Chris Paul reached a unique milestone – the only player in NBA history to record at least 20,000 points and 10,000 assists – while shooting a free throw against the Los Angeles Lakers. It was only appropriate for a player like Paul, who has made a career out of manipulating defenses like a master puppeteer, to garner the accolade in such a way.
His next points came courtesy of the same concept of manipulation and control, but on a live-ball possession.
Paul forces the switch and gets the matchup he wants: against his good friend, Carmelo Anthony. Anthony’s reputation as a subpar defender is well-known, and Paul wants to isolate and dance with him. But instead of making Anthony look like a fool through his handles, Paul opts to pull up for a three, which goes in.
That is the conundrum that defenses often face when it comes to guarding Paul. One can never really ascertain what he’s calculating within his intelligent basketball mind; such an attribute has made him one of the league’s most celebrated floor generals of all time.
Paul’s game is predicated on measuring the situation around him: reading defensive coverages, seeing where his troops are positioned, and directing them to the correct spots. While he looks to set up his teammates to succeed, he also isn’t hesitant to take it upon himself to attack and score.
His patented mid-range game is legendary. He can easily take opponents off the dribble, direct them to his preferred area of attack (usually the elbows), and obtain just enough separation to pull the trigger without a hitch.
When Paul goes into a scoring zone, he is nigh unstoppable, no matter who gets put in front of him. Finishing with 23 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the field and a perfect 10-of-10 from the free-throw line, including a 70.1% True Shooting percentage (TS%), was a testament to how he picked his spots carefully and scored with utmost efficiency.
“He just knows when to (take over),” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “It’s a skill… He just goes into a period in the game where it’s just him. It could be passing, or he can just go into his mid-range game and take over a little bit… Then he got 14 assists tonight. He’s just an amazing basketball player.”
Paul’s impact on the game of basketball is often taken for granted. In a league where the role of point guard is shifting toward a more scoring-oriented approach and away from the traditional assist-stuffing lead guard, Paul is the last of a dying breed. Arguably no other point guard in today’s NBA seeks to set up his teammates more so than him.
Paul’s 14 assists against the Lakers took several forms. Playing with a deep roster around him, he has many passing targets to which he can rack up the assists. True to his nature as the “Point God,” Paul’s floor awareness approaches near-omniscient levels.
He has a unique connection with movers and cutters. Mikal Bridges is an emerging young piece on the Phoenix Suns. His skill-set isn’t limited to being a 3-and-D specialist; he also finds those pockets of space through which he can cut. His reputation as an intelligent mover and cutter makes him a favorite passing target of Paul’s.
On classic ball-screen possessions, Paul has a capable big-man partner in Deandre Ayton. Ayton’s emergence last season had something to do with being partnered with an all-time great facilitator; Paul took the potential Ayton had as a pick-and-roll threat and turned it into a monstrous reality.
Like every elite passer in the pick-and-roll, Paul has complete control of the tempo and cadence. Defenses are mostly the reactive party in such possessions; Paul makes sure to take away the defense’s ability to process the action and respond.
The Lakers defense, one of the league’s sharpest and stingiest in recent seasons, couldn’t stop the Paul-Ayton partnership from gaining full steam.
Paul had the Lakers defense on a string for almost the entirety of the Suns’ dominant 115-105 win, a maestro who never once let go of the vice grip he and his team had over the prohibitive Western Conference favorites, who are now 0-2 to start the season and are facing early-season questions about their roster construction.
But there’s no question about Paul’s legacy, and how he’s continuing to add to it in the present day.
“First player ever, that’s the crazy part about it,” Devin Booker said of Paul’s accomplishment. “It’s inspiring. I was a fan before we were teammates. I give him his flowers daily, and he deserves that. I think a lot of people wait until somebody retires or wait until their career’s over to be able to tell them certain types of things. I get to say it often to him. That’s inspiring.”
“Greatness, man,” Bridges said of Paul. “He’s just been there for so long. He’s my teammate and one of my closest friends now. It’s unbelievable watching him growing up, seeing CP3 all the time, and now having him as my teammate and being a real good friend. It’s good to tell my kids one day. It’s unbelievable and I’m blessed to be in this position. I’m not going to take it for granted.”
With Paul getting such an accomplishment out of the way – in addition to being included in the list of the NBA’s 75 greatest players – he will now be looking to win the one missing piece of his Hall-of-Fame career: a championship ring.
Paul came painfully close last season. His competitive nature and disdain for losing will make sure that his pursuit of another NBA Finals appearance will be dogged and relentless. – Rappler.com