As part of the ad campaign for Jordan Brand's new CP3 VI shoe I've been asked to write a series of posts on Chris Paul. This is an assignment I am happy to do.
So far in this series I've been focusing a lot on what are commonly called intangibles. Leadership, intelligence, determination, competitiveness: Chris Paul certainly has all of those things in spades. And he certainly is the least likely of NBA mega-stars, at least based on physical appearances and attributes. But you don't become first team All NBA on intangibles alone -- there are plenty of aspects of Chris Paul's game that you can definitely tange, and one of them is his ball handling skill.
As you already know, I had the chance to actually share the court with CP3 over the weekend, and even in an informal pick up game, the guy is astounding. He was just goofing around, but watching him for just 15 minutes of action I believe I came away with a more complete understanding of what makes him special.
Why can Chris Paul get to wherever he wants on the basketball court? Think about it. Paul goes pretty much where he wants, and few if any other players can do that. But imagine if you didn't have to dribble. Imagine if you could just walk or stroll or run or skip where you wanted on the court, carrying the ball along like a football player. Defenders in basketball aren't allowed to grab or use their arms to impede you -- you could get anywhere you wanted if you didn't have to dribble. And that's more or less how it is for Paul.
His handle is so extraordinary that he just goes where he wants and barely has to consider the issue of getting the ball there with him. It is just attached -- it follows him, or maybe it leads him; it's hard to tell. They are one. He has the extraordinary ability to do what he needs to with his body, without seeming to worry about the ball. So when he gets a defender on his hip, he keeps him there, without much concern for how he will maintain control of the ball as well. Double teams, triple teams, it doesn't much matter -- he can get out of them, and then it's all over, because he now has open teammates to feed.
Who are some of the other NBA point guards who enter the discussion of the best in the game? Deron Williams, Steve Nash, Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo -- guys like that right? Williams led the league in turnovers last season. Nash was third, Westbrook and Rondo tied for fifth. Rose didn't qualify, but was seventh (tied with Rondo just behind all those other guys) the season before. It's not surprising. Point guards handle the ball for their team, it's their job, and turnovers come with the territory. If you've got the ball, then at times you're going to lose the ball, so point guards (or very high usage scorers like Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade) almost always lead the league in turnovers.
You know who never leads the league in turnovers, and isn't really close? Chris Paul. He wasn't in the top 40 in the league last season, despite handling the ball constantly and playing over 36 minutes per game. One might think of Nash and Williams as players who have just as good a handle as Paul -- but it's not true. Paul takes care of the ball much better than either of those players, much better than any high profile point guard in the league.
The season before Chris Paul joined the Clippers, they committed the second most turnovers in the league, over 16 per game. Last season with Chris Paul, they committed the second fewest, a little more than 13 per game. Given that every NBA possession is worth about a point, that improvement in turnovers accounted ALL BY ITSELF for essentially all of the Clippers 3.2 point improvement in offensive efficiency. Think turnovers don't matter? The Clippers were 22nd in offensive efficiency in 10-11, fourth in 11-12, and the difference was almost entirely related to reduced turnovers.
Paul isn't the most spectacular player in the league -- unless you are a fan of spectacular handles. In that regard, he is without equal.