There is plenty of discussion on whether Chris Paul has cracked the list of the top-5 point guards of all time. The “Point God” is not only a terrific leader on the floor and an all-time great playmaker, but his lack of success in the postseason has also critics convinced he will never make that list. Even if Paul made the NBA Finals last year, it was in a losing effort that continues to fuel critics.
No matter what anyone has to say about Paul in a negative manner, there is no denying he is an elite individual player with exceptional two-way play. After all, his resume is elite for a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Meanwhile, Isiah Thomas is often a point guard that is protected by most and hardly criticized.
The legendary point guard is one of the best point guards in NBA history because he brought elite competitiveness and aggression despite being a rather miniature guard at 6’1” and 180 lbs. Thomas played and competed as if he was a few inches taller and definitely heavier because he was one tough-minded competitor.
Of course, Thomas won back-to-back titles with the Pistons and was one of the “Bad Boys” responsible for beating up on a young Michael Jordan in the playoffs. No matter what anyone has to say about Thomas, there is no denying he is a part of NBA lore and is often regarded as a top-5 point guard ever.
But which superstar point guard is a better player with a better individual career? It is time to do a comparison between the two Hall of Fame stars without bias to come to a conclusion that could possibly settle the debate once and for all.
Isiah Thomas: 2 (1989, 1990)
Finals Record: 2-1
Chris Paul: 0
Finals Record: 0-1
Isiah Thomas is respected by most of his peers and pundits because he did things that very few players could ever do: win multiple NBA championships with the same team. Thomas was not only a vocal leader on the court and a fantastic performer, but a winner of the highest order. The first time Thomas and the Detroit Pistons made the Finals came in 1988 in a showdown against Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The series did not end up in Thomas’ favor, because Magic and Finals MVP James Worthy were able to sneak past a hungry Pistons squad in a scintillating Game 7. The contest ended 108-105, with Worthy dropping 36 points in a clutch performance. As expected, Thomas and the Pistons were not going to lie down.
He once again guided the Detroit Pistons to the NBA Finals in 1989 and was a key contributor in the series by averaging 21.3 PPG and 7.3 APG in a 4-0 sweep against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Pistons were hungry, talented, and aggressive enough to take care of business against their Western Conference rivals. Joe Dumars ended up winning Finals MVP.
The second straight championship came in the 1990 season when Thomas had his best series by posting 27.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, and 7.0 APG while controlling the Detroit offense. Thanks to a 5-game “gentleman’s sweep”, the Pistons took care of business against the Portland Trail Blazers that had the likes of Clyde Drexler and Jerome Kersey. With back-to-back titles, the Pistons are also one of the only teams in NBA history to win a title without an MVP award-winner on the team.
Chris Paul, even at nearly age 37, has not won an NBA title just yet. He has a chance to win at least one award with the contending Phoenix Suns since the team is stacked with young talent including Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, and Deandre Ayton. The first time Paul made the Finals came in the 2021 Finals when the point guard was 36 years old. The leader of the team, Paul had a strong series averaging 21.8 PPG and 8.2 APG in the series.
But Phoenix were outmatched in every department by a Milwaukee Bucks squad led by Giannis Antetokounmpo. Due to the Bucks’ elite defense, Giannis’ dominance, and some questionable defensive tactics by head coach Monty Williams, the Suns fell in 6 games. While this was a hurtful loss for an aging Chris Paul, he has the utmost belief that he will return to an NBA Finals again.
It is unlikely, however, that Paul will win two NBA titles to equal Isiah Thomas’ tally over a career.
Advantage: Isiah Thomas
Finals MVP Awards
Isiah Thomas: 1 (1990)
Chris Paul: 0
Since Isiah Thomas was a championship-winner with the Detroit Pistons and captured back-to-back titles, it is only natural to have a Finals MVP trophy. His performances in the 1990 Finals series against the talented Portland Trail Blazers squad was certainly impressive, because putting up 27.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 7.0 APG, 1.6 SPG, and 0.4 BPG on 54.2% from the field are superstar numbers. Considering Thomas completely took over the series, he deserves major respect for accomplishing a rare feat in earning his second straight championship. Interestingly, Thomas made 11 out of 16 attempted threes in the series, good for an impressive 68.8%. Isiah also outscored Clyde Drexler, a player considered an elite offensive player, and led all players in PPG during the series.
Chris Paul has never won an NBA title, and he has not won a Finals MVP trophy just yet. The point guard will hopefully have chances at becoming the best player on the best team in the Western Conference because the Suns look like they will be a force for at least a few more years to come. Considering the way CP3 is playing at this stage of his career, he might be able to play a few more seasons at an elite level.
Phoenix have plenty of depth around Chris Paul, so playing on an elite team could extend the legend’s career enough to where he can play in a few more NBA Finals and possibly capturing his first Finals MVP trophy.
Advantage: Isiah Thomas
NBA MVP Awards
Isiah Thomas: 0
Chris Paul: 0
Isiah Thomas never won an MVP award, a major reason why his Detroit Pistons squad that won 2 NBA championships is one of the most heralded teams ever. The reason? That squad did not have a player who captured an MVP award, because their best player Thomas never won an MVP. The closest finish he ever got in an MVP race was 5th, so he was quite far off over his legendary career.
Similarly, Chris Paul never captured an MVP. It seems that point guards, especially miniature ones, can only do so much in terms of putting monster statistics and earning the award as the best player in the world. Paul is an elite two-way player, and the closest finish he ever got was 2nd place in 2008 behind legendary shooting guard Kobe Bryant. Even if Paul came closest to winning an MVP award, he still does not have one.
Isiah Thomas: 5 (3 First Team, 2 Second Team)
Chris Paul: 10 (4 First Team, 5 Second Team, 1 Third Team)
All-NBA Team selections are one of the most important determinants of a player’s career because it signifies a star’s ability to impact the game at a high level for their sides. Only 15 players are chosen on All-NBA Teams at the end of the year, basically separating the cream from the rest of the crop. In terms of All-NBA selections, Isiah Thomas has only made 5 over his career.
Thomas never put up eye-popping stats during the regular season and was generally an All-Star who would turn it up a different level in the playoffs. Standing 6’1” and weighing only 180 lbs, Isiah could only do so much in terms of putting excellent all-around numbers. Known as a playoff competitor, Thomas made 5 All-NBA Teams in his career (3 First Teams). Of course, playing in the same league as talented players such as Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan took away a lot of his votes.
Meanwhile, Chris Paul made a total of 10 All-NBA Teams in his career. By the time the 2021-2022 All-NBA Teams come out, it is likely CP3 will make his 11th selection. Very few point guards in the NBA today can bring the type of leadership that Paul brings, especially because the paradigm shift towards point guards playing slightly more selfishly has taken effect. Making 4 First Teams and 5 Second Teams, there is no denying that Chris Paul is one of the most consistent regular-season performers of his time.
Advantage: Chris Paul
Isiah Thomas: 12 All-Star Appearances, 2 All-Star Game MVPs
Chris Paul: 12 All-Star Appearances, 1 All-Star Game MVP
Isiah Thomas made an incredible 12 straight All-Star Teams with the Detroit Pistons to start his career because he was one of the best point guards in the game as soon as he landed in the league. An elite scorer and playmaker, Thomas showed the capacity to help palace Detroit on the map as a tough team to beat in the East. He won 2 All-Star Game MVP Awards in 1984 and 1986.
Chris Paul also has 12 All-Star appearances, as he earned 9 straight All-Star Teams starting from his 3rd season and made another 3 in a row starting from the 2020 season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. There is no denying Paul is a bonafide All-Star point guard because very few players in the league impact winning like CP3. He won the All-Star MVP Award in the 2013 NBA Season.
Overall, there is nothing to separate the two elite point guards in terms of All-Star selections.
Isiah Thomas: 0
Chris Paul: 9 (7 First Team, 2 Second Team)
Obviously, Chris Paul is one of the most elite defenders at the point guard spot that we have ever seen. Paul has made a total of 9 All-Defensive Teams in his career, of which 7 were First Team. An excellent ball-stopper, agile defender, and passing-lane hound; Paul has led the league in steals 6 times and holds an incredible career average of 2.1 SPG.
Meanwhile, Thomas has not made an All-Defensive Team in his career despite being a solid contributor on that end of the floor. Isiah holds a very solid career average of 1.9 SPG, with a career-high 2.5 SPG coming in his second and third NBA seasons. Paul holds a career-high of 2.8 SPG and 2.7 SPG coming in his 3rd and 4th seasons respectively.
In terms of numbers and All-Defensive Team appearances, there is no doubt Chris Paul was a better defender over his career than Isiah Thomas.
Advantage: Chris Paul
Total Win Shares
Isiah Thomas: 80.7
Chris Paul: 198.9
Win Shares is a statistic that tries to allocate a team’s wins for each player on the roster. For example, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar owns the single-season record for Win Shares with 25.4 during 1971-72 on a Milwaukee Bucks team that won 63 games.
In terms of contributing to a winning side and almost singlehandedly transforming a franchise upon arrival, it is hard for any player to compare to Chris Paul. The Point God has done it multiple times, with the New Orleans Hornets, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, and recently the Phoenix Suns.
Paul has managed to make all teams playoff performers because Paul makes everyone around him better. He also ranks 9th all-time in total win shares, an incredible number for a 6’0” point guard. Meanwhile, Isiah Thomas has a solid but rather unspectacular win shares figure.
For whatever reason, this advanced statistic shows that Thomas was not as responsible for his team’s victories as Chris Paul was. While that narrative can be argued depending on their teammates and all-around talent in the league, Chris Paul blows Thomas out of the water in this category.
Advantage: Chris Paul
Career Player Efficiency Rating (PER)
Isiah Thomas: 18.1
Chris Paul: 24.6
Player Efficiency Rating, better known as PER, is a statistic created by John Hollinger that’s goal is to give each NBA player a comprehensive rating. Hollinger’s PER metric is unique because it combines a player’s positive and negative contributions on the court.
Chris Paul ranks 12th all-time in PER, with a figure of 24.6. In fact, every other player above him are forwards or centers. For a miniature point guard, Paul’s PER is simply elite and incomparable to any other point guard in league history. Paul is an elite shooter with an average of 47.3% from the field, while also holding an elite average of 9.5 APG on only 2.4 TOV.
Meanwhile, Isiah Thomas ranks 153rd in NBA history in PER which is solid but not on the level of Chris Paul’s. Thomas averaged 45.2% from the field while also chipping in 9.3 APG on 3.8 TOV. It is obvious that his turnover rate was much higher than Paul’s which took his PER to a lower figure than Paul’s.
Advantage: Chris Paul
Isiah Thomas vs. Chris Paul 2-4
In the end, Chris Paul wins the career comparison. The Point God has an innate ability to be an excellent regular-season performer because he improves any team he joins. It is amazing how Paul has been able to make the playoffs with every franchise he has played with, even if he played with a total of 5 of them. His leadership, playmaking, and elite marksmanship have made Chris Paul an invaluable leader for any team looking to improve and make the playoffs.
With 10 All-NBA Team appearances, 12 All-Star selections, and 9 All-Defensive Team appearances, Chris Paul is one of the most talented point guards of all time. That is why he has managed to usurp Isiah Thomas in the career comparison, although some context might be beneficial.
Even if Isiah’s individual accolades (regular season achievements) pale in comparison to Paul’s, he might be confident in having the last laugh because of his two NBA championships and 1 Finals MVP trophy. Very few point guards have ever been able to do what Thomas did in terms of being the leader of a team that won back-to-back titles, and winning a Finals MVP trophy as a 6’1” point guard is yet another rarity.
Based on the analysis, it can suffice to say that Chris Paul is a more talented point guard with a varied skillset that includes deep-range scoring and some of the best defense we have seen from a player in his position. But Thomas is a player that turns up in the biggest moments because he has an edge in aggression and competitiveness that very few have ever had. Paul wins the individual war, but Thomas’ NBA championships might give him the edge in a lot of top-5 rankings of all point guards.