Chris Paul: Still On Point?
Who owns the title of best point guard alive? NBA fans love to debate this topic, and with good reason. With players such as Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose and Steve Nash all enjoying good seasons, it only makes sense for the conversation to intensify. For the past few years, the title was reserved for Chris Paul, but now it seems as though his candidacy has lost some steam ever since his knee injury from last year. Ryan Schwan of Hornets247 did a great job of explaining the differences in CP3’s game this year in comparison to last season.
A less explosive Chris Paul looks like a less effective one, especially when compared to his peers. It’s awfully tough to overlook these things:
- Russell Westbrook can jump and finish at the rim with the best of them.
- Rajon Rondo leads the league in assists.
- Deron Williams keeps pilling up record assist numbers with his new team.
- Derrick Rose is carrying his team to the third best record in the Eastern Conference and is doing a terrific impersonation of Chris Paul’s 2007-08 season.
- Steve Nash is still one of the best shooting point guards in the NBA and he’s also still one of the best passing ones at age 37.
And yet, when I went to watch the New Orleans Hornets take on the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night, I couldn’t have been more impressed with the former Demon Deacon’s game despite his rather unimpressive box score:
What the box score fails to capture was Paul’s impact and importance on the game. He played aggressive defense on Jose Calderon and thus made it hard for the Raptors to run their sets. He stood in the face of the Raptors point guard and dared him to drive but Calderon could never beat him to a spot. Things changed however after Paul picked up his first foul; he understood that being in the grill of the Spaniard might lead to another foul. Consequently, he played a bit more off of him and then the Raps executed better. As the game wore on though, Paul shifted his level of activity on defense in conjunction with his fouls.
In addition to his stellar brand of defense, it’s amazing to watch Paul after every single play. He quickly diagnoses (on both offense and defense) which player was out of position and takes the time to inform this said player on his team of his responsibility. Think about that, he does that after every single play. That’s an uncanny level of awareness on the basketball court.
That same impressive basketball IQ that the Hornets star flaunts, helps him figure out ways to get his teammates the ball. He is rarely in a hurry, preferring to be methodical and in control of all the action. When the Hornets call a play that has to get a player open on the perimeter for a shot, CP3 always knows whether his guy will get open or not; if he does, Paul will feed him with a perfect pass to allow him to get his shot up. In the event that the player fails to get open off the screen, the former Wake Forrest guard switches quickly to his next option, whether it’s a driving lane or setting up another player.
The Hornets star is able to do these things because of his great level of awareness but also because he is an exquisite passer. The NBA has some wonderful passers, but none more impressive (in my book) than Steve Nash, Deron Williams, Jason Kidd and Chris Paul. Great point guards figure out how to get the ball to the players they want regardless of the passing angle available to them. But Hall of Fame level floor generals not only feed a player with little daylight, they lead him away from the defense. Watch the players mentioned above when they deliver passes to their teammates at the hoop; if the ball has to go to the left hand of the guy who has to catch it to get an uncontested lay up, that’s exactly where the ball will end up.
Furthermore, Chris Paul is always cognizant of the range of motion of the defenders that are around him when attempting to complete a pass. It’s part of the reason that he rarely gets picked off and that we often see defenders get close to stealing his passes but rarely do they get all the way there.
With that said, Paul has been a far less explosive player ever since his injury and consequently relies more on his teammates. He is averaging career lows in field goal attempts and in usage rate (estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he is on the floor). Look at how he compares with the players in the top 10 in assists per game in the NBA this year (ranked by usage rate):
Given the fact that Paul is utilizing the ball far less than the other top point guards in the league (with the exception of Rondo), doesn’t his seemingly inferior statistical output make sense?
My friend Cedric sent me this text while I was at the Hornets game: “Yo I love CP but I have trouble calling him better than Derrick or Deron”. And in a nutshell, that’s how most people feel right now about Paul. He no longer has the flash he once had; which is code for him scoring less. We no longer see him destroying defenders off the dribble and scoring in the paint. And yet, Paul is ranked sixth in the league in player efficiency rankings (he ranks first amongst point guards) because he scores in the teens, averages over nine assists per game, leads the league in steals, does a respectable job as far as turnovers go and shoots a very good percentage from the field (the only top flight point guards to shoot a better percentage from the field than Paul are Steve Nash and Rajon Rondo).
For all intents and purposes, he is the best two way point guard in the NBA. And to think, he is still not 100% healthy. When I went to Toronto Tuesday night to watch the Raptors host the New Orleans Hornets; I went there expecting to see quite possibly the best point guard in the association. By the time the game ended, my suspicions were confirmed; Chris Paul is the best lead guard in the league. Don’t let the flash of the other stars fool you….