Blog Entry

Legend vs. Star: Isiah Thomas vs. Chris Paul

Posted on: July 23, 2011 2:19 pm
Edited on: July 23, 2011 4:49 pm

By Matt Moore

We live in an immediate society. The internet, social media, the ever-accelerating news cycle, everything means that the next 30 seconds is 10 times more important than the last 30 seconds regardless of what actually happened in the past 30 seconds. As a result, we lose perspective on what stands truly relevant from the past. The NBA is no exception. So in an attempt to merge the two worlds (since, as a blog, we love/hate/want to be BFFs within the next 30 seconds), we'll be bringing you a look at players past and present, in relation to one another. 

We begin with Isiah Thomas and Chris Paul

Before Isiah Thomas' name was synonymous with the failure of the CBA (that's the Continental Basketball Association in this case, though you could argue that some of Thomas' later contracts offered might suggest he had something to do with this lockout), sexual harassment and the utter ruin of the New York Knicks as a professional basketball franchise, he was an incredible basketball player. He was an elite point guard from the moment he stepped on the floor at St. Joseph High School. He won a NCAA Championship at Indiana under Bob Knight (take a second and think about those two personalities sharing a floor). In his sophomore year, Thomas averaged 16 points and 5.8 assists while shooting 55 percent from the field.

So that's a pretty good start. 

You know how Blake Griffin made the All-Star team as a rookie, and it was a really big deal this year. Thomas made it in '82 when it wasn't quite so surprising, but Thomas also started, scoring 12 points with 4 assist and 3 steals. From there on, Thomas was an All-Star each year until his retirement in '93. He won the title in 1990 and 1991 with the "Bad Boys," even downing Michael Jordan's Bulls in the Conference Finals.  But those are just figures. To weigh Thomas' impact, much like to weigh Chris Paul's, you have to actually go back and watch. 

But even the highlight clips don't really show the kind of control Thomas had on the game. At only 6-foot-1 (that's right, the same size I have mocked Kemba Walker for being continually ... every time I read that height I get queasy to a ridiculous degree), Thomas was in such firm athletic control of his opponents, he was always one step in front of them, always in charge. Players had a remarkably difficult time forcing Thomas into doing anything he didn't want to do. His control and precision were offset by his scoring range, which was pretty much omnipresent. It was this control that allowed him to make defenders seem as if they were just trying to keep up with big brother. 

Paul, on the other hand, never won a championship at Wake Forest, though he was just as highly lauded for his intensity and performance. In Paul's first six seasons, he's established himself as the best point guard in the league (Derrick Rose fans, this is qualifying point guards under the traditional role; Derrick Rose isn't a point guard, he's Derrick Rose, which is more than a point guard). Paul's  ability to make his teammates better is arguably higher than that of Thomas. The comparisons between the two relative to Paul's stage of his career are eerily similar. 

From (click to enlarge):



Thomas scored more, but needed more shots. He had more assists, but had a higher usage. Essentially, were Paul to be as assertive with the ball as Thomas was at this point, his numbers would be even or better than Thomas, more than likely. But of course, injuries play a part. Paul has not only missed significant time with injuries since the infamous 2008 series with the Spurs that very nearly landed Paul in his first Western Conference Finals, but has admitted that he's holding back.  

In terms of style, Paul is much more beatific with his approach. His passes are delicate floaters, while Thomas' were primarily either lasers or high arcing bombs. Paul's 3-pointer is a dagger, while Thomas was more of a hoist. Thomas preferred the mid-range jumper while Paul's short-elbow floater is stunning in its lethality, when he turns to it. But there are vital comparisons. Both Paul and Thomas possess the intense desire to win at all costs that helped Thomas win the title. Of all the new breed of superstars, particularly those in the clique of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, etc., Paul's drive to win is perhaps fiercest. It was Thomas' intensity, or arrogance, depending on which side of the aisle you're on, that led to his feuds with various stars of his era. He and Paul share that, a willingness to tussle with nearly anyone. It is a relentless gear that never allows them to back down from anyone, while always then turning a smile to the camera. But Thomas' battles were almost personal, more vicious. While Thomas has, despite his numerous, nearly incalculable public relations disasters, been well-spirited toward his former rivals in retirement, at the time, it was Thomas against the world. 

Paul's approach has been different. He's much more calculating in his approach. He's willing to befriend anyone that will help him, and makes nearly no enemies. Paul is beloved by everyone. He's a darling of the league. A brilliant player who serves as a tremendous member of his community, an All-Star who pals around with the two-time MVP. He's everything to everyone, where Thomas was popular but also controversial.

In the end, Thomas gets the edge on Paul thanks to, you know, the championships. But Thomas won those when he was 28-29, two to three years older than Paul. CP3 has time. He has the mindset, the skills, and the leadership. He just needs the opportunity. As he showed us in the playoffs this year, Paul just needs a team good enough to support him and allow him to unleash that wolf in sheep's clothing he's often portrayed as (HT: Free Darko). 


Since: May 4, 2007
Posted on: September 1, 2011 1:17 pm

Legend vs. Star: Isiah Thomas vs. Chris Paul

chris paul is good. very good. isiah was great. ball handling wise isiah between the legs, around the back could out handle paul and maybe has top 5, top3 , top 2 all time nba best dribbling skillzzz. both guys were fiesty/arrogant/tempermental/nice guys (all in one) on the court. isiah has had maybe a few more nba skirmishes, but paul has his flare ups plus he has a 2 groin shot edge over Zeke from college days. remeber isiah adapted 2 do different styles. run & gun when he teamed up with tripucka, benson, long & others (led league wit 13.9 ast in '84-85. the 16 pts in 80 seconds vs. knicks) & the slow down, 1/2 court game for Chuck Daly during the championship yrs

Since: Mar 21, 2008
Posted on: August 31, 2011 9:44 pm

Legend vs. Star: Isiah Thomas vs. Chris Paul

Thomas, with out a doubt is a better player than CP3.  Thomas single handedly carried his Hoosiers to NCAA title then dominated, that is right, DOMINATED the NBA scene during its most glorious years ever.  Anyone who thinks Thomas wasnt all that, obviously did not see him play. 

Since: Nov 30, 2008
Posted on: August 28, 2011 9:04 pm

Legend vs. Star: Isiah Thomas vs. Chris Paul

But Isiah would run rings around Chris Paul !

Since: Jun 5, 2011
Posted on: August 2, 2011 1:48 am

Legend vs. Star: Isiah Thomas vs. Chris Paul

Well Thomas has proven himself stupider.

Since: Jun 30, 2009
Posted on: August 1, 2011 6:11 pm

Legend vs. Star: Isiah Thomas vs. Chris Paul

well said.

Since: Oct 29, 2007
Posted on: July 30, 2011 12:00 am

Legend vs. Star: Isiah Thomas vs. Chris Paul


You are correct that the players of today are better athletes, have better diet, training, etc.  Unfortunately, no matter how much emphasis people want to place on athleticism, it still boils down to skill as the factor most responsible for success.  If all it took were athletics, Usain Bolt would be in the NBA right now as I'd pretty much guarantee he'd outrun and outjump everybody on the planet.  How'd Vince Carter turn out?  He's about as athletically gifted as anyone in the history of the NBA but he's way down on the list of all-time 2Gs.  In fact, most of the guys you mentioned were physical freaks but have alot of holes in their games.  Lebron? He can't drive left handed, has a below avg jumper, no post up game whatsoever, and melts under pressure, he does have nice dunks though.  Shaq was outplayed by many "old school" players such as Olajuwon.  You must be a twenty something because you seem to be caught up in the ESPN "combine measurement" mentality.  It's a place where Stephen Strasburg is better than Nolan Ryan. 

In silly comparisons like this, all we can do is measure how an individual performed against his generation.  Isaiah wins that discussion before it even starts.  Who is better Bird or Lebron?  I'll say Bird.  I think most (unless you are under 30) will agree.  If you say he couldn't be effective against the athletes of today, see how he did against Wilkins (one of the greatest athletes in NBA History), Barkley, or any SF for that matter.  The only modern player that deserves to win the comparison game over the greats of yesteryear is Duncan.  He is a champion, one of the highest skill-levels ever, and a great team player.



Since: Jul 29, 2011
Posted on: July 29, 2011 8:58 pm

Legend vs. Star: Isiah Thomas vs. Chris Paul MUST consider your comments about the first 6 seasons of career. Isiah was going against 76ers w/Moses, DR J, and Barkely to name a few, the mighty CELTICS, and a much, much stronger NBA overall with deep rosters, hard nosed players, fundametally sound players and much more stingent rules. Chris Paul is competing in his 1st 6 seasons against an expanded league with way more teams, watered down rosters, and quite frankly a very weak fundamentally sound sport now adays where you can carry the ball every dribble and all the rules are catered to offense. Although Chris Paul is very talented and a bright future, until he dominates the playoffs and FINALS like Isiah did and wins a few titles, he simply takes a definite back seat to him.

Since: Sep 20, 2008
Posted on: July 26, 2011 2:30 pm
This comment has been removed.

Post Deleted by Administrator

Since: Jul 24, 2011
Posted on: July 26, 2011 9:43 am

Legend vs. Star: Isiah Thomas vs. Chris Paul

, In Isiah's first 6 seasons his teams won 267 regular season games (with him playing in 474 of them) and went to the conference finals once, the semi-finals once, and were eliminated in the first round twice. In Paul's first 6 seasons his teams won 265 regular season games (with him playing in 425 of them) and went  semi-finals once, and were eliminated in the first round twice. So basically (if you compare their first 6 seasons), only Isiah's '86-'87 team which went to the conf. finals was the only team that was vastly superior to Paul's teams.  

Also, Isiah had his highest scoring outputs (3 consecutive seasons of over 21 ppg) before Joe D ever arrived. He had his most efficient FG% in Joe D's first year, but that was a single outlier.

As for Isiah being a volume scorer somewhat in the mold of AI, he had 7 seasons where he shot at least 46% (rounding) from the floor and AI had only 2 seasons where he shot at least 46% (rounding), but Isiah had only one season where he averaged at least 19 fga/gm (he also shot 47% from the field that year) whereas AI had 11 seasons where he averaged at least 19 fga/gm (in 8 of which he shot less than 43% from the field, including 2 seasons below 40%). AI had 10 seasons where he averaged about 9 fta/gm vs six seasons of about 6 fta/gm for Isiah. IMO their games were very dissimilar, but they were not all that dissimilar athletically, both of them could jump out of the gym and were lightning quick.

IMO Thomas was more of a traditional point guard but he also had great scoring ability. He typically got everyone involved and was capable of putting his team on his back and taking over when necessary (Paul has displayed this too, but not to Isiah's level).  Isiah's 16 pts in the last 94 seconds to force overtime in the playoffs, and his NBA Finals record of 25 pts in a single qtr is legendary stuff.

Paul is special, but hands down, give me Zeke.


Since: Dec 18, 2008
Posted on: July 26, 2011 8:38 am

Legend vs. Star: Isiah Thomas vs. Chris Paul

Isiah had the ability to take a game completely over.  I saw him many times take over a 4th quarter and bring the Pistons back to win.  Many times he would finish with 30 points....20 being in the 4th quarter.  Isiah was a very clutch player too....always the right descisions in the 4th quarter....and also a very coachable player.  He won games for the Pistons when the team was down.  CP is great.  I love his game.  He is silky smooth with his offense, but Isiah would simply attack the defense.  In many ways I think Isiah is more like an Allen Iverson in his prime.  Very aggressive on offense.  Isiah was a better team player than Iverson however, but his offensive arsenal is more like Iverson's than CP.  Many people have said Isiah was like MJ, but just a lot smaller.  Being a life long Piston fan I actually would hear this said by announcers quite often.  Isiah is probably one of the most underrated players of all time, partially because of being outshadowed by MJ and Magic, but also because he played in Detroit.  Keep in mind he has 2 rings also (back to back).  Not a lot a players of his calliber can say that. 

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