Going into Wednesday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks, one might say that Chris Paul was struggling with his jumper – at least by his standards. Prior to the game, Paul was shooting 45.6 percent on 16-to-24 foot jumpers. It was an area of the floor that he shot 49.5 percent from in 2013-14. On top of that, Paul has seen his shooting from 8-to-16 feet dip from 52.9 percent last season all the way to 43.2 percent this year. It’s pretty concerning. The injuries could most certainly have taken a toll on him during the start of the season, but the team needed him to pick it up. He did just that Wednesday night.
On the opening play of the Film Room, we see one of the Chris Paul’s pet moves. The Los Angeles Clippers run a play that’s designed to get Paul matched up in the post with a player that he can handle. Jamal Crawford clears out the left side of the court, and Paul is posting up against Michael Carter-Williams on the left block. Blake Griffin feeds Paul the ball, and that’s when Paul turns to face up. At this point, Carter-Williams should know what’s about to happen. Paul jab steps once, draws back, stutters, and then rockers into a swinging fadeaway jumper that splashes through the net. It’s vintage Chris Paul.
This is the point guard that the Clippers saw extensively last season. He would routinely get opposing point guards off-balance and out of sorts before firing off his lethal mid-range jumper. Paul exhibits this jumper on the perimeter quite a bit when matched up with bigs, but he also loves to use it when operating out of the post. While he gets pushed out to the mid-range area, Paul is still in an optimal scoring zone. That’s the beauty of Chris Paul when all is going well. This was a shot that he hit a lot last year, and it looks like he might be rounding into form this year.
Later in the first quarter, we see what Paul can do when he recognizes a different defender on him. To start it off, Josh Smith funnels the ball to Paul at the left elbow. Paul starts to size up Tyler Ennis before spinning into a pick-and-roll with Smith. Khris Middleton helps on the ball-handler, and it stops Paul dead in his tracks. Ennis gets back into the play, and we see Paul dial up an isolation at the top of the arc. From there, Paul just bullies and blurs by Ennis before finishing with a running right-handed floater. It's a difficult shot, but it's one Paul still makes at a solid enough rate.
Before facing the Bucks, Paul had been registered with 105 drives to the hoop this season. On those drives, he had shot 48.9 percent on 47 field goal attempts while passing 38 times. He also had 9 turnovers. Last season, Paul shot 49.5 percent on drives to the basket. He attempted 441 drives in 82 games, which comes out to 5.38 drives per game and 5.56 drives per 36 minutes. This season, however, Paul has registered 112 drives in 21 games and 672 minutes – or, basically, 5.33 drives per game and 6.00 drives per 36 minutes. While his drives per game are down, his drives per 36 minutes are up. It’d be nice to see Paul exploit mismatches like this more often, and drive to the hoop with the intent to score. It could work wonders.
Early in the third quarter, we see one of the things that Paul likes to do most when coming off of a screen. DeAndre Jordan runs into the possession soon after Paul crosses midcourt, and Jordan sets a screen to initiate a simple pick-and-roll action. As Paul comes off of the screen, he springs into a wide open space in the mid-range area thanks to Michael Carter-Williams getting hung up on the screen and Miles Plumlee giving Paul way too much space off of it. This allows Paul to dribble into a rather uncontested jumper that he sinks. Essentially, this is a shot Paul has made a career out of hitting.
This is one of those shots that Paul has struggled to hit this season. As the pick-and-roll ball-handler this year, Paul is only shooting 43.0 percent and averaging 0.81 points per possession. Paul is one of the NBA’s best pick-and-roll savants, but even he is struggling in that area this season. A lot of Paul’s issues there have to do with him being less than godly on that jumper of his. If he’s able to pull that arrow out of his quiver on a regular basis from here on out, then the Clippers could start churning out one of the NBA’s most efficient offensive attacks again.
This play starts a little late, but it still shows a lot. The Clippers get an offensive rebound after Blake Griffin missed a left elbow mid-range jumper, and then Luc Mbah a Moute missed a putback before gathering the ball again and bringing it out. The ball rotated around the court before finding its way into the hands of the reliable Paul. That’s where the video picks up. Smith sets a screen for Paul, and Paul gets downhill towards the rim. Almost miraculously, the Bucks just give Paul the lane, and he finishes with a simple right-handed layup.
A couple of things went into this. First off, the Bucks play this terribly. Jabari Parker gets way too wide in his stance, and he gets way too wide on the court. This allows Paul to split the gap. Secondly, there’s no help side defender anywhere. Plumlee is out on Griffin, so he can’t retreat. Middleton gives a half-hearted attempt at digging down, and O.J. Mayo flat out refused to do the job. It’s easy to score on defense like this, but Paul made it look easy. He played along with Parker initially, allowing Parker to just think Paul was going to stretch dribble to the right. Instead, Paul darted through the gap, and the rest is history. This level of explosion is what the team needs.
Lastly, we see the cold-blooded assassin that Paul is. The Clippers are just trying to burn out some clock here, and it’s something that drives a lot of people wild because it forces the offense into late action during a pivotal part of the game. With about 11 seconds on the shot clock, Griffin runs up to set Paul a screen. The Bucks switch on the play. This forces Giannis Antetokounmpo onto the savvy vet. Paul starts to walk the defender down, and the second he spots Antetokounmpo start to shuffle his feet too much, Paul rises up for a three that hits nothing but net. It’s gorgeous.
This is how you negate a defender with long limbs on the perimeter. You simply just walk right into him and force him to make the first move. Paul does that here. He methodically walks Antetokounmpo down, and then fires off the three-point attempt. It’s one of those plays that makes you appreciate the greatness of Chris Paul. He was calm, cool, and collected in what could have been a tough moment. The team needed a big shot to put the game away, and he was going to be the one who provided it for them. It says a lot about the burden he carries.
We all want the Chris Paul from last season to show up. The issue is that the injuries he’s suffered throughout his career, as well as the beginning of this season, have taken a toll on him. Sometimes his legs have it, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes his hands allow him to work the ball over like a magician, and sometimes they don’t. He’s had his ups and his downs already this year, but he’s always going to be the guiding light no matter what. That's just how it goes with Paul at the helm. Just hope that the guy who showed up against Milwaukee on Wednesday night is the guy who is here to stay this season. The team needs him in a big way.