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Clippers 2016-17 Player Previews: Chris Paul

The Clippers have always gone as Chris Paul goes, and that won’t change this season.

NBA: Preseason-Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Name: Chris Paul

Height: 6’0”

Weight: 175 lbs.

Age: 31

Position: PG

Experience: Entering his 12th NBA season, sixth with the Clippers

Key stats: Averaged 19.5 points, 10.0 assists, 4.2 rebounds in 32.7 minutes per game. Paul connected on 46.2 percent of his shots, including 37.1 percent of his triple tries. 89.6 percent free throw shooting was second on the club behind Jamal Crawford.

Contract status: Entering the fourth year of a five-year deal he signed in July of 2013. He’s on the books for $22,868,828 with a player option for next season.

Breakdown: 2015-16 was another ho-hum year for Chris Paul. His constant greatness has become so routine and expected that there really isn’t much to say about him that we all don’t already know. The term “pure point guard” is nebulous and debatable, but what more could you want out of your floor general? The lone “flaw” in his game is said to be that he has a tendency to over-dribble, but that’s something that sounds inane to complain about considering all the other areas in which he excels. It’s hardly fatal.

CP3 was the driving force that kept the Clippers’ heads above water without Blake Griffin for the majority of the year. They still would’ve had a good chance of beating Portland in the first round even after Griffin went down, but Paul breaking his hand was the nail in the coffin.

There aren’t five players in the league more valuable to their team than Paul is to the Clippers. The Clips scored 111.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor last season, and that number cratered to 98 points per 100 with him sitting on the bench. His impact on defense remains underrated, too, as L.A. boasted a defensive rating of 99.8 when he was out there, which jumped to 102.7 when Paul was out.

In short, Chris Paul is still a two-way monster that has shown no tangible signs of slowing down.

Outlook for 2016-17: CP3 is easily the Clippers’ most irreplaceable player, so keeping him healthy and rested throughout the regular season is obviously of high priority. The 32.7 minutes he averaged last season was the lowest number of his career, and one would imagine that number will keep gradually trending down. Limiting Paul to about 30 minutes a night would seem ideal for his long-term health.

The Ray Felton signing was one that was surely made with an eye toward making sure Paul doesn’t get run into the ground. Assuming he’s in shape and motivated, Felton is a far more usable rotation piece than Pablo Prigioni was last season. As a result, he should be able to eat up (pun very intended) a few more of CP3’s minutes, which figures to help keep him fresh once the postseason rolls around. Paul is a warrior, but he doesn’t need to be killing himself trying to win a game in December against the Nuggets. The Clippers can - and should - pace themselves.

His indefatigable quest for a title seems to have gotten steeper this summer with the Warriors having beefed up, but the Clips’ on-paper path to the Western Conference Finals seems to have cleared, a bit. The Thunder and Spurs seem primed to take a step back, leaving a healthy Clipper bunch as Golden State’s likely top obstacle. Considering Paul’s well-documented stretch of having never even made it that far in his 11-year career, a Conference Finals berth would be a positive step.

However, there’s no telling how many prime years he has left. His slight frame has taken a beating through the years, and no amount of mental and physical toughness can outlast the effects of that kind of wear and tear. The Clippers have kept this core together despite coming up short in the past because they ultimately believe in it. Considering the way the team goes as CP3 does, he’s going to have to be at his very best if this is the year they finally, mercifully take it to the next level.

There’s also the rather large matter of his contract status looming overhead. Assuming no catastrophic injury takes place, Paul should opt-out next summer and cash-in on another max deal. He’s made no secret that he’s hell-bent on winning a championship, and, as we just saw with Kevin Durant and the Thunder, nothing is guaranteed. If Paul decides at any point that his best chance to win isn’t with the Clippers, he could very well decide to move on.

Not to sound hyperbolic, but this feels like a make-or-break year for this iteration of the Clippers. Chris Paul knows it, and it’s safe to bet he’s going to be in for yet another Hall of Fame-caliber individual campaign.

Now let’s close this out by sharing a good laugh:

Haha. Sure, okay.