Looming Large: Chris Paul

For a brief second, we almost considered making Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets as our "Under the Radar" player. The dynamic point guard was an All-Star this season and also the Western Conference Player of the Month in December, so it's hard to say he is flying under the radar for his game against Orlando on Tuesday, but that is exactly what he is doing on the national scene.

The three year veteran has emerged as one of, if not the very best point guards in the NBA. Through 72 games, Paul is averaging an astounding 21.5 points, 11.4 assists and 2.7 steals per game, and yet "CP3" is still behind the likes of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Kevin Garnett in the league's race for Most Valuable Player. Paul also has propelled the Hornets to a first-place standing in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

Paul has become the epitome of a true pass-first guard and has very few holes in his game. The one knock on him offensively is that he doesn't necessarily take over games when he has the ball in his hand. That is just being nitpicky, because Paul has shown the ability to take over games by scoring, logging nine 30-point games so far this season (including two performances in which he surpassed 40 points). Even if Paul didn't lead the league in assists, proving that he gets things done when he doesn't have the ball, he is still second amongst NBA point guards in points per contest and only trails Baron Davis of Golden State, who is far from a true point guard.

It has become routine this year to see Paul dishing out one spectacular pass after another on Sportscenter, awing the crowd and the nation with dazzling behind the back passes and perfect lobs on alley-oops. This consistent barrage of Top 10 worthy passes has almost made the public forget about his incredible knack for being efficient. Paul has an impressive 4.5:1 assist to turnover ratio but that doesn't begin to tell Paul's story. He consistently puts the ball in the hands of the right defenders and always keeps defenses guessing.

On defense, Paul is equally lethal. He leads the NBA in steals and is also a superb man to man defender. At times he can be pushed around by bigger guards, but his intensity usually makes up for a thin 6'0", 175-pound frame. Aside from leaving it all out on the floor on a nightly basis, Paul is also starting to earn a reputation as a clutch player. In the month of March, the Hornets are in the midst of a fight for first-place in the Western Conference, and Paul has somehow elevated his game even more. He averaged 24 points and 13.3 assists during the month and dished out less than 10 assists just three times and tallied fewer than 20 points on only three occasions.

Orlando will have to deal with the relentless guard for the first time this season on Tuesday, as Paul missed the last meeting between the teams earlier in the year. It will take a total team effort for the Magic to slow down Paul and his entourage. Jameer Nelson may or may not play after a taking a shot to his jaw last week and Orlando will likely start Carlos Arroyo, who was impressive in a victory over Milwaukee on Friday. Arroyo is bigger than Paul, and that's about it, so he must bring a high amount of intensity to slow down Paul. Look for Keyon Dooling to come off the bench and try to defend CP3 as well. Dooling is likely Orlando's best bet to disrupt the superb guard, and while he probably won't be able to shut Paul down, Dooling might be able to take him out of his comfort zone just enough to allow Orlando to hamper New Orleans' dynamic offensive attack. On offense, Arroyo and Dooling must be technicians with the ball and can't be careless because Paul is capable of picking off passes with ease.

Despite the fact that he is leading in the NBA in two crucial categories and his team is in first place in its conference, Paul hasn't earned the respect he deserves. Yes, analysts throw him the occasional bone and mention him in the same breath as Bryant, James and Garnett, but he likely won't be heavily considered when it is tame to vote for an MVP. At 22, Paul has a long career ahead of him and he could eventually go down as one of the all time greats, and while he may not win the MVP award this season, CP3 will certainly be a contender for years to come.

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