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The biggest advantage in basketball

Dec 13, 2012, 7:05 PM EDT

Chris Paul,  Eric Bledsoe

A quarter of the way through the season, which team do you think possesses the greatest positional advantage in basketball? Is it the Heat with LeBron overwhelming every 3 in the league? The Thunder with Durant at the 3 and the 4? Carmelo thriving at power forward with the Knicks? Kobe beating up on the secretly shallow shooting guard position with the Lakers?

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. The biggest positional advantage in the league this year, incredibly, belongs to the point guards of the Los Angeles Clippers. And it’s not even all that close.

There are about a million reasons why this shouldn’t be the case. The existence of the aforementioned players and their unstoppable offensive games is one of those reasons.

The depth of the point guard position around the league is another. Think about it — there are about 20 different point guards in the league right now who could very realistically become All-Stars within the next three seasons. Every team seems to have a great one, or at the least, a pretty good one.

Then, of course, there’s the whole handcheck thing. Stopping lightning bug point guards is practically impossible with the way the rules are enforced, and with offenses in general shifting more towards spacing and speed, playing defense as a point guard is sort of like trying to catch a hummingbird in an open field.

That’s the logic, but two 6-foot guys in Los Angeles are defying it on a nightly basis. Here’s how.

***

The data

Thanks to 82games.com, Hoopstats.com, and John Hollinger’s brain (congrats to him, by the way), you can see just how dominant the Clippers point guards have been this year.

Offense: The Clippers point guards are shooting 48.5 percent from the field, which is the third best mark in the league. They also rank third in the league with 11.7 assists and 25.3 points a game. They’re first in rebounds with 6.1 a game and have a league best efficiency number of 33.4 — a whole 7 points ahead of San Antonio in second place.

Defense: The Clippers are holding opposing point guards to 36.6 percent shooting and are causing them to turn the ball over 5.2 times a contest, which are both leagues bests. They’re also 5th in points allowed and are allowing the league’s lowest opponent efficiency rate at 15.9.

Player Efficiency Rating: Both Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe are top 10 players in the league in PER (Paul at 5, Bledsoe at 8). The Clippers point guards this season have posted a PER of 24.9, while their opponents post a number of 8.8. That PER differential of 16.1 is the highest of every position by a longshot. The next closest are San Antonio’s centers (Duncan and Splitter) with a differential of 10.4.

The only player who could have a beef with these rankings is Kevin Durant, who plays both the 3 and the 4 for Oklahoma City. Impressively enough, the Thunder rank 1st in both SF and PF in PER differential, but the difference at those spots still isn’t nearly as big as the Clippers point guards. LeBron James plays both forward spots as well, but the Heat’s shoddy defense this far doesn’t have James in the discussion.

Introducing Eric Bledsoe

Believe it or not, Chris Paul’s shooting percentages and scoring numbers are actually down this year based on his career averages. While he’s certainly still been great, by no means is Paul doing something unsustainable — which might be the conclusion you’d draw from such a small sample size.

While Paul has been very pesky defensively with those lightning quick, strong hands (Zach Harper of CBS Sports coined him the Lobster — which is perfect on multiple levels), don’t overlook the defensive performances of breakout star Eric Bledsoe. The third-year, 6-foot-1 point guard is built like a tank, but his wingspan is incredible. The pressure Bledsoe places on ballhandlers and his nose for the ball in passing lanes gives him Per36 numbers of 3steals and 1.4 blocks a game, something only one player (some guy named Michael Jordan?) has accomplished over a full season.

Bledsoe isn’t a one trick pony though. He possesses otherworldly speed and leaping ability, allowing him to fly up the floor and finish way above where any other point guard not named Russell Westbrook dreams of going vertically. The nickname “Mini LeBron” sounds insane on the surface, but then you watch him block a shot with his face, put in tip dunks on Josh Smith and send away Dwyane Wade at the rim and you begin to wonder just how good this guy can be. Bledsoe has talent you can dream on, and he’s learning behind one of the smartest players in the game. It’s scary to think of how good the Clippers could be if they played Paul and Bledsoe (instead of Willie Green) together, because the plus/minus numbers of that backcourt in limited time are off the charts.

But let’s focus on reality, which is plenty impressive as is. Going from Chris Paul to Eric Bledsoe is like 8 innings of a knuckleballer and then a 9th against a guy who throws 100 MPH, and opposing point guards are befuddled by it. 48 minutes of hell against those two seems a little unfair, but for the Clippers? So far this season, it’s the biggest advantage in basketball.

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