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2016-17 Exit Interviews: Chris Paul

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The 2017 exit interview series concludes with a look at the legendary Chris Paul.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Los Angeles Clippers Danny La-USA TODAY Sports

Name: Chris Paul

Age: 32

Key Stats: 18.1 points, 9.2 assists, 5.0 rebounds in just over 31 minutes per game during the regular season. 25.3 points, 9.9 assists, 5.0 rebounds during the seven-game postseason series vs. Utah. Missed 21 regular season games due to injury/rest.

Years in NBA: 11

2016-17 Salary: $22,868,827

Future Contract Status: Player option for the 2017-18 season at $24,268,959.

Summary:

For the first time in his six season as a Los Angeles Clipper, Chris Paul was not rewarded with an All-NBA honor. In fact, it was just the second time he failed to make an All-NBA team since 2008. Missing 21 regular season games didn’t exactly help his case, but it’s not like CP3’s performance this season declined. He actually improved in a few areas.

Paul’s 41.1% shooting from three-point range was the best mark of his career, and the 47.6% mark from the field was an improvement upon last season. The scoring and assist numbers were down a tick, but Doc Rivers effectively managed his minutes. The 31.5 minutes per game were a career-low for Paul. That’s obviously a good thing considering the last thing the Clippers need is for their franchise player to kill himself playing tons of minutes during the season, especially given the postseason injury woes that have become all too familiar for LA.

Though they came up short in the postseason, it was still another brilliant individual campaign from one of the game’s least appreciated superstars. The question looming over the entire season will be answered fairly soon, though. Will he re-up to give it another go with the Clips? Or will he opt out in order to try and find that elusive team success elsewhere?

Strengths:

Paul may not have as many physical advantages as some of his counterparts, but that hardly keeps him from grasping control of a game and rarely ceding it. He’s the central figure of what the Clippers want to do offensively, and this season you could easily argue he was the best defensive point guard in the league. If you buy into defensive RPM, CP3’s DRPM of 2.76 ranked well above any other player at his position. Patrick Beverley’s 1.38 mark came in at a distant second.

Paul’s net rating of 14.9 was the fourth-best in the league this season, and he was first among players that don’t play for the Golden State Warriors. If that doesn’t illustrate his importance to the Clippers’ efforts on both ends of the floor, nothing will. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan checked in at sixth and seventh, respectively.

His counting stats weren’t as gaudy as some other point guards this season, but we also need to account for the fact that he didn’t play nearly as many minutes as most others. If you adjust and use his per-36 minute numbers, he’s right there with the best of the rest. 20.7 points, 10.6 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 2.2 steals sure is a beefy line. If anyone tries to argue with you that CP3 has lost a step, it’s your duty to just scoff at them rudely.

Doc Rivers is the de facto “boss” of this team, but we all know who’s really in charge around here. Can Paul be grating at times on his teammates? Clearly. That’s no secret. Some guys just need a kick in the ass every now and then, though, and he’s happy to provide that for this team. We constantly hear about his lack of conference finals appearances, but there aren’t many players in the league that have done more winning over the last decade than Chris Paul has. His leadership skills have played at least a small role in that success.

He’s also a player that has always been well aware of his limitations. He’s obviously not built like LeBron or Westbrook, so he can’t just barrel into the paint with reckless abandon and dunk his way through games. Instead, Paul tends to pick his spots offensively. His primary task is to get his teammates involved and keep the offense humming along. As a result, generating shots for himself tends to take a back seat, especially early in games.

A killer instinct is nebulous and intangible, but most of the very best players in the history of the game have had one in some form or another. Kawhi Leonard’s killer instinct may not be as pronounced or vicious as Michael Jordan’s was, but it obviously gets the job done. CP3’s is somewhere in between. He’s an emotional player, but he won’t rip your heart out in the same physically dominant way someone like LeBron will. The fact that he’s capable of completely taking over a game offensively, as he did several times in the Utah playoff series, at his size remains a marvel.

At this point we’re just used to his consistent and steady dominance.

Weaknesses:

One of the most common complaints regarding CP3’s game bemoans his tendency to coast early through games. To be fair, it can sometimes be frustrating to watch. Considering we’ve seen time and time again the way he’s able to get to any spot on the court and score, sometimes it would be nice if he did so more often, especially in an attempt to set an early tone. On occasion, Paul is selfless to a fault.

At this point of his career, it feels safe to say that CP3 also has something of an injury problem. Since coming to LA, Paul has played in 60, 70, 62, 82, 74 and 61 regular season games, respectively. None of those seasons has had a particularly catastrophic long-term injury strike in the middle of the season, but often times the timing is awful.

Last year, he broke a bone in his finger during the first round series against Portland that kept him out for the playoffs. The year before that, he was hobbled by a nagging hamstring injury that ultimately contributed to their infamous loss to Houston in the conference semifinals. He was able to stay healthy against Utah, but the team couldn’t overcome the loss of Blake Griffin, of course.

In terms of actual basketballing abilities, CP3 really doesn’t have any major weaknesses.

Future with the Clippers

This, of course, is the most important question facing the Clippers as they head into the summer. Paul, Griffin and J.J. Redick are each likely to hit the free agent market. While most still believe most of the core will remain intact, you have to wonder whether CP3 wants to commit his last prime years to this franchise that has struggled to get over the hump.

The Clippers can pay him more than any other team, though, and many point to the fact that he helped negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement that strongly rewards superstars. One would imagine CP3 will want to cash-in on the new clause he helped enact. Five years and $210 million would be tempting to anybody. This is the reason most expect Paul to remain with the Clips.

Will he? We’ll see. The line of potential suitors will form to the left when Paul opts out of his current deal. The Clippers will be at the very front of that line, though, and we feel like he’s almost surely going to be sticking around.