Why Chris Paul Will Be the Key to LA Clippers' Postseason Success

Jeff NisiusContributor IIApril 10, 2013

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers looks on during a break in the action against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on March 7, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Clippers 107-92. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Chris Paul has been the Los Angeles Clippers’ most important player since arriving in a trade from the New Orleans Hornets last season. That trend holds true this season, especially in the playoffs.

Paul’s ability to manipulate the Clippers’ offense and set his teammates up for open looks is vital. Without Paul on the roster, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan become less lethal on offense.

For example, Chris Paul’s career assist percentage is 46.3, according to Basketball-Reference.com. Paul is exactly at that mark this season, making it the third-highest mark of his career and his highest as a Clipper.

Paul’s ability to create his own shot is extremely dangerous. He can get to his hot spot, the elbow, seemingly at will. The problem defenses face when guarding Paul is trying to limit his penetration to the elbow. The reason why defenses need to do that is because the elbow is the most effective area of the floor for point guards to dish out assists.

When a player can reach the elbow or foul line, the big men have to help up and the wings have to sink into the paint. This creates an opening for Paul to kick to a shooter in the corner or a cutter rolling to the basket.

In the video above, Paul does exactly what a point guard should do. When Blake Griffin sets the screen, Paul attacks off Blake’s inside shoulder. He wants to get to the elbow and either pull up for a jumper or dish to Griffin as he rolls to the basket.

CP3’s quickness and lethal shot from mid-range—52 percent from 10-15 feet, according to Hoopdata.com—puts defenders in a difficult situation. Timofey Mozgov has to decide if he wants to contest Paul’s jumper or cover Griffin rolling to the basket. Mozgov decides to contest the jumper, leaving a wide open lane for Paul to dish an easy assist to Griffin.

The pick-and-roll is one of the most difficult sets to defend at any level. But when it is run by a player of Paul’s caliber, it is nearly unstoppable. The Clippers need Paul and Griffin to be on the same page this postseason in order to advance past the first round.

Last season, the Memphis Grizzlies needed to find a way to slow down Paul and prevent him from reaching the elbow. Lionel Hollins decided to put his best perimeter defender, Tony Allen, on Paul. While that made it difficult for Paul to create off the dribble, he was still able to manipulate the secondary defenders like Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol due to his threat to knock down mid-range jumpers.

Considering the Grizzlies and Clippers are likely to face each other again in the playoffs, the pressure will be put back on Memphis’ bigs. There can be no hesitation when Paul attacks. They either need to cut off his penetration immediately or stick to Griffin as he rolls to the basket.

Furthermore, CP3 is one of the best players in the league as far as not turning the ball over. According to ESPN, Paul leads the entire league in assist-to-turnover ratio at 4.15-1. His ability to take care of the ball as the primary ball-handler makes him extremely difficult to guard.

Although the Clippers are loaded with talent and one of the deeper teams in the league, it all comes down to Chris Paul. He is lethal with the ball in his hands and can tear apart a defense in the blink of an eye. The Clippers’ success this postseason rests in the steady hands of CP3. If he is able to penetrate a defense, the Clippers will be formidable. If defenders can stick with him and keep him away from the elbow, Los Angeles’ offense will come to a screeching halt.