After the Oklahoma City Thunder were bounced by the Houston Rockets in seven games, this is likely one of the last great looks we get of Chris Paul. Even at a late stage in his career, Paul led the Oklahoma City Thunder to a five seed in the West and a 44-28 record (13 wins over their preseason projected total in a shortened season).
Paul and the Thunder exceeded all predictions, and in the words of Ringer podcast host Ryan Russillo, “It’s not a coincidence that the Thunder were this good.”
This season is a microcosm of the effect that Chris Paul has on NBA teams. He brings a leadership role, great playmaking and top-tier play in the clutch, all of which are very rare attributes in the league. In terms of the most influential players in the league, Paul has to be mentioned among the top few. As the president of the NBA Players Association, he has a say in any major decision as the voice of the players.
As Paul’s time as an elite force in the NBA grows near, here are a few aspects of the great legacy he leaves on the league.
A Top Ten PG of All Time
In naming players that rank above CP3 on the all-time point guards list, only a few are clearly ahead. Names like Magic Johnson, Stephen Curry, John Stockton, Oscar Robertson and Isiah Thomas come to mind, but when it gets to guys like Walt Frazier and Gary Payton, ranking Paul becomes tough.
Though he’s still never been in the Finals, CP3 has tons of playoff experience. He’s been in the playoffs every year since 2011 and was part of the team that came closest to beating the Warriors’ super-team (2018 Rockets). People can criticize him all they want for not being “clutch” and choking every year in the playoffs, but Paul has some iconic moments. The one that stands out the most has to be his falling bank shot against the defending champion Spurs with a second left on the clock. That Game 7 win in 2015 is a huge part of Paul’s resume.
In terms of stats, Paul has averaged at least 10 assists for six seasons and at least two steals for 11 seasons. Over the last 15 seasons, he averaged 18.5 PPG and 9.5 APG for his career, with 47% field goal shooting and 37% 3-point shooting. Paul is an ultra-efficient shooter for a guard and also has the highest assist to turnover ratio of any star point guard.
Despite never winning an MVP, Paul still deserves to rank over players like Russell Westbrook. Russ’s stats are great, but it’s clear by this point that he doesn’t make the players around him much better. Paul’s ability to take an average supporting cast and almost beat the Rockets with two stars on their team is just incredible.
A Voice for the Players
In any major decision regarding the NBA players, Chris Paul is on the frontlines of discussion. Don’t forget that it was his negotiations with Adam Silver and other league officials that were key in the NBA’s restart in Orlando.
“The thing that really stuck with me was how many hours per day for literally months he was on the phone, on Zoom, talking to people representing himself for the players. He absolutely worked his butt off to make this thing happen. Incredible leadership,” said his former teammate JJ Reddick (quote from The Undefeated).
Forget how magical Paul is on the court, praise like that is reserved for a special group of guys in league history. It has to mean something that he took it upon himself to be the guy, the one that spoke up for his comrades and had the high praise of everyone around him.
Besides LeBron, it would be hard to name a current player more influential to the league than Chris Paul. Sports Illustrated even named his as one of the most influential individuals in sports.
Pushing His Teammates, Sometimes to a Fault
It’s no secret that Chris Paul has rubbed some of his teammates the wrong way. Former Clippers teammates have come out saying there was a competition for leadership between Paul and Blake Griffin a few years ago. Blake was an up and coming MVP candidate with the potential to be a top five guy in the league. Though it sounds like most of the team thought he should be their leader, Paul refused to let up. That Clippers teams’ legacy has settled as a super talented team that destructed due to internal problems.
Then, on Houston, Paul and James Harden had a fallout due to a disagreement in play style. Paul wanted to run a motion offense with set plays, but Harden preferred his dribble-heavy isolation offense. This led to Paul’s trade off the team, then him nearly getting his revenge.
In the end, he was probably right. The best team that James Harden has been a part of is undoubtably that 2018 Rockets team that could would have won a championship if a) Paul never got injured after Game 5 and b) the Warriors didn’t have the most stacked team of all time.
Paul’s dedication to hard work and pushing his teammates can be positive or negative, depending on the setting. It’s a lot like Jimmy Butler who, after having some rough exits from the Bulls, T-Wolves and 76ers, found his ideal situation in Miami with teammates that saw his goal and worked towards it. Paul had that this year with the Thunder, they just didn’t have the raw talent or the playoff experience to pull it off.
Players like Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns would greatly benefit from playing next to CP3 and feeding off his intense drive. Sure, it could go bad and Paul could just get angry at their lack of effort, but it could easily go the other way too, and push them into their potential of a top ten player in the league.
Featured Image courtesy of Bleacher Report.