Chris Paul isn't just the best point guard in the NBA, he's the best closer in the league too.
Chris Paul has been a miracle-worker for the Los Angeles Clippers this season. In his first year with the league's most forlorn franchise, Paul has transformed the Clips from perennial cellar-dwellers to legitimate contenders for the division and even conference crown.
Everyone knew what Paul brought to the table in terms of his ability to run an offense, create shots for others, score from anywhere on the floor and be a leader of men. However, most people did not realize just how valuable an addition Paul would be prove to be for the Clippers in crunch-time.
Last year, Henry Abbott tried to strip Kobe of his crunch-time cape by pointing out how much worse his team's offense became in the clutch. In doing so, Abbott dished out props to Paul, but I'm going to go beyond the props and label CP3—or maybe he should be called CP4 for his fourth quarter excellence —the crunch-time king of the NBA.
I decided to gather some hard evidence for the opinion I had already formulated about Paul's clutch-ness. Not being a part of any multi-billion dollar (my own estimate) sports media conglomerate, I don't have access to all the relevant numbers at my fingertips via fancy and expensive statistical services. So I decided to do it the old-fashioned way instead.
Over a 30-day span from February 6 to March 7, I charted every crunch-time possession the Clippers had (thank goodness for the DVR!). I defined crunch time as the final six minutes of the fourth quarter plus overtime of a game that had a final score within two possessions. The Clippers played 12 such games in that span.
Quick aside: For the sake of gathering as much data as possible, I was loose with the "two possession" scoreline, including games with a final margin of up to eight as long as the game was still being contested in the final minute. Technically, eight points can be had in two possessions with a couple of four-point plays. Just go with me on this one, okay? Thanks!
My findings supported my gut feeling. Down the stretch of close games, when things get tight and offenses are at their least efficient, Chris Paul is the guy I want with the ball in his hands.
The average NBA offense this season scores 101.2 points per 100 possessions. According to Abbott's findings last year, the average NBA crunch-time offense scores 80.0 points per 100 possessions. Over the month I tracked them, the Paul-led Clippers averaged 96.8 points per 100 possessions during crunch time!
I tried to boil it down even further to determine Paul's impact specifically in the clutch by charting the possessions in which Paul directly created the action. In those situations, the Clippers averaged a whopping 113.3 points per 100 possessions, a number that's nearly six full points higher than the the NBA's most efficient overall offense this year.
As a matter of fact, when Paul is running things down the stretches of tight games, the Clippers offense is actually better than it is over the course of full games, even though crunch-time offenses are supposed to be way less effective.
Not only do the Clippers score 8.6 points per 100 possessions more in CP3's clutch possessions, they also shoot nearly two percent better from the field and 20 percent better from the line while turning the ball over less frequently.
Paul also took over games personally down the stretch. He scored or assisted on about 60 percent of the Clippers' field goals over that time, while also dishing out numerous hockey assists and passes that led directly to free-throws. He scored 0.92 points per possession, nearly on par with the 1.05 mark he normally boasts.
Who is the best crunch-time player in the NBA?
While his shooting from the field during crunch-time dipped to 41.5 percent, that is better than what Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony have shot in the clutch this season. Meanwhile, Paul lowered his turnover rate from 8.1 percent normally to 5.9 percent in the clutch.
He also dominated play by getting to the free-throw line at a much higher clip than usual. Overall this season, Paul averages more than three field goal attempts for every freebie he takes.
Over the time I charted his late-game action though, Paul averaged fewer than two field goals for every free-throw he attempted. And when he was at the line, Paul was lights out, hitting 93.5 percent of his foul shots, a significant improvement over his 85.8 percent overall mark.
There are a lot of players in the NBA who can hit big shots down the stretch in close games, but not a single one who can do it at a consistently high percentage. That's why, when crowning the king of clutch, I want a player who not only raises his own game with everything on the line, but elevates his entire team to fantastically efficient heights.
That's why if I were trying to win a nail-biter in the waning minutes, I'd want the ball to be in the hands of none other than Chris Paul.