No one quarterbacks a team and controls the game quite like he does. He owns a tremendous feel for the game, knows how to utilize the weapons on his squad and is equally effective on the defensive end.
Entering his ninth season, can he maintain his status as the gold standard of point men? There is a hungry pack of playmakers like Rajon Rondo, Tony Parker, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook ready to knock him off. Can CP3 stay above the fray?
If the Doc Rivers era begins smoothly and the new additions fit into place, the answer is a resounding yes.
Doc arranges the chess pieces
If you’re ever tempted to underestimate the value of Doc Rivers’ personnel management skills, just remember how Vinny Del Negro's ineptitude expedited the Clippers' demise in 2013.
The recently fired coach was unable to lead L.A. on a deep playoff run, mostly because he couldn't re-shuffle the rotation or game plan to adjust to the Memphis Grizzlies. The Clippers' post defense was terrible, as Del Negro didn't find an answer for Hollins' big men, and Jamal Crawford was severely underused.
Rivers is infinitely better at maximizing his resources, as evidenced by the Boston Celtics’ consistent title contention during his tenure in Beantown.
Many wondered whether a "super-team" could work, but Rivers won five straight Atlantic Division titles and made two trips to the NBA Finals. In each of his first five seasons in Boston, the Celtics ranked top-five in the NBA in points allowed.
The 2008 NBA champion demands efficiency and cohesiveness from his clubs. He guided Boston’s superstars to collaborate at a championship level in their first year together, and he’ll aim to create similar chemistry in Lob City.
Rivers helped make Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins an ultra-effective defensive front, and he'll give Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan the same tools. Possession-by-possession communication will improve significantly. He will also help Paul and Co. capitalize on every opportunity and make each player on the floor a legitimate threat.
If Rivers can turn youngster Rajon Rondo into a word-class dime-dropper, he’ll certainly get the most out of a poised veteran like CP3. Paul is itching to finally make a title run, and he knows Rivers can make it happen.
Glut of snipers will turn his passes into points
The NBA has become increasingly perimeter-oriented in recent years, and the Clippers are well-equipped to thrive in this new era.
J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley are veteran wings who know how to work away from the ball and find open looks (they routinely bury 200-plus trifectas per season). They’ve never played with a point guard of Paul’s caliber, so they could wind up posting career-best efficiency numbers.
Last two seasons, Jared Dudley's eFG% has been 54.7%. His career eFG% is 54.6%. Yay consistency!— Andrew Lynch (@AndrewLynch) August 21, 2013
And in turn, Paul will flirt with his personal-best assist totals.
The Clippers sank 627 three-pointers in 2012-13 (7.6 per game), good for 10th in the NBA. If CP3 integrates the new talent smoothly, they could drill 700-plus.
The added perimeter punch will take some pressure off Paul and Jamal Crawford to create triple tries. Crawford and Paul were often forced to bail the Clippers offense out, but now the shooters will stretch the floor so they can focus on attacking the rim.
Low-post options are only getting better
When Paul turns to the paint to balance the offense, he’s going to find an enhanced version of the post players he had last year.
When it comes to low-post skills, no one is going to confuse Blake Griffin for Tim Duncan or DeAndre Jordan for Pau Gasol.
However, the two made noticeable strides in 2012-13.
Griffin expanded his face-up and post-up footwork, and DeAndre Jordan showed signs of a respectable back-to-the-basket game. It’s nothing compared to their pick-and-roll prowess, but it helps keep defenses honest and empowers the perimeter personnel.
First play of the game: DeAndre Jordan catches it in the post and confidetntly hits a turnaround right-handed hook. I'm not kidding.— NBA Guru (@NBAGuru) October 23, 2012
CP3 will get them the rock on time and on target, and get the highest possible production per possession from them.
Paul will also incorporate newly-acquired 7’0” center Byron Mullens into the mix as a pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop asset. The former Charlotte Bobcats tower scored 10.6 points per game in 2012-13, and he can work inside or step out for 20-foot jumpers.
Collison will afford him adequate rest
In order to play MVP-caliber hoops for an entire season, Paul can’t survive playing 37-40 minutes per game.
That’s where Darren Collison will help immensely.
The free-agent signee saw his stock drop a bit in 2012-13 because he couldn't cement himself as a starter with the Dallas Mavericks, but he will be a superb backup for CP3.
He's more than capable of playing 10-20 minutes each night, maintaining a brisk tempo and shooting a clean percentage. On occasion, Rivers will be comfortable giving Collison a spot-start to lend Paul a night off if he's banged up or needs rest.
L.A.'s acquisition of Collison didn't make waves this offseason, but he could wind up being a monumental pickup.
At 28 years old, Paul is at a point in his career where he owns an optimal blend of experience, skill and athleticism. He's savvy enough as a leader to mold this squad into a winning machine, and he's humble enough as a pupil to be an instrument of Doc's game plan.
There's no guarantee everyone will stay healthy or transition perfectly into the system, but the Clippers will likely exceed last year's results in the regular season and playoffs.
Clippers are loaded. Starters: Paul, Redick, Dudley, Griffin, Jordan. Bench: Collison, Crawford, Barnes, Bullock, Mullins, Hollins, Green.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) July 20, 2013
This year, the pieces complement each other better, as the roster was constructed for improved balance. It's going to help Paul continue his elite mastery as a floor general and put up gaudy stats.
Per-game projections: 33.9 MPG, 16.9 PPG, 10.4 APG, 49% FG, 35% 3-PT, 27.6 PER
Team projections: 103.6 points per game, No. 2 seed in Western Conference (61 wins, 21 losses), Western Conference Finals appearance.
If L.A. and CP3 produce those kinds of results, there's no way Paul surrenders his place in the point guard kingdom.