Court Vision: Meet the real Chris Paul
By Rob Mahoney
• Chris Paul has never been reviled in the way that Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have been at various points in their careers, but he’s perhaps more ruthless and overtly hostile than both. Lee Jenkins sheds some light on Paul’s basketball personality in his excellent feature on Paul and the Clippers for the March 25 Sports Illustrated, now available online:
While he’s invariably giving — no one donates more courts to the Ninth Ward in New Orleans or invites more underprivileged teens to Staples Center — he can be raw and ruthless. “He’s a pit bull,” says Green, “with a little man’s complex.” When Paul played Pop Warner, he once displaced a boy’s Adam’s apple trying to recover an onside kick, and the game had to be stopped for 30 minutes while an ambulance was summoned. When Paul was briefly called up to the West Forsyth varsity as a 5-foot freshman for the Frank Spencer Holiday Classic, a 6-3 guard immediately tried to pressure him, and he reflexively swung the ball at the giant’s chin. Even conversations with C.J., who told his brother he had no chance at a major-college scholarship, turned into brawls. “I’d be trying not to hurt him and he’d be trying to kill me,” C.J. says. “He’d bite.” Paul’s shoe line with Nike includes a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde edition, to match his split personality. “He becomes a demon,” says Odom. “A Tasmanian devil.”
• Do yourself a favor: Set aside some time this evening to curl up with Paul Flannery’s long-form entry on Celtics assistant GM Ryan McDonough and the world of prospect scouting.
• The world of sports begs for prognostication, and any that engage in that capacity are sure to make their share of dud predictions. I picked the Mavs to be upset in the first round of the 2011 playoffs and wasn’t sold on Blake Griffin’s potential as a pro. Missing is part of the game, and no one guesses perfectly.
All of this brings me to only further appreciate Tom Sunnergren’s acknowledgement that he unfortunately overestimated the prospects of Sixers guard Evan Turner, whom Philly selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft. It’s hard to blame Tom; although some were more critical of Turner’s play and style than others, I don’t recall any points of view that would adequately reflect the kind of player he’s been to date. Sunnergren laments:
Turner has become not merely a bad, but a profoundly inefficient offensive player. Yes, he takes a lot of midrange shots and hits them at a typically poor rate, but when he attacks the basket, he’s almost as bad: on drives he’s one of the least effective players in the sport.
In three NBA seasons, he’s yet to post a PER over 13 or a WS/48 over 0.7. His WARP for his first two years in the league was -2.6, and he’s currently, after a promising start, having the worst season of his career — his win shares and wins produced per minute are both at their nadir In 2012-13, in what was supposed to be a breakout campaign, the swingman has gotten worse each month. In March he’s averaging 10.7 ppg on 39.5 percent shooting and is below his season averages in rebounds and assists.
His teammates don’t seem to like playing with him. He seems incapable of insinuating himself into the fabric of the offense. Of blending. Of recognizing, in any given possession, in any given game, what his team needs and providing it. At times it seems he’s playing in a separate game, apart from the one the other nine players on the floor are engaged in.
• The Bulls are being picked apart by mid-range jumpers.
• One of my favorite NBA sideshows is the inevitable pull-up jumper that results whenever a ball-handling guard lures a mismatched big on the perimeter. The perimeter player typically licks his chops and pulls out every standstill dribble trick in his arsenal, only to step back and attempt a difficult shot over the outstretched arm of a taller defender. It’s such a strange (and common) little sequence, and one worthy of Dylan Murphy’s examination over at HoopChalk:
Put it this way: the league’s best mid-range (16-23 feet) point guard shooter this season is Jarrett Jack at 49 percent. Chris Paul is a hair behind at 48 percent, and six other players shoot 45 percent or better percent of their looks (via HoopData). The rest of the league’s point guards shoot under 45 percent from that range. Among shooting guards, only Joe Johnson, J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley and Courtney Lee crack 45 percent. For small forwards, it’s even worse: Kyle Korver, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James (of course) are the only 45+ percent shooters from mid-range. All of which is to say, as we already knew, mid-range jumpers are less than ideal.
Yet NBA guards continue to rely on mid-range jump shooting in isolation against big men. Maybe because it’s easier and available, maybe because they don’t want their shots swatted into the stands. And that’s the tertiary genius of the big man sag: with the discouraging of the drive comes the discouraging of the drive and kick, leading to secondary penetration or perimeter ball movement for an open three. Because that’s the real danger: big men won’t necessarily cut off driving angles so much as they’ll block layups from behind.
• An important read for anyone who likes the NBA, dogs and/or puns.
• It should be nothing short of a blast to see Steph Curry in the playoffs this season for the first time in his NBA career.
• Jordan White and Jack Armstrong Winter posted an interesting discussion on Hardwood Paroxysm about the classification of “true” point guards and the like, with plenty of good thoughts spread across the topic. Among them was this particular point made by Winter, regarding the scarcity of the kinds of players who can make traditional point guards irrelevant:
With respect to just the point guard thing and whether or not a team really needs a ‘true’ one, I just think so much of not having that guy and thriving is dependent on the merits of your primary creator. If it’s [LeBron James], [James] Harden, [Kevin Durant], [Dwyane] Wade, Kobe [Bryant] (now), etcetera, it’s great; those guys know the benefits of moving the ball, getting others involved and mining for better shots. And the first two, in particular, can make every pass — whip, pocket, skip, dump, whatever — a guy like Chris Paul can make. Those other four are great, obviously, and have shown they can initiate offense at a very high level, but sometimes even they get tunnel vision; not sure they necessarily have the poise or feel of LBJ/Harden, which says something because I’m a longtime fan of Wade. I just think you really need to have one of those guys or someone like them to completely eschew a primary handler. Therein lies the problem for me – about six of them exist.
• Kobe Bryant easily ranked as the most improbable Twitter addition of the 2012-13 season, but he’s now been upstaged completely by the (likely promotional) Twitter arrival of Phil Jackson. I never thought I’d see the day where a guy like Phil would type away updates in 140-character bursts, but the man’s got books to sell.