Chris Paul’s first All-Star game was in 2008. The game was played in Paul’s professional hometown of New Orleans. Outside of it being Paul’s first All-Star game nod, the importance of the event was enormous. The city of New Orleans was hosting the corporate and celebrity event three years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. The NBA back in New Orleans was a sign that the fragile city that Paul loved so much and called his “second home” was beginning to return to normal even though so much about New Orleans, the houses that would never be rebuilt, the lives that were lost forever, the residents who permanently stayed away, would bear the mark of a sorrowful tragedy.
Chris Paul was 22 years old when he was selected by the coaches to appear in his first All-Star game. The starting guards that year, voted in by the fans, were Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant. The next year (2009), Chris Paul was voted in by the fans with over two million votes. He was the fourth highest vote getter in the West, behind Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Yao Ming. In 2010, he was once again voted in as a starter, a streak that would last seven years. Paul would play in 8 straight All-Star games, in cities all across the country: Phoenix, Dallas, L.A., Orlando, Houston, New Orleans, New York. It made sense because Chris Paul was the NBA’s best point guard.
While Paul was organizing the Clippers offense and making clutch shots and driving his team with his hyper-competitive will, year in and year out, and being criticized for not getting out of the second round of the playoffs, quietly, the NBA was in the midst of a transformation. Point guards were becoming combo guards. They were scoring like crazy. They were athletes.
Russell Westbrook declared for the NBA draft the year Chris Paul made his first All-Star appearance. Westbrook wowed everyone at the draft combine with his speed and explosiveness. Kyrie Irving only played 11 games for Duke because of injury and was the number one pick in the draft. John Wall entered the NBA, a number one pick who was the fastest player at his position, someone with sprinters speed. Steph Curry was a lottery pick, a skilled three point shooter with a killer dribble. Damian Lillard was rarely seen on television but he was a lights out shooter and an off the dribble to the rim scorer. Even the second tier guards like Jeff Teague, Kyle Lowry,Ty Lawson, Mike Conley were changing how the position was being played. Chris Paul was still the NBA’s best point guard. But now he had company. And competition.
In the popularity matrix, Paul has been pushed aside for the younger, quicker, higher scoring combo guards. This year was the first time in 7 years Chris Paul won’t be voted in as an All-Star starter, the first time in 7 years he won’t be the most popular point guard with the fans. He is 30 years old now.
If Paul gets a game invite it will be because of the coaches vote. It’s going to be dicey. Coaches can vote for anyone, except their own player. They have 2 guard votes, 3 forward votes, and 2 wildcards that can be any position. The 2 guard votes are going to be Klay Thompson and James Harden. That leaves Paul as one of the wildcard spots. But should he get the nod over Damian Lillard who is having a career year scoring the ball? What if some coaches use their wildcards for two forwards, like Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins?
|The Better Season?||Points||Assists||Assist Percentage||Assist/Turnover Ratio||PER|
|Chris Paul||17.7||9.5||50.0%||3.61 (3rd)||23.6|
|Damian Lillard||24.7||6.9||34.4%||1.93 (46th)||21.1|
Don’t think that these All-Star nods aren’t significant to the players. They are. This year the game is being played in Toronto, the first time an All-Star game is not being played in the United States.
Justin Bieber is conscious of Chris Paul’s fragile All-Star status. He is asking his Twitter followers, of which 30 million have active accounts, to vote for Paul.
Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant played in the All-Star game in 2013 in Houston, Texas. Chris Paul was the MVP. He had 20 points, 15 assists and 4 steals. Kobe had two Kobe moments when he blocked LeBron James late in the 4th quarter to preserve the victory. Both Paul and Bryant have been the dominant foces for their resepective L.A. teams. Kobe hasn’t bee in an All-Star game in two years. This year’s game is special because it is his last go-round with the greatest young talent the NBA can amass. There is also an irony here. Kobe, in 20 years, has maintained his grip, his stranglehold. Like Paul, he had to deal with younger, faster, stronger. But they were never seen as Kobe-better. His mythology always triumphed over the new generation. He has been voted in as as a starter for 17 years in a row.
Several of Kobe’s Olympic teammates from 2012 will be in Toronto for his last All-Star farewell: LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, James Harden.
Will Chris Paul be in Toronto, too? The coaches vote will be revealed on January 21st, on TNT.
photo via llananba