Paul worthy of Rookie of the Decade

When compared with the last five Rookie of the Year award winners, Chris Paul isn’t just making a case for the 2006 Rookie of the Year award, but possibly the rookie of the decade.

That may seem crazy, considering the star-studded group he’s challenging, including Pau Gasol, Amare Stoudemire and LeBron James, but if you compare their statistics as well as how much they helped their team improve, Paul has them beat.

At the beginning of this year’s NBA season, there really wasn’t much for Hornets fans to be excited about.

Their team had to move from New Orleans to Oklahoma City (which now may be permanent), they didn’t do much in the offseason to improve the same squad that finished 18-64 the year before and they had to hope that a small rookie out of Wake Forest could try to fill the void left behind by Baron Davis.

Fortunately for Hornets fans, Paul has exceeded expectations.

After 55 games, Paul has helped the Hornets to a 30-25 record while averaging 16.1 points, 7.7 assists and 5.4 rebounds a game, and shooting 43.4 percent from the field-and he’s just getting started.

Two years ago, James came into a similar situation with the Cavaliers. Cleveland finished 17-65 the year before and counted on James to turn the franchise around. And he did that, just not at the speed that Paul has done it for the Hornets.

James had the Cavs at 21-34 after 55 games and helped his team finish at 35-47. He averaged 20.9 points, 5.9 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game, while hitting 41.7 percent of his shots.

Not bad, but not quite as good as the year Paul is having.

Gasol had comparable numbers to Paul, but he didn’t help his team improve. The Grizzlies went 23-59 during the 2000-2001 season without him and 23-59 the following season with him.

What’s even more interesting about what Paul is doing is that he is still improving. He’s just getting past the “rookie transition” phase, and is now able to lead his team over the remaining 27 games.

Of course, it would be a tough debate to say that a rookie is entirely responsible for the success of a team, and certainly Paul isn’t the only reason for the Hornets’ drastic turnaround.

David West has had a huge third season and is possibly one of the most improved players of the year.

One also has to wonder what would have happened if Paul had been taken by the Jazz and had to play under Jerry Sloan’s tougher structure.

Nevertheless, he’s been a major factor in the immense turn toward success for the Hornets. If the season were to end right now, the Hornets would have the sixth seed in the Western Conference playoffs, and when it comes down to it, the real statistic that matters is whether or not your team gets the wins.

If Jazz fans are feeling bad about Utah passing up on Paul now, they should realize that it’s only going to get worse, because this guy is only going to get better.