When I posted the current poll, the early results were typical. Paul is coming off a down year, and he looked shaky in the preseason. Most said that he fell into the "notch below" category. Throw in some nice games with loaded stat lines and a game winning shot, and you get a late surge in the "budding superstar" category.
What do I think? Well, I'll cheat a little. He's not a superstar. Not yet anyway. But if anyone in this league is poised for a pantheon leap, it's Paul. He's got no more excuses at this point. In the past he has been overworked and wore down over the course of the year. Doc's deep rotation and plethora of swing position players should cure that. (So far he's down to 38 min. a game; down from 40 per a few years ago - that's a start anyway) In the past he has had no true point guard to set up the offense (which often amounted to "everyone in the building knows it's going to Paul"). Enter Gary Payton and a motion orientated offense. Consider that problem solved.
So he's certainly got the opportunity to make the leap this year. He's a likable guy. His jersey was the top seller a couple years ago. If he makes strides in the major media market of Boston, he'll the media won't hesitate to anoint him. On the other hand, the bar has been set extremely high in New England this year. Couple that with the Celtics' admittedly snobby historical perspective, and its going to take a Championship to maximize Paul's potential. Even green blooded homers like me aren't brave enough to keep that hope alive for this year.
Then there are the chinks in his armor. Fans are noticing that the guys that Paul has been guarding have been having great scoring nights this year. Coincidence? Or is the floor slanted down towards the offensive end for Paul? The more obvious (and trackable) flaw in Paul's game is the turnovers. As the star, he has the ball in his hands more. More responsibility means more pressure to protect the ball. He definitely forces some plays, but a lot of times, he's just flat out careless with the ball. As he gets more comfortable with the offense, the theory is that he won't force the issue as much. However, part of what makes him special is that he tries things that the average player wouldn't dare. Sometimes it doesn't work and he looks silly. Many times, it works and he's on the highlights. For the most part, he's better in the clutch, which is always good.
Still, if you are only looking for "superstar" status, you can achieve that without defense or low turnovers. Look at Vince Carter. However, as a spoiled Boston fan (how cool does that sound?), I'm looking forward to the time when we can start discussing Paul's Champion potential. Perhaps someday we can put him up there with Brady and Schilling. Now that would be a pantheon leap.