- J.A. Adande, ESPN Senior Writer
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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
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
2hEthan Sherwood Strauss
1dEthan Sherwood Strauss
2hMatt Walks, ESPN.com
43mVince Masi, ESPN Stats & Information
7hArash Markazi and Ben Alamar