guys that size specifically to be the ones carrying teams at the end of games, and [Stugotz] just simply wouldn't be talking about this person doing all of the same things if that person were 6-8.

"STUGOTZ: I mean, Iverson did it. Got the Sixers to the Finals.

"LEBATARD: Chris Paul is a better basketball player than Allen Iverson was.


"STUGOTZ: I don't think he is! I think Allen Iverson was a better basketball than Chris Paul, and I'm not just saying that because he took a team - a bad team - to the NBA Finals and had a 1-0 series lead over the Lakers in the NBA Finals. I just think Allen Iverson was a better basketball player.

"LEBATARD: He was when we didn't know the measurements on how good basketball players are, and it was okay to shoot 40%."

This, of course, got me thinking about the two players and their respective legacies. Both guys are right, somewhat.

Stugotz's argument that Iverson was better at carrying a team holds water. Paul's teams have routinely fallen short over his career, while Iverson trudged uphill in 2000-01 with a brutal supporting cast and torched the Kobe-Shaq Lakers in Game 1 before succumbing to a dearth of talent on his own roster. It's something Paul has never done: elevated his team beyond its capabilities when the games matter most.

But LeBatard's argument that Paul is, by every 2021 measure, a better basketball player might also be true. 

Here are Paul and Iverson's career numbers:

  • Paul: 18.3 PPG, 9.4 APG, 4.5 RPG on 47.2 FG% / 37.1 3P% / 87.3 FT%, taking 13.7 shots per game / 3.7 threes per game / 4.7 free throws per game  
  • Iverson: 26.7 PPG, 6.2 APG, 3.7 RPB on 42.5 FG% / 31.3 3P% / 78.0 FT%, taking 21.8 shots per game / 3.7 threes per game / 8.9 free throws per game

Iverson averaged 8.4 more points per game than Paul over his career, but he was far less efficient in every sense, and also racked up 3.2 fewer assists per game as well as nearly one fewer rebound per game. In terms of how we want guys to play basketball today, Paul is the easy choice.

The two also played in vastly different eras. Paul started his career in 2005, when Iverson had been playing for a decade. If Iverson came up at the same time, he likely would've been steered towards perfecting the three-point shot and becoming a slippery, more deadly version of Ja Morant with a three-pointer. He would've been a nightmare.

Ultimately, Paul is a spreadsheet's dream, while Iverson was the box office pull. They're two different guys in two different spheres, and their careers basically didn't line up at all. Can you definitively say one was better? Probably not.

But that's not going to stop anyone from trying. 

And if Paul winds up leading the Suns to a championship this year... well, then we might be having a different discussion.