As if many did not consider Chris Paul one of the best point guards of all time, he recently broke Magic Johnson’s consecutive double-double streak to start a season. This season Paul not only looks like the best point guard in the league, but perhaps even the best player.
That begs the question: Is Paul actually better than ever? Simply put, no.
Now, do not take that answer the wrong way. In fact, it makes what Paul did earlier in his career even more impressive. Lest we forget, Paul had back-to-back seasons with the New Orleans Hornets in which he averaged 20-plus points and 11-plus assists.
Paul in New Orleans
During Paul’s six seasons with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets—they played part of two seasons in Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina—he averaged 18.7 points, 9.9 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 2.4 steals. His numbers after being traded to the Los Angeles Clippers are nearly identical.
During that time frame, Paul was able to vault his team into the playoffs three times, albeit only advancing out of the first round once. Considering the talent around him was lacking—the best players were David West, Tyson Chandler and an aging Peja Stojakovic—Paul’s ability to make his teammates better was on full display.
Once Paul tore his lateral meniscus in February of 2010, there were concerns whether he would ever be the same player. The season following his surgery, his PER dropped to 23.7 from 30.0 in 2008-09. What version of Chris Paul were the Clippers going to get? The one that was an MVP candidate just a few years prior or the one that looked slower and still not healthy?
Paul in Los Angeles
During his first two seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul’s talents were urgently needed. He had an emerging superstar in Blake Griffin that desperately needed someone to share the reins with in order to continue his development. Paul flourished, leading the Clippers to their first playoff-series win since the 2005-06 season.
While Paul played great, he did not produce like the player that once finished second in MVP voting as a Hornet. Was it Vinny Del Negro’s offensive philosophies, or was he just simply not the same player after knee surgery? Enter Doc Rivers.
Paul’s accomplishments this season are not a product of his having his best season ever, but rather a reappearance of his not-so-distant past. Doc Rivers has empowered Paul to lead the team and serve as the same type of playmaker he was with the Hornets. The difference is the pace at which Rivers is forcing Paul to play, along with the system and teammates Rivers brought in to compliment Paul.
Rivers’ ability to recruit Alvin Gentry as an assistant and to help install a new offense for Chris Paul has been pivotal. Not only are the Clippers playing at a much faster pace this season—96.2 compared to 91.1 under Del Negro—but Paul is also playing at the fastest pace of his career by six possessions per 48 minutes, according to Basketball-Reference.
The Real Chris Paul
|New Orleans/OKC Hornets||18.7||4.6||9.9||2.4|
|Los Angeles Clippers||18.3||3.8||9.7||2.4|
While Paul is playing utterly sensational, he is not better than ever. In fact, he is actually regaining the form he displayed as a young point guard with the Hornets. The Clippers are playing at a much faster tempo which allows him to share the ball with his teammates and provides him with enough shots to satisfy the role Rivers wants him to play.
Furthermore, Paul’s teammates are also making it easier for him as a point guard. The addition of J.J. Redick has helped transform the Clippers offense into one of the league’s best. It has also opened up the floor for Paul and Blake Griffin to annihilate opponents via high ball-screen action.
As mentioned earlier, the real change is not Chris Paul, but the system and pace at which he is playing.
The increased possessions are allowing Paul to share the ball, setting up his other teammates for success. Meanwhile, his usage percentage is right around his career average, and his assist percentage is a career-high 54.7. Even though his shooting splits are down, he is still scoring 18.9 points per game, two more than last season.
Paul looks great, but better than ever is a high mark to reach. Instead, Paul looks like his old self, much to the dismay of his Western Conference opponents.