Arguably the top point guard in the entire league, Chris Paul has helped transform the Los Angeles Clippers into one of the league’s elite teams. While Paul has been nothing short of awesome, Doc Rivers needs a more unique version of the elite point guard. Especially if the Clippers are to reach the franchise’s first conference finals.
Make no mistake, Paul’s talents are a major reason for the Clippers’ turnaround over the past three seasons. However, the postseason results have been disappointing. Paul needs to refine his game and adjust his tendency to dominate the ball.
Last season Doc Rivers proved to Paul that increasing the tempo and limiting his control over the ball improved the team. Mainly, because Blake Griffin was ready to help Paul carry the load offensively.
Paul’s talents are remarkable, but even the most talented players need help getting to the top. The fire that burns within Paul’s competitive soul help make him a fearless leader, but talent, chemistry and a little bit of luck are what win titles. The talent is now available but one last thing is missing; a change in philosophy.
Despite Paul’s immense talents he has never led his team past the second round of the playoffs. Widely regarded as one of the 10 best players in the league for years, his playoff results are underwhelming. Some of that blame can be placed on his supporting cast, but the common denominator is Paul.
According to basketball-reference.com, Paul’s playoff averages of 20.6 points, 9.7 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 steals are extraordinary. Unfortunately, the underlying theme behind those statistics revolve around his penchant for dominating the ball.
Again, his ball dominance ties in with his lack of a superior supporting cast. The main problem has always been the lack of another high-usage scorer.
The chart above tells all. David West was Paul’s highest usage sidekick until arriving in Los Angeles. West has never been mistaken for someone that can create his own shot, let alone set up his teammates for baskets.
Those not listed include 46 games of Marcus Thornton, Jarrett Jack, Jannero Pargo, Peja Stojakovic again. The picture is pretty clear, Paul needed help.
Even after joining the Clippers in 2011, not much changed. Paul finally had someone who could create offense and score 20 points per game, but needed to be fed the ball in certain areas on the floor to score. That meant a ball-dominant Paul had to take control of the offense, especially in the playoffs.
Much like with the New Orleans Hornets, defenses were able to key on Paul, taking away his passing lanes and forcing the 6’0” point guard to win games nearly single-handedly. Yet again, Paul has been unable to advance out of the second round. For all of Paul’s talents, it would be nearly impossible for him to win multiple playoff series each season on his own.
A New Paul
The arrival of Doc Rivers provided instantaneous legitimacy for the franchise. Rivers is passionate, sensible and brutally honest. Chris Paul found this out immediately, according to Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears.
As professional athletes, you always want someone to push you and motivate you, Paul said. The first meeting I had with Doc, he pretty much told me I wasn't anything. He told me I hadn't done anything in this league, and he was right. You don't always want somebody that's going to tell you what you want to hear.
Reflecting on this quote brings clarification to the entire 2013-14 Clippers season. Rivers needed to break down the undesirable habits and attitudes of the players on his new roster. He needed to mold their talents into a new system that took pressure off Paul, gave Blake Griffin more offensive responsibility, kept the floor spread and featured DeAndre Jordan as the defensive anchor.
Paul seemed hesitant early, as Rivers preached tempo, speed and sharing the ball. It was not until Paul missed a month of action with a separated shoulder that he fully appreciated what Rivers was preaching. Largely, because he was able to see the offense excel without him.
According to NBA.com, from January 4 until Paul’s return on February 9, the Clippers were second in the league in scoring and had a plus-8.1 scoring differential. Rivers’ system was dynamic and lethal, because the team was playing fast and spreading the floor around Griffin.
Every game Paul missed, the league’s best point guard had a front-row seat to Rivers’ explosive offense despite his absence on the floor. The more the team pushed tempo and shared the ball, the more difficult the offense was to defend.
Paul now completely understood his role in the offense and the transition upon his return was seamless, mentioned ESPN’s J.A. Adande.
He still has the ball in his hand a lot, Rivers said. We want him to have the ball; he's the best player in the league with it. But we also feel like it's harder to guard him when he gives it up and comes back, and then they can't load up.
So how do the Clippers improve upon last season? It starts with Paul. The lessons he learned during his first season with Rivers are vital to the success the team seeks this season.
Griffin has proven that he can carry the load along with Paul. No longer will there be a need for Paul to create every shot after pounding the ball into the floor for 15 seconds, waiting for someone to come free for an assist.
The offense can flow through Griffin, forcing the defense to shift to Paul coming of rubs and screens. Griffin’s much-improved jumper now gives Paul one of the best pick-and-roll/pop partners in the league.
Most important of all, Paul has a leader on the sidelines. Someone to hold everyone else accountable so he can focus on playing basketball. Someone for the team’s heart and soul to believe in. A man that Paul respects.
Finally, Paul needs to do a little less, so everyone else can do a bit more. A more balanced offense and a commitment to defense will be the key to this season. His old tendencies are sure to re-emerge, but it is time for Paul to trust the others around him and stick to Rivers’ system.
The talent and structure Paul needs is now firmly in place. He just needs to take advantage of it.