Point guards Chris Paul and Deron Williams might forever be linked side-by-side. The Utah Jazz made Williams the third overall pick in the 2005 NBA Draft. Paul was picked fourth, by the Hornets. Paul and Williams were the only players to receive first-place votes last season for Rookie of the Year. Officially there is no sophomore of the year award, but Paul and Williams once again are in a tango. Though Paul's selection as top rookie certainly was decisive, it was not unanimous and left many observers wondering why. Of the 125 voting media members, 124 selected Paul, who could have become the first unanimous rookie selection since David Robinson in 1990. The lone dissenting vote came from Ron Boone, a former ABA and NBA player and a Utah Jazz television broadcaster/analyst. Byron Scott's reaction to Boone's vote was typical Scott — blunt. "I understand, he's in Utah, and Deron had a great season,” the Hornets coach said last May. "But he (Boone) is out of his mind. He's got to be joking.” Paul's reaction to Boone's vote was typical Paul — self-motivating. "That's even more motivation right there,” Paul said at the time. "It's an honor to get 124 out of 125, but that one, that one is just motivation for next year.” An obviously motivated Williams has excelled this season, leaving him and Paul in a virtual dead-heat statistically (see chart). Williams owns a significant edge in team record, however. The first-place Jazz take a 39-19 record into tonight's game at the Ford Center against the 28-31 Hornets, who are battling for a playoff spot. Voting for Williams over Paul last season would have been more reasonable if the decision was based solely on the four games they played face-to-face (see chart). But there were 78 other games to consider. Paul led all rookies in points (16.1), assists (7.8), steals (2.2), minutes (36.4), double-doubles (21) and triple-doubles (two) last season. Face-to-face, Williams averaged more points and rebounds and shot better from the field than Paul, but Paul shot better from the line and had more assists and steals. "I thought Deron finished stronger in the second half of the year,” Boone said last May. "And I thought the head-to-head matchups that they had Deron played better. That was it.” As for team comparisons, both the Jazz (41-41) and Hornets (38-44) missed the Western Conference playoffs last season and placed ninth and 10th, respectively. The Jazz won the season series 3-1. ROY panel members vote for three players, and Boone did pick Paul second. Williams placed fifth in the final voting (31 points) behind Paul (623), Toronto's Charlie Villanueva (248), Milwaukee's Andrew Bogut (98), Charlotte's Raymond Felton (79) and New York's Channing Frye (41). "I was surprised that Deron didn't get a couple more (first-place) votes,” Boone said. As for their sophomore seasons, Paul certainly has company at the head of the class. Though Paul missed 17 games with a sprained ankle, ESPN's John Hollinger ranks Paul as the No. 1 sophomore with Williams at No. 2. "It's so balanced now with everyone in our (draft) class,” Paul said. "Raymond Felton's had an outstanding year, so has (Golden State's) Monta Ellis, (New York's) David Lee, (Indiana's) Danny Granger. And D-Will has probably played the best out of all of us.” Paul said Williams' improved play this season primarily stems from increased minutes. Williams has started every game he's played this season. Last year, he started 47 of 80 games. "Every team is different in what guys are able to do,” Paul said. "He (Williams) is getting more of an opportunity this year. Last year, he played in spurts.” Last year's rookie voting certainly didn't come between Paul and Williams, good friends who spent ample time together during All-Star Weekend two weeks ago. "We talk all the time,” Paul said. Hornets guard Devin Brown was Williams' teammate last year and is Paul's this year. "Deron's a good player, fits right into their system, pushes the ball up the floor,” Brown said. "Once you play more, you get your confidence and get a better feel for what different teams and different personnel are going to do against you.” So who's better, Paul or Williams? "CP is faster,” Brown said. "Leading a team, CP does a good job, but Utah has so many weapons inside and outside. We're getting there and we're young. But their guys have eight, nine, 10 years in the league. "It's kind of hard to sit here and say who's better. Utah's winning, but individually who's doing better? Last year, it was (Paul) hands-down obviously. This year, I'd give CP the edge if you don't go by the team stuff.” Jazz senior vice president of basketball operation Kevin O'Connor said he has no regrets drafting Williams ahead of Paul and Felton. "We got the player we wanted,” O'Connor told the (Salt Lake City) Deseret News. "We think Raymond Felton is a terrific player. We think Chris Paul is a terrific player. And we think they're going to have great careers. (But) we're happy that we have Deron Williams.”
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Utah at Hornets•When: 7 tonight •Where: Ford Center •TV: ESPN (Cox 29) and Cox 7 •Radio: KHBZ-FM 94.7 Probable starters
Paul vs. WilliamsHow point guards Chris Paul and Deron Williams have fared in their young NBA careers: