When the Golden State Warriors (11-17) host the Los Angeles Clippers (19-10) tonight at Oracle, we will get the chance to see David Lee go head-to-head with one of the most dynamic power forwards in the NBA in Blake Griffin. The Clippers power forward will probably entertain us with a few impressive dunks and may even overpower his opponents on his way to the basket. Lee on the other hand will show off his ambidextrous game around the basket as well as a fairly polished post game that we can only hope that Blake develops one day.
And yet, as intriguing as the forward matchup will be, it pales in comparison to battle of the guards.
Stephen Curry is the Warriors’ point guard in name, but not necessarily in game. His willingness to assert himself as the team’s lead guard fluctuates from one contest to the next as he often chooses to defer to his more experienced backcourt partner. Hence, the world class shooter may position himself in a corner and hope to catch a pass with defenses rotating, or simply he may get the ball on the wing and try to crossover his man and then step back for a low percentage shot even if there is more than enough time left on the shot clock merely because he hasn’t seen the ball in a while or he might run a fast break and try and take it all the way to the basket instead of dishing off.
These are some of the things that happen when Monta Ellis has the ball in his hands throughout much of the game.
Mind you, when Curry gets an opportunity to actually play point guard, he often shows signs of brilliance. His ballhandling makes him almost impossible to defend given his ability to break down his defender with a host of moves than may even at times get the fans to bite on his fakes: hesitation dribble, behind the back, pump fake dribble, in and out, crossover and his lethal spin move.
Combine his host of moves with his passing out of the pick-and-roll (his left-handed bullet passes are a thing of beauty) and we are talking about a player with excellent point guard skills; but what makes him so terrifying for opponents is that his whole guard package comes with an exquisite shooting ability rarely seen from a point guard.
Thus, when looking at Curry, he often gives the impression that only should he be one of the best point guards in the NBA, but he should be owning the position. But instead, he is somewhere in the conversation, flashing signs of promise that perhaps one day he will get there and become the Dubs’ crunch time assassin instead of an innocent bystander.
With that said, tonight the Davidson product will get a crash court on how to play the position by the best in the game.
There may not be another player in the NBA save for perhaps Steve Nash in Phoenix who owns his team more than Chris Paul. Indeed, Paul owns the Clippers. Every play and every decision goes through him. Whether it’s Del Negro, Griffin or Butler, they must obey to his every command.
When Paul is on the court, he dictates how the offense is run and who gets touches. If Griffin has the advantage of the interior, he will instruct his teammates to get him the ball. If Caron Butler has it going, he will get his number called and get a couple of shot opportunities. And should the shot clock be ticking down, Paul will simply breakdown his defender and take a midrange jumper from the elbow, drive to the basket for an easy score or run a quick pick-and-roll with one of his big man that results in him dishing the ball to a teammate for an easy and perhaps entertaining score.
The beauty in Paul’s point guard play is that he does not defer, but rather he executes his team’s offense and tries when needed to get out of the way to allow his teammates to gain confidence throughout the game. Through three quarters and half, Paul is like the overseer of Clippers basketball; the man that gets the ball to places but also makes sure that no one is set up to fail.
But once the game shifts to the last five minutes of the game and the score is close, the assassin comes out. After allowing all of his teammates to gradually gain confidence in their games and get their shots, Paul hijacks the offense and becomes arguably the best closer in the league today.
CP3 will spend the last few minutes of the ball game probing the defense to find an opening to the basket or the opportunity to lob the ball to either Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan or Kenyon Martin; and if all of that fails, he will go to his money play: the elbow jumper. So far this season, Paul is shooting an impressive 47 percent from the field on midrange jumpers in the last five minutes of the game with the score within five points.
That’s the biggest reason why the Los Angeles Clippers are a winning team this season; the masterful play at the point. They have been able to close out games this season thanks to the acquisition of a floor general who has been nothing short of impressive this season despite averaging a seemingly pedestrian 18.3 points, 8.7 assists and 2.4 steals per game on 48.2 percent field goal and 44.3 percent 3-point field goal shooting. Perhaps that was a slight exaggeration, nothing pedestrian about those figures.
Every time Paul hits the hardwood, he conducts a basketball clinic on how the point guard position should be played…
Let’s hope Stephen Curry isn’t too busy actually playing in the game to notice.
Questions or comments? Feel free to leave them in the comments section or you can contact me by email at [email protected].