How Paul Owns You: The Free-Throw Line Seal

Published: February 13, 2009

Chris Paul relishes contact, lapping it up like LeBron James laps up media coverage, and he’s been that way since his rookie season. I can remember in his first game against Houston he dribbled up the court in front of Yao Ming, spotted the lumbering giant out of the corner of his eye and smoothly took a step directly in front of the big man and decelerated.  Ming went down like a poleaxed cow as he tripped – and pretty much crushed Chris Paul under him.  A moment later, Paul popped up, a foul was assessed to Yao, and Paul was on the free-throw line.  Good times.

Paul still uses this tactic.  In the open floor, he frequently slides over in front of a guy trying to get up the court quickly, stopping them from getting to their cover.  This is not a tactic you’ll see very often from another player because of the turnover risk entailed in it:  If there’s contact and no whistle is called, it’s hard to keep a handle on the ball.

Paul, of course, has one of the best handles in the game.  Even when he gets bumped hard, he’s mastered an odd little jump where he leans way forward and then dribbles straight down.  Since the ball isn’t moving any direction but down, the ball comes straight back to him, and can’t squirt free, while the jump aids in drawing whistles.  It’s a great move.

This year, however, Paul has adapted the move so that he doesn’t use it solely in the open floor any more.  It’s now become a dangerous part of his Pick and Roll game, and he uses it to create a wonderful play I’ve nicknamed the Free Throw Line Seal.  Here’s a breakdown of the play, in full, multimedia technicolor!  Fear my paint skillz.

Step 1:  The Standard Pick

No surprises here – this is a normal high screen, set by Tyson Chandler.  The guard, unwilling to let Paul get free for a shot, goes over the pick.  The big man guarding Chandler tries to show against Paul, hopefully pushing him out further on the floor so the guard can recover.

Step 2: Standard Roll

Paul either beats the big man around the corner, or waits until the big retreats as the guard assigned to tracking Paul gets next to him again.  This is where things get a little different.  Most guards head to the hole, being tracked by the guard behind them, or they back out. Paul cuts around the big man, and then stops at the free throw line.  The guard follows Paul to the line, but Tyson follows the behind the guard.  David West typically floats away from the paint a little here to give Paul more room to operate.

Step 3: The Free Throw Line Seal

Here is where Pauls trick of holding a big man on his back comes into play.  He backs into the big man and seals him behind him, dribbling side to side to keep the big from being able to get back in front of the play.  This allows Paul to wait without too much pressure while Tyson flashes to the basket.  Most teams try one of two ways to defend this:

  • Option A(Blue Lines A): Have the guard try and keep Tyson away from the basket and rely on one of the weakside wings to come into the paint and help against Paul.  The other weakside wing shifts to try and cover both Rasual and Peja.  This sets up Step 4.
  • Option B(Blue Lines B): Have the Power Forward try to beat Tyson to the spot, while the guard tries to get back into position.  This one is endgame for the play, because Tyson is almost never beaten to the spot by a Power forward, Paul lofts the alley-oop and the crowd erupts.  In the rare case Tyson is beaten – West is open at 17 feet at his favorite spot on the left elbow extended.  That’s never good for the defense.

Step 4: Release

Chris Paul finally releases the seal on the helpless big man behind him, takes two steps forward and has three stellar options:

  1. Alley-oop to Tyson if the guard on him is short and easily dunked on.
  2. Stop and Pop, take a runner, or hit a layup as the guard tries to close on him.
  3. Hit Rasual Butler in the corner, and either he takes the open three or whips it to Peja for an open look.

Step 5: Cigarette

Yeah, just give me a second, and I’ll be ready to go again.

Note: Like all players, a lot of Paul’s moves have been picked up from those who have gone before him.  This time, however, I couldn’t remember anyone else doing this.  So before I put the post together, I spent some time going over highlights for Steve Nash, Isiah Thomas, Jason Kidd, Kevin Johnson, John Stockton and even Rod Strickland and Mark Jackson.  I had thought Nash might do it, but he’s not too keen on contact and instead prefers to simply circle through the paint and back out again, looking for a perimeter shoooter.  Stockton would cut across the free throw line, but wouldn’t stop and seal the big, instead looking to keep moving.  All the rest, when they come off the pick, simply accelerate to the hoop and try and beat the defenders following them or coming to help at the rim.  Paul does that too, but only when he’s not being followed closely by someone who can swoop in and block his shot from behind.

In the end, it looks like this play is solely Pauls.  For some reason, that makes it even better for me.


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