Chris Paul vs. Deron Williams, Again

Posted on November 14, 2007 by

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Maurice Brooks (a feature writer at NBA.com) and John Jacobson (an editor at NBA.com) had an on-line debate last week concerning the relative merits of Deron Williams and Chris Paul.  Here is an excerpt from their conversation: 

Here is an instant messenger conversation I had with NBA.com editor John Jacobson.
John: Mo, take this as constructive criticism. There is no way that the Jazz’s Deron Williams is better than the Hornets Chris Paul.
Maurice: Good afternoon to you too.
John:: Oh my bad, how’s it going?
Maurice: Anyway, I don’t know about that. I originally thought that Paul was the more talented of the two, but last season Williams passed him by.
John: How do you figure?
Maurice: Where do you work at again? With the exception of Phoenix’s Steve Nash and New Jersey’s Jason Kidd, Williams was the best point guard in the league last season. He averaged 16.2 points, 9.3 assists and 3.3 boards a game and he led the Jazz to the Northwest Division title.
John: Williams’ postseason performance and Paul’s injury woes have wrongly convinced people that Deron had a better season, but if you look beyond the most basic statistics you would see that Paul was more productive. The Jazz would be better off with Paul at the helm and any Gm would be crazy not to take CP3 over his Utah rival.
John: And by the way, if you want to simply compare basic stats, Paul’s numbers were great. He put up 17.2 points, 8.9 assists and 4.3 rebounds. Across the board, he had better stats.
Maurice: Last time I checked, 9.3 was greater than 8.9. I thought you graduated from Princeton?

There is more to this conversation, but I think you get the basic idea.  I would note that the link I placed in bold takes you to the following column, which I wrote last May. 

Defending Chris Paul

This post compared Chris Paul and Deron Williams both in college and the NBA.  What I would like to do today is update this column.  But before I get to that, I want to note a few comments offered on this subject by Tim Legler of ESPN.com.

First, let’s look at Paul. He has put up great numbers, but the thing I like about him the best is he’s a great decision maker. Since he first had the ball in his hands at the NBA level, he was the leader of that team. …. Williams, however, will be an All-Star this season. What he did in the playoffs last season put him on the map as probably a top four point guard in the league. … If I had to take one, I’d pick Williams, because I think he’s got a little bit more in each area. I like a point guard with more size (6-3, 208 pounds) who’s more physical, who can take contact at the rim. Still, you’re not going to go wrong with either guy.

Okay, let’s review the arguments.  Both Maurice and Tim place Deron Williams among the top point guards in the league.  And although each thinks Paul is very good, both prefer Williams.

John differs with this perspective.  And although everyone cited numbers, only John noted analysis that looked “beyond the most basic statistics” and considered the wisdom (or something like wisdom) of Win Score and Wins Produced.  And as noted back in May, when we consider The Wages of Wins metrics it’s clear that Williams ain’t no Paul.  At least, that’s the story told by the following tables (re-posted from the earlier column). 

Table One: Williams and Paul in College

Table Two: Williams and Paul in 2006-07

What about this season?  Each player has only played eight games, which is not much of a sample.  Still, we have numbers so let’s see what they say.

Table Three: Chris Paul and Deron Williams After 8 Games in 2007-08

Let’s start with Williams.  So far this year (and yes, this is just eight games), Williams is having his best season as a pro.  Relative to an average point guard, he is above average with respect to shooting efficiency, points scored, blocked shots (just barely), assists, and personal fouls.  His WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] stands at 0.189, which is well past the average mark of 0.100. And if he maintains this performance, and plays all 82 games, he will produce 12.3 wins this season.

To put that in perspective, here are the top five point guards in Wins Produced from 06-07.

Jason Kidd: 24.8 [0.405 WP48]

Steve Nash: 19.4 [0.348 WP48]

Chauncey Billups: 13.4 [0.252 WP48]

Chris Paul: 13.2 [0.270 WP48]

Gilbert Arenas: 11.0 [0.180 WP48]

Again, this is only eight games.  But it looks like Williams might be a top five point guard right now.

But is he better than Paul?

Going back to Table One we see that Paul exceeds the productivity of Williams (not just the average point guard, but Williams) in the following statistics: Points scored, free throw percentage, rebounds, steals, assists, personal fouls, Win Score, WP48, and Wins Produced. Yes, Paul beats Williams in everything except shooting efficiency, blocked shots, and turnovers.

When we turn to WP48 and Wins Produced, we see how big of a difference there is betweent these two players.  Again, Williams has posted a 0.189 WP48 and is on pace to produce 12.3 wins.  Thus far this season, Paul – and again, this is only after eight games – has a WP48 of 0.457.  That translates into 26.5 wins across 82 games.  In sum, Paul is not just a top five point guard.  Relative to last year, Paul would have been the most productive player in the league at any position. 

Allow me to summarize.  Williams is a good point guard.  Last year only 35 of the 458 NBA players finished in double figures in Wins Produced.  And Williams is on pace to join this elite group.

Paul, though, is on pace for one of the most productive seasons in recent NBA history.  This can be seen when we consider what each player means to his team.  Both the Hornets and Jazz are off to very good starts.  But New Orleans is much more dependent on its star point guard. Whereas Williams produces about 19% of his team’s wins this year, Paul is responsible for 43% of his team’s victories. 

Now Legler might be right that Paul is also a great leader.  And he could be the second coming of Douglas MacArthur (or whatever great leader you wish to note).  Paul’s contribution, though, is indeed captured by the numbers.  And these numbers tell us that this is not a contest.  There is just no way, and I mean no way, that Williams is as good as Paul.  It wasn’t true in college.  It wasn’t true the first two years of their NBA careers. And it ain’t true this season.

– DJ

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at wagesofwins.com provides more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics