I want to talk about Ryan Shwan’s great article over on ESPN.com. His argument is that Chris Paul hurt his knee and never will be the same again. He is a step slower than he once was, so to keep playing at a high level he has adapted his game to compensate for the physical limitations. Ryan says,
He goes to the basket less, but compensates by shooting at a better clip than ever before. With his strength and low center of gravity intact, he often relies on running into opposing players to force them to retreat and give him room to shoot…Regardless, it has been an amazing transformation over the course of less than a year. As he’s encountered new limitations, he has shifted his focus to being the best floor general he can be.
Much of the criticism aimed at Paul has been that he hasn’t played up to his usual standard. This is unfair to Paul. He cannot play like he once did so he has turned his focus to becoming the “best floor general he can be.” We must now hold CP3 to a different standard. The criteria we once looked at to see if he had a good game needs to be changed. Ryan says it best,
So what does it mean? Whereas Paul was once on track to be Isiah Thomas 2.0, he has become something else entirely without that lightning first step. It might be time for a new comparison: Paul has become John Stockton 2.0.
Paul has adapted his style to become a player who is more reliant on guile and ballhandling skills than he is athleticism. And, frankly, it’s a smart move for him if he is concerned about his longevity in the league (thanks to Rohan from At The Hive for that link). Hornets fans might want the old Chris Paul back, but would anyone really complain about having a John Stockton-level player for 14 years? Stockton never missed the playoffs and is the all-time leader in assists and steals. A fan would be crazy to turn down that type of player. To further prove his point, Ryan says,
After noticing this tendency and drafting this article, I contacted Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus and ESPN.com, who has a statistical system that identifies similar players. Pelton usually runs it for three seasons of a player’s career at a time, but at my request, he examined Paul just this season, since his injury. And when Pelton ran the numbers, who did his computer cough up as the player most similar to the current Chris Paul? John Stockton.
The comparison makes sense. A lot of Paul’s stats are similar to Stockton’s. I went over to basketball-reference.com to look at some of Paul’s numbers. I get, and agree, with the point about Paul’s style changing but I disagree when Ryan says,
[W]e have to accept that he is now a different kind of incredible than he once was. That might not make him MVP, but it may still make him one of the best point guards of all time.
How many times this season have you seen Paul flat-out dominate a game in any capacity: scoring, game-managing, anyway at all? Very few if any at all. He’s looked good in the majority of them. Yet, good is still subpar even with a new style of pay.
If Paul has become Stockton-like and is more focused on creating shots for his teammates then you would assume his assists would be up. Currently he is averaging 9.5 assists per game which is his lowest total since his first two years in the league. Paul actually averaged 1.2 (10.7) assists per game more last year when he took almost 3 more shots per game and had a far worse team. His Assist Percentage is also lower than the past three years.
Ryan says, “He goes to the basket less, but compensates by shooting at a better clip than ever before.” Yes, his True Shooting Percentage is the second highest it’s ever been at .592, but that is counterbalanced by the fact that he is making 1.1 shots and 2.3 points per game less than his career averages. His assists are lower and he’s scoring less. That’s not the best combination. If he is changing from one style to another you’d expect some numbers to drop, but you also want to see some increase as well.
After looking at Paul’s stats and watching almost every Hornets game this year I was coming to the conclusion that Paul is having a down year. But then I started thinking about how slowly Monty Williams’ team plays. Maybe Pace is a bigger issue in this than people realize.
In a slower system, Paul’s offensive numbers should decrease. He shouldn’t keep having terrible games, but overall his numbers should be down. And that leads to another question: Does Chris Paul fit with Monty Williams as his head coach? Is this the type of system which will maximize Paul’s skills? So far it does not seem like that. But no one is really going to have an answer to that question yet.
Deron Williams was limited in a rigid offensive system by Jerry Sloan for years. Is anyone in Utah happy with how that turned out? I find it ironic that now it’s Paul who could be hindered by his coach’s system. One thing is for sure: if Monty is a good coach then he will adapt his coaching philosophy/strategy to get the most out of his best player.
Questions? Comments? Want to yell at me? Let me know down below in the comments or on twitter: @NOLAJake!