Why I Love Chris Paul
Paul had a pretty awesome game against the Bobcats. His continued excellence has left me spoiled: I take for granted what Chris Paul does for this team. Recently a friend of mine asked me what made Paul so special. I thought I’d share the answer.
Against the Bobcats, Paul had 15 points on 5-5 shooting, 4-4 free throws, and 1-1 from 3. He also had 15 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals. The lone blemish was a single turnover. This was accomplished in three quarters, as the game was easily in control and the starters rested in the fourth. Box scores like this are common for Chris. He makes excellence look so easy.
To try to put those numbers in perspective, remember that the Hornets play one of the slowest paces in the NBA. Gaudy assist numbers are relatively common when playing fast paced games. This is for a variety of reasons. For one, a faster pace = more possessions, and simply more opportunities for assists. Additionally, a transition based game is much easier to get assists; the center rebounds, finds the point guard, who dribbles right up the middle with two wings running the lanes. 3v3 or 3v2 basketball leads to way more easy baskets than 5v5 basketball in a half court set. Theses two reasons explain why Chris Duhon went from backup point in Chicago to Steve Nash Jr. in New York. D’Antoni puts in a fast paced system, and since Duhon is a competent guard, his numbers go crazy. These reasons are also to blame for Nash’s statistical drop this year. He’s still a great player, don’t get me wrong. I love the guy because he is one of the few true point guards capable of dominating a game. He just will never put up crazy assist numbers in the slower system they run now, and he never would have put those numbers up if he didn’t play in a transition game.
Chris Paul is averaging nearly 12 APG in one of the SLOWEST environments in basketball. Sure, the hornets get out in transition a bit, just like every team, but they are NOT the run and gun team opposing announcers like to make them out to be. Most possessions are walk-it-up, set up the offense deals. Slower games lead to less opportunities for assist, for the same reasons as above. Case in point: the Hornets were 40-82 last night. Chris had 5 of those makes, and assisted 15 more, meaning he had his fingers in a full HALF of the Hornet’s baskets. And he watched the fourth quarter! The Hornets scored 17 in the 4th, so let’s be conservative and say that’s 5 shots and some free throws. Paul then contributed to 20/35 Hornets baskets, 57%! On the season, the Hornets average 36 makes in a game. CP3 scores 7 of those, and assists on 12 more. 19/36 = 53%.
These numbers suggest that Chris Paul is incredibly important to everything the Bees do (duh). But I would argue that they UNDERSTATE his impact on the team. For better or for worse, every possession possible runs through Chris. The best, and most seen on ESPN, example is the high pick and roll. Basically, Chris sets up at the top of the key. Peja and another shooter hang around each wing, West floats over by the corner, and Tyson rumbles to the top and becomes a seven foot wall. Chris slides past the wall, leaving the defense with a few bad choices to make. Do you go under the screen? Better hustle, Chris can shoot if you leave him open (though not as well as Nash, I would argue with anyone who would listen that Nash’s shot is just as important to his assist numbers as is his court vision), but more likely he will just wait for you to recover and go right by you. Do you switch the pick? Can’t really do that, because then you have a center covering Chris, and even worse, you have Chandler rolling down the lane covered by a point guard. Chandler + 6 foot defender = alley oop. Where’s the help on the alley oop? Oh, its over by West in the corner. Can’t leave him open, as he’s deadly from 18. The final option is to fight through the screen, leave your center on Chandler, and just hope to God the help defense is quick enough to stop the layup. Most of the time, the help defense gets there. Unfortunately, it has to come from somewhere. Who’s open, is it Peja on the near wing? Posey in the far corner? Or, my personal favorite, is it West sneaking just inside the free throw circle? With an average point guard, you could bring help and hope he doesn’t find the open man. Chris, of course, does.
Chris doesn’t just pass, he can also score. He can drive the lane pretty much at will, and finish as well as any 6 footer. He gets to the line, and shoots 85% from there. He has a deadly floater that just makes me weak in the knees. He can shoot, but struggles to get the shot off because of his height. Being 4 inches shorter than your defender makes it tough to gain vertical space, so he needs to create as much horizontal space as possible. So please, enemy defenders, keep going under the screen and giving up the 20 footer. Appreciate the points.
Chris doesn’t just play offense, he plays defense. He stays in front of his man with the best of them. His primary limiting factor is, again, his height. He’s not very effective rotating out to three point shooters, because they can just shoot right over him. Chris makes up for this in part by being the league leader in steals. ESPN plays this angle up, and though I think that looking at steals or blocks as a measurement of defense is retarded, it is an impressive feat. Paul’s anticipation is awesome to watch. He just swoops in when unexpected and takes off down the court. Paul has a steal in over 100 consecutive games, and is closing in on an NBA record there too.
Chris doesn’t just bring it on the court, he has the intangibles to go with it. I have never watched a player be as much of a Jekyll and Hyde as Chris Paul. When interviewed, out in the community, or anywhere else but the court, he is the sweetest little boy you ever saw. He’s all “Oh, my teammates are the key to my success. Come on guys, your making me blush.” On the court, Paul is more intense than anybody save maybe Kobe and Garnett. You do NOT screw with Paul on the court. He gets “that look” sometimes, and you know he is about take over the game. He barks at refs, at opposing players ,at teammates, and, I would guess, internally at himself. The man wants to win with all his heart and soul. There is no question that this is HIS team, HIS court, HIS game, and HIS universe to do with what he pleases.
I am so thankful that I stumbled upon Chris in his rookie season. Chris Paul is everything I hoped to be growing up. Like Chris, I consider myself to be a pass first point guard. Like Chris, I struggle to get off three pointers (his limiting factor is height, mine strength). Like Chris, I like to think about the game and optimizing the potential to score on every play. Like Chris, I am rather pleasant off the court, but turn into an asshole once the game gets going. And like Chris, I bowl. I think I could even beat Chris at bowling, though not by much (he could work on his form though, he’s got an ugly crook in his elbow when he rolls the ball).
Chris Paul has revolutionized my basketball life. Before Chris, I followed the NBA only passively. I watched the biggest games, and followed the biggest names. After Chris, I feel that I know as much as anybody around me about the NBA. I’m a smarter basketball fan and a smarter basketball player because of Chris Paul. I feel a special connection to Chris because I followed him from his rookie year, before he was a household name, to now.
I have never loved a player like I do Chris Paul. Sure, I’ve been a fan of lots of guys, particularly Tony Gonzalez and Trent Green (I’m from Kansas City). But I didn’t give a damn about those guys beyond their talents as professional athletes. I give a damn about Chris Paul. When he is insulted on TV, I become legitimately angry. I want to defend his honor, like I would defend a family member. Perhaps our sports idols ARE family members. They sit in our living rooms and entertain us with their athletic achievements, they run through our minds day in and day out, and we live and die with their successes and failures. I care as much about Paul’s achievements as I do my own brother’s.
I am a basketball fan. I am an NBA fan. I am a Hornets fan. But above all, I am a Chris Paul fan.