Chris Paul matters once again
We talk all the time about the motivation of athletes, using words like "glory," "revenge," "money." All too often we omit "relevance."
Relevance is what this 2010-11 edition of Chris Paul -- this 18-point, 10-assist, best-shooting-ever edition -- is about. Remember those Chris Paul versus Deron Williams debates? Their duel for NBA point guard supremacy used to be one of the best ongoing arguments in the NBA. But after injuries wiped out half of Paul's season last year the default answer became Williams. The field has grown more crowded with the playoff performances and/or world championship efforts of Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook. And don't forget Steve Nash. Paul wants to force you to include him in the conversation. Oh, he doesn't talk about the need to be talked about. "Let people say what they want to," he says, "It's my job to go out and play." That sounds nice. Except that's not how it really is. This is all about being in that convo.
"I know Chris," Denver's Carmelo Anthony says. "That's my guy. I know he wants to prove that he is one of the top point guards in the NBA. By his injury a lot of people stopped talking about him, which is normal. I'm glad to see him back doing what he can do."
When he's doing it and doing it well, there's no one better. Yes, Rondo is racking up assists at a historic rate. But at some point you have to put the ball in the basket yourself. It's alarming when opponents feel the best way to stop your team is to leave you wide open with the game on the line. Or they can foul you (Rondo's shooting 53 percent from the line).
Williams is quickly adjusting to his teammates and just helped the Utah Jazz to a mantel-worthy pair of victories in Miami and Orlando.
But Paul is the only point guard with his hand on the tiller of an undefeated team. "Right now he's playing at the highest level," an NBA scout said.
His win share per 48 minutes stat is 0.3453, tops in the league and a number that would be the highest in NBA history if he keeps it up.
Hornets coach Monty Williams keeps Paul as the focal point of the offense, running extensive pick-and-roll sets, trusting Paul to make the right decision again and again. There isn't a safer set of hands in the league. Paul is tops among all ball handlers with an assist-to-turnover ratio of almost 6-1.
In a refined statistic, Paul had an assist-to-bad-pass-turnover ratio of 7.6-1 in his last full season of 2008-09, according to 82games.com. He simply doesn't force passes when he shouldn't. He's the anti-Brett Favre.
Paul hates turnovers with a passion, the kind of hatred normally seen only among reality show contestants vying for the affection of a C-list celebrity.
"As soon as the game's over, I want to know how many turnovers I had," Paul says. "My job is to run the team and get us as many possessions as possible. When I turn the ball over I take possessions away from us."
He said half of his technical fouls come when he believes an official's bad call has resulted in him getting charged with a turnover. Fouls he can live with. Turnovers are like a flesh-eating virus. So he protects the ball with Secret Service-level security.
He can score when he needs to (he's making 52 percent of his shots and 46 percent of his 3s), but he always seems more concerned with finding his teammates than taking the shot himself. He puts the ball up as a last resort. That's why it's no accident that players put up their best numbers when they're around Paul. Emeka Okafor is shooting 73 percent this season. Former Hornet Tyson Chandler's only double-digit scoring average came in New Orleans and coincided with Paul's MVP runner-up season in 2007-08.
The question is whether other players will want to try out the Paul effect for themselves. That is to say, can Paul keep the Hornets relevant? He has had enough doubts about the team's ability to field a winner that he expressed his willingness to be traded over the summer.
"It was letting them know how I felt," he says. "I don't just play for the 82-game season. I want to win, and I want guys that are on that same page." Between Monty Williams' coaching and new general manager Dell Demps' early moves, such as bringing in Trevor Ariza, Paul has seen some encouraging signs. "Coach really came in here with a great plan," he says. "He's got a great group around us right now, guys that just work hard. It's a long season. We're going to see how it goes.
"They're doing a real good job right now."
Is Paul invested in New Orleans enough to go beyond complimenting and start recruiting? Would he press Carmelo to join him in the Bayou? If they're intent on playing together it would be a lot easier to make it happen with the Hornets than with the Knicks or Nets. For one thing they wouldn't have to wait until Paul becomes a free agent in 2012. And the Hornets do have the means to facilitate a deal for Carmelo.
For example, a three-team trade with the Philadelphia 76ers could bring Anthony to the Hornets, send Andre Iguodala and Jason Kapono and a draft pick to the Nuggets, and give the Sixers $20.9 million worth of expiring contracts in the form of Peja Stojakovic and J.R. Smith. Granted, Denver isn't enthusiastic about the three years and $44 million remaining on Iguodala's contract and Philadelphia would like more than expiring contracts in exchange for him, but it shows there are options that could offer something for all involved if nothing better materializes for Denver before the trade deadline.
Paul has made himself relevant again, something that shouldn't be a great surprise to those who remember his stellar play from the not-so-distant past. If he can keep an entire franchise relevant, that will go down as his crowning achievement.
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