“He’s a general. He wins. He’s a warrior, and he’s going to take this whole organization to the next level.”
Those were the words of the then Los Angeles Clippers General Manager Neil Olshey. He has since moved on to the Portland Trailblazers, but he has been proven right. What he saw in the talented and eager point guard was a young man who could shoulder responsibility and carry himself both on and off the court with a semblance of calm and dignity. He has an innocent veneer that disarms everyone he works with and dismantles defences on the court with one sublime motion that nobody sees coming.
Today, Chris Paul is one of the best point guards in the NBA. While comparisons are sure to be drawn with one other candidate who plies his trade in San Antonio, it is Paul’s technical brilliance and the inability of the opposition players to predict his next move that set him apart from the rest. His destiny was written in the stars when he made a grand and explosive entrance in the league in his rookie season in 2005. CP3, as he is more popularly known, brushed aside his fellow draftees and picked up the Rookie of the Year award, having led them all in points, assists AND steals.
Eight years on, the six-foot-nothing guard is one of the most respected and sought after players in the NBA. So much so that the Los Angeles Lakers tried to sign him in a trade that also involved the Houston Rockets. But the league stepped in and blocked the move, denying fans the chance to witness a lethal combination in action. He did get to play his home games at the Staples Center, but with the LA Clippers instead.
Having made early inroads into the league while playing for the New Orleans Hornets, Paul’s play was akin to poetry in motion. He literally trademarked the ‘teardrop’ shot that had centres flailing their arms in an attempt to block his shot after he’d managed to slip into the lane. His three pointers fall like icy daggers while his unselfish and aesthetically pleasing passes made us fall in love with the game of basketball all over again.
Here was a short player, more often than not the shortest on the court, commanding the attention of all the other nine players. It was a necessity. With Paul on the ball, everyone had to be on their toes. The ball would either find its way to a team-mate, or swish through the net from an elbow floater. And more recently, lobbed in the direction of the rim for one of two men with unbelievable verticals and hang time slamming it in.
Chris Paul makes up for his lack of height with a fierce intensity and on-court intelligence that gets the best out of the resources at hand. It came as no surprise to see the neglected part of Los Angeles celebrate last season as they comfortably coasted to a playoff spot while the Lakers just about managed to scrape through. A regular season that saw the Clippers shatter franchise records with a 56-26 record, which included winning all four games against their arch rivals, saw the Clippers win their first ever Pacific Division title.
Paul was highly instrumental in that run as he teamed up with Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford (all three scoring 1000+ points). But CP3 pulled the strings as he finished the regular season with 678 assists and 169 steals. He averaged 9.7 assists per game (second best only to Rondo, who played just half a season) and 2.4 steals per game (best in the NBA). Compound that with a near 90% Free Throw accuracy and 17 points per game, and the point of being a complete team player is underlined.
Although they lost in the first round of the Playoffs to the Memphis Grizzlies despite taking a 2-0 lead in the series, Paul was still the man leading his team into uncharted territory as he recorded 22.8 points per game and 6.3 assists per game. But even before they were eliminated in Game 6, Paul’s playoff journey came to a premature and puzzling end when he was ejected from the game for colliding with Marc Gasol after a missed free throw. But being the nice guy he really is and always has been, he shook hands with the Grizzlies’ players before exiting the court and heading to the locker room.
That is the thing everyone loves about Chris Paul. He is a competitor but also a decent man who everyone looks up to; a man nobody holds a grudge against. When coach Vinny Del Negro was given the sack after the Clippers bowed out in the first round of the playoffs, allegations came out that Paul was responsible. The Clippers almost committed hara-kiri with that stunt as Paul was all set to sign a new deal with the franchise to keep him at LA.
Paul is “a man of principle” and he was hurt by the reports as he had nothing to do with the sacking of Del Negro. The Clippers came out later and denied that Paul was involved. That was well and good, as he then put pen to paper to sign a new five year deal worth $107 million. And now with Doc Rivers signing with the Clippers after leaving the Boston Celtics, the new head coach will have his way with Paul and the Clippers franchise.
The ex-point guard was honest with his opinion of Paul: “You’re nothing. You haven’t accomplished anything in this league,” he said. And what was heartening to see was Paul agreeing, not throwing a tantrum that is so common to superstars in sports. Rivers will improve Paul’s defensive skills, but even he knows that he is not going to tinker too much with Paul’s offensive repertoire.
The pre-season hype is generally reserved for their cross town rivals. But this time, it surrounds the LA Clippers and it is here to stay. And they will need their gifted All-star point guard to lead the way. With Doc Rivers steadying the boat, even he knows that Paul will be the key to challenging for the playoffs, and possibly a championship ring. Can he bring out the best in him like he did with Rajon Rondo at Boston?
“He’s an All-star and a genius,” Rivers said of CP3. “I’m dumb enough or smart enough to know not to get in the way of that.”
For all the other articles in this section, please click here: NBA Top 20