NBA

How Chris Paul Is Surprising Defenses This NBA Season

Chris Paul has built a legacy as a great point guard. After all, he didn’t earn the nickname “The Point God” for nothing. Over the course of 14-plus NBA seasons, Paul has averaged 18.4 points, 9.5 assists, and 2.2 steals per game. He currently ranks seventh all-time in assists and ninth all-time in steals.

Yet Paul struggled at times playing with James Harden in Houston. His contract with the Rockets was considered one of the worst in the league. Many of his fans found it difficult to watch.

In his first season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, however, Paul is playing with a renewed sense of purpose — especially when it counts. The 34-year-old has exceeded expectations in three specific ways, and it’ll helped him lead the Thunder into playoff contention.

1. Chris Paul’s red-hot midrange shooting

In recent years, the NBA has experienced a revolution in its shooting philosophy. Gone are midrange shots. Instead, teams focus more on analytically sound shot selections. At the end of the day, this means two things: three-pointers and shots at the rim.

In his two seasons with the Rockets, Paul did his best to embrace this mentality. That’s not surprising when you consider how fully Houston coach Mike D’Antoni and GM Daryl Morey believe in the analytics movement. Yet Paul struggled at times in that system. He simply wasn’t able to take the shots he feels most comfortable with.

In Oklahoma City, this limitation has been lifted, and Paul is free to hoist shots from midrange. His performance in that regard has been better than anyone predicted. Through January 16, Paul is canning a staggering 56.6% of his midrange shots — better than any other player in the league.

2. Chris Paul’s top-notch clutch performances

Paul hasn’t just been hot from midrange; he’s also consistently hot in clutch moments. NBA.com defines “clutch” as the last five minutes of a game with a point differential of five or less. Paul currently leads the entire league in clutch points with 103. The next closest player is Zach LaVine, with a mere 83 clutch points.

Paul’s clutch performance is especially mind-boggling when you consider that he ranked a dismal 153rd last year, with just 23 clutch points all season. This kind of turnaround defies all expectations. Generally, as a player ages, they become less proficient at one-on-one play, which clutch scoring often comes down to.

Instead, Paul has turned up his clutch performance to the max. His strategy involves dialing back his usage rate earlier in the game. That way, when things matter most, he can turbo boost his performance without fear of fatigue.

3. Paul’s veteran leadership

While it won’t turn up in statistical analyses, Paul also deserves credit for the leadership he brings to Oklahoma City. Entering the season, many analysts worried that Paul would hamper the development of second-year guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

On the contrary, Paul has done an excellent job of mentoring Gilgeous-Alexander, while giving him the room necessary to develop on-court. Paul has promoted excellent overall team chemistry — a fact exemplified by his purchasing custom suits for the entire Thunder roster.

Paul’s presence has also had a great effect on backup guard and serious Sixth Man of the Year candidate Dennis Schroder. Under Paul’s tutelage, Schroder has vastly improved his shot selection and dialed up his playmaking ability. If Paul continues to have such a positive effect on his team, the Thunder could make serious noise when the postseason begins.

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