When you're a 7-time NBA All-Star, selected to the All-NBA First Team four times, and picked to the All-Defensive First Team four times, there's not much else you need to accomplish to give your career any sort of legitimacy. But something has evaded Chris Paul ever since he's been in the NBA; a championship. And even before looking all the way in the distance at winning a championship, one more baby step is required of a Chris Paul squad — at the very least, a conference championship appearance.
Chris Paul's career accolades
Before we look into the future, let's reexamine Chris Paul's past season. While he performed at a very high level, and he certainly had the accolades to back it up, the team still didn't get as far they wanted. You could talk ad nauseam about the collapse in Game 5 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, there are positives to what happened last season. Chris Paul is one of the feistiest, most competitive players in the entire league. If anyone has a sour taste in his mouth after the way last year ended, it's him. And you can bet your bottom dollar he's been putting in the time this offseason to get acclimated to the new roster additions, ownership, and coaching staff. He's the mouthpiece and leader on the Clippers.
Chris Paul's shot chart from 2013-2014
When looking back at last season and then trying to build off of that going forward, it's important to take a gander at Chris Paul's shooting chart up above. In a trend that won't shock anyone, Chris Paul is a very good mid-range shooter. Like, really really good. From the 16-to-24 foot area last season, Chris Paul shot 44.0% — 85 of 193 — which was good enough for 6th best among point guards who attempted at least 150 shots in that range. However, among point guards who attempted at least 300 shots in the mid-range area last season, Chris Paul's 44.8% — 154 of 344 — tied for 2nd only behind Steph Curry's 48.7%. I'd say that's not bad company to be up near. The guy he was tied with was Tony Parker. To say that Chris Paul is a deadly mid-range shooter, and 16-to-24 foot shooter, could be an understatement at times. His ability to work his dribble and create the necessary space to get his shot off has nearly no equal.
Chris Paul shakes Draymond Green and hits mid-range jumper
The mid-range jumper that Chris Paul utilized against Golden State's Draymond Green there was one that he's perfected over the years. His dribble and mid-range jumper go hand-in-hand. One needs the other in order to survive. The threat of his mid-range jumper lures defenders to play up on him but his extraordinary handles give defenders pause which leads to them backing off and trying to close the distance with a shot contest. Draymond Green is a damn good defender. The reason he kept getting put onto Chris Paul — also true of Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala — was because of his length.
While Green got switched onto Paul here during a pick-and-roll that saw Thompson as the primary defender, he still saw plenty of time on Paul during this series. What Green lacks in agility, compared to Paul, he more than makes up for with his broad chest and wingspan that just wreaks havoc on offensive players. But Paul used his handles to get Green to respect the drive which gave Paul enough space to get a shot off late in the shot clock. That's what Chris Paul can do, even against a defender as good as Draymond Green.
Chris Paul splits double-team and gets into paint
This is the other thing that Chris Paul is exceptional at. If the defense tries to double-team him off of a pick-and-roll, Paul just splits the middle and wreaks havoc. He can either finish around the rim, where he shot 59.1% — 114 of 193 — from Inside 8 Feet, or he can do what he does here — pass off to a wide open teammate when that teammate's defender rotates over to cut the lane off from a driving Paul. That's part of the danger when facing Chris Paul. It's not just his ability to hit a mid-range shot, it's also his ability to be so great out of the pick-and-roll, both with his vision and scoring.
On that particular play, Chris Paul splits the double-team that Utah presents off the pick-and-roll he's running with Blake Griffin. By splitting the double-team and driving into the paint, Paul brings over not one but two additional defenders. Rudy Gobert, who was initially on Spencer Hawes in the corner, must slide over to block Paul off from the rim and contest any shot he takes. Gordon Hayward, who was sliding through the paint following Jamal Crawford, steps over and tries to slide in front of Paul as well but can't get there fast enough.
Paul goes vertical to draw Gobert but passes out to the corner where Hawes is waiting wide open. Hawes sees a recovering Hayward start to make a run at him to contest and passes to the wing where Crawford is waiting to shoot. It's a play that the Clippers will surely run a ton this year. Any pick-and-roll that Chris Paul runs with Blake Griffin is going to create space and opportunity but if the defenders try to double-team Paul on those, he'll just split like he always does and make the right play at the right time. It's second nature to him.
Chris Paul is just a natural shot-creator, both for himself and for others. Only 21.7% of his made field goals last season were assisted on. He creates his own shot, as you can see. But, as mentioned, he also generated a lot of scoring chances for his teammates. In fact, Chris Paul led the NBA in assists per game (10.7), secondary assists per game (2.2), assist opportunities per game (19.8), points created by assists per game (24.5), and points created by assists per 48 minutes (33.3). This was among players who played in at least 41 games and averaged at least 25 minutes per game last year.
If you combined both his points per game and points created by assists per game, Chris Paul generated 43.6 points per game last season for the Los Angeles Clippers. LeBron James, the best player on the planet, totaled 42.4 points per game last year when adding those two numbers together. Even Steph Curry, who is an offensive juggernaut, was behind Chris Paul with a mark of 43.2 last season. This tells you the type of impact Chris Paul has on an offense over the course of a game and a season. The 43.6 points per game generated by Chris Paul led the entire NBA last season.
The reality of the situation, however, is that Chris Paul is a 29-year old point guard who is now entering his 10th season in the NBA. He'll be 30 years old by the time the playoffs roll around. Paul only played in 62 games last year due to injury. It's been a common theme for him. He missed 12 games the year before and 6 games the year before that. Out of the 230 regular season games for the Los Angeles Clippers since he was traded here, Chris Paul has played in 192 of them.
If you're playing in nearly 83.5% of your team's games, you can live with it. But this is not just some random player or starter. This is the best point guard in the entire league and a top five player overall. You need him healthy and you need him there all year, especially in a tough Western Conference where missing just even a handful of games could doom you to not having homecourt in a pivotal playoff matchup. Health will always be the biggest factor when it comes to him.
If there were another side to the "Chris Paul can improve on this" coin, it'd be his aggressiveness. I realize that saying that Chris Paul needs to be more aggressive goes against everything he's ever done but, sometimes, for the sake of this team he needs to be more aggressive. In the preseason game against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night, we saw a more aggressive Chris Paul and it was a sight to behold. His shot looked better, he seemed in a better rhythm, and he was doing a masterful job of balancing his scoring with his passing. That night, you saw what an aggressive Chris Paul looked like and it was marvelous. Now, obviously, he can't do that every night. It would exact a toll that could deprive him of playing in more games, something the Clippers need out of him. However, when the situation calls for it, he needs to step up and be ruthless. He needs to take over and establish his dominance.
There are few, if any, more competitive and fiery basketball players in the world than Chris Paul. Some more aggression out of him isn't that much to ask for. For this team to take its ultimate next step, they need that level of dominance out of him. Sometimes being selfish is a good thing. Chris Paul needs to realize that from time to time and not defer if the situation calls for something else. If being more aggressive as a scorer requires him to play off the ball a little bit more and letting Griffin run the show, then it wouldn't be a bad idea.
Chris Paul's catch-and-shoot Effective Field Goal Percentage of 60.8% ranked 19th out of 166 players who saw action in 41 games last season and got 25 minutes per game. It was slightly higher than Klay Thompson's 60.5% eFG% and we all know and respect how great of a pure shooter Klay Thompson is. It was also higher than guys like Carmelo Anthony, Ray Allen, Bradley Beal, Arron Afflalo, Kevin Love, Dirk Nowitzki, and a laundry list of other notable names. Chris Paul can shoot. He's a damn good catch-and-shoot guard. If him scoring more requires him to have the ball out of his hands and let Blake Griffin run the show, then so be it. He can still be an aggressive scorer without the ball. That is possible.
There is a delicate balance that can be achieved. Chris Paul is the premier point guard in the NBA and the ball should almost always be in his hands. However, when another option is out there who can run the offense in a different way that'll make defenses pay, it might be time for Chris Paul to save himself some wear and tear and also help the offense in other ways. For instance, Chris Paul's health could also hinge on him controlling the ball less. Would the offense for the Los Angeles Clippers this upcoming season suffer a little bit? It could but it could also keep right along where it was last season even despite the loss of assistant coach Alvin Gentry. If Chris Paul were able to balance being the primary ball-handler with being a spot-up shooter at times when it's Blake Griffin's turn to run the show, perhaps something special could truly happen both for himself and the team.
Chris Paul finds Jamal Crawford for a corner three
Part of that is in this play right here. Chris Paul beats Ty Lawson upcourt, and Joe Ingles, who might not even make the final roster, hits Paul in-stride with a perfect pass that leads Paul directly to the rim. From here, Paul could have taken a contested layup when Crawford's man comes over to wall off the rim, but he chose to dish the ball out to Crawford in one motion for a corner three that went in. Regardless of the result of the final shot, it was a beautiful and smart play by all parties involved. But that's the point with Chris Paul playing off the ball. He can still be unselfish even without the ball because when he gets it on cuts and screens, the defense still has to respect his ability as a scorer, thus still opening up lanes and alleys for others to operate. One small tweak could lead to a huge payoff. Chris Paul sometimes playing off the ball could benefit all.
When looking at Chris Paul's overall game, it's not hard to fall in love with what he can do on the floor. He's an efficient scorer, a deadly ball-handler, master at picking the pocket of opposing guards, and has one of the best displays of court vision the league has seen. Outside of his health and sometimes overly unselfish nature, there are not many warts to his game.
If one does stick out, though, it would be that he doesn't drive to the paint going left as often as he does when he goes right. He's a strong dribbler with both hands but, and this isn't a shock, he prefers going with his dominant right hand way more often than he chooses to go with his left. This has led to some defenders attacking the pick and roll by blitzing Paul and forcing him left when he doesn't want to go left, which can bog down the offensive set if there's no one in sight for him to dish the ball to when going left. He's made one hell of a career for himself regardless of that but it's still notable enough to mention.
||Mid-Range FGA / FGA%||Three-Point FGA / FGA%||In The Paint FGA / FGA%|
|2014-2015 PRESEASON||26 / 32.5%||24 / 30.0%||30 / 37.5%|
|2013-2014 SEASON||344 / 39.5%||212 / 24.4%||314 / 36.1%|
|2012-2013 SEASON||319 / 37.3%||232 / 27.1%||305 / 35.6%|
|2011-2012 SEASON||289 / 32.5%||213 / 23.9%||388 / 43.6%|
Now, while it's a tad difficult to garner anything meaningful out of the preseason numbers, it does seem a little interesting that Chris Paul seems to be eschewing the mid-range game for a better analytics game. If you buy into the analytics movement, the only shots that are quality shots are three-pointers and shots inside the paint, since those yield the highest return on your investment. This year in the preseason, Chris Paul has had 67.5% of his shot attempts occur in those two zones. That 67.5% is the same mark he had during his first season in Los Angeles. The 67.5% in the preseason is up from 60.5% last year and 62.7% from the year prior.
However, as mentioned, it's hard to say that this will be a trend for Chris Paul throughout the entire season. If it is, there shouldn't be many complaints. It's a wise strategy and it would also open up the mid-range area for him when he did decide to venture in there and let loose. As noted at the beginning of this piece, Chris Paul is one of the premier mid-range shooting point guards in the league today. So, ultimately, using a strategy that creates more space for him in that area would be a good thing no matter what the process was that made it happen. Perhaps this is something Chris Paul has worked on during the offseason. It definitely shouldn't shock anyone if he did, since he's one of the hardest working players in the league.
One of the most interesting things about Chris Paul's evolution and progression as a player in this league has been that his average shot as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers has been from 14.9 feet. Before he was traded, in his 6 seasons with the Hornets, his average shot distance was 12.4 feet. Two-and-a-half feet doesn't seem like much but Chris Paul has settled into a comfort zone on the floor as a shot maker and shot taker. Part of that is out of necessity due to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan being such great finishers around the rim. When he was with the Hornets, Paul had David West as an available option in the mid-range whereas with the Clippers he has to rely on himself more to do that job. So in order to keep the offense flowing with the Clippers, Paul has molded his game to fit the team around him. That's the sign of a true teammate. Doing whatever it takes to win.
While Chris Paul's upcoming season will be a defining one for him, it won't be the last chance he gets. Due to his contract, which sees him in Los Angeles for the next three seasons — and possibly a fourth one if he picks up his 2017-2018 player option — it could be safe to say that Chris Paul will be here for good. With Blake Griffin and — depending on what happens with his impending free agency — DeAndre Jordan at his side for the foreseeable future, Chris Paul has the pieces in place to lead a team to a championship. In an era where point guards very rarely lead their teams to a title anymore, Chris Paul is in a position to etch his name into the history of the sport.
There are progressive steps that Paul can make this year, which have been covered, and should he make those steps then there is no telling what he or this team are capable of both now and in the future. This is not a "title or bust" season for the Los Angeles Clippers. But there does need to be a next step. A step the franchise hasn't taken before. A step that has been one game away from their grasp a decade ago and nearly a game away from their grasp last season.
At the very least, this team needs to achieve the conference finals. It won't be a lost season if they fall short of that, but with father time starting to peer through the window at Chris Paul, and the nagging onset of injuries that could bumpy the road at any turn, this is "go time" for the team and its leader. However, if there is a player steadfast enough to endure and overcome, it would be Chris Paul. The man who is listed generously at six feet tall stands taller than the rest when on the court. Tall enough to see over the defense and find a shooter through all the mess. And, if this last season and ownership ordeal taught us anything, tall enough to see the sun through the stormy skies.