Karthik’s Take: The Chris Paul Effect

Phoenix Suns’ Chris Paul, right, drives to the basket against Milwaukee Bucks’ Jrue Holiday, left, during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, April 19, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)

One of the best parts of the NBA is seeing teams improve from year to year, shifting the competitive dynamics of the league. A graph by NBA analyst Kirk Goldsberry depicts how much the winning percentages of NBA teams have changed this season in comparison to last season. At the two ends of the spectrum, you see the Phoenix Suns on the top right, as they have improved their record the most, and you see the Oklahoma City Thunder on the bottom left, as they have regressed the most out of any team this season. The Suns are 40-16 and just 1.5 games out of the top seed in the Western Conference, while the Thunder is now 13th in the conference and on an 11-game losing streak. These two teams are inexplicably linked, as their relative success and struggles are from gaining and losing the same player. This is the Chris Paul effect.  

In my column about why the Boston Celtics were struggling, I brought up why Paul would have been a great fit for the team based on his style of play and past accomplishments. To recap, here is what I had said:  

“The player that could solve the Celtic’s problem actually ranks second in points generated among active players with 42,542 points and is far from washed up. He was known as the point god of the 2000s, the catalyst of the Lob City Los Angeles Clippers, a key piece on a Houston Rockets team that nearly upset the Golden State Warriors in their prime, the leader of a young Oklahoma City Thunder to the playoffs when they were projected to have 0.2% odds in doing so and is now the difference-maker on a surging Phoenix Suns team.”  

Paul fills one of the most coveted roles in the NBA. He is a facilitator of the highest order and is what basketball fans call a coach on the floor. He is able to see the game almost clairvoyantly, dissecting defensive coverages with split-second decisions to set up his teammates. His value goes far beyond his individual statistical production because the numbers of his game influences most is his team’s record.  

How Chris Paul has improved the last 4 teams he has played for

Team  Record Before Paul  Record with Paul (season 1) 
Los Angeles Clippers 32-50 40-26 
Houston Rockets  55-27 65-17 
Oklahoma City Thunder  49-33 44-28 (on pace for 50-32 record if all 82 games were played)  
Phoenix Suns  34-39 (pandemic shortened season) 40-16 (so far) 

The biggest criticism of Paul’s career is the lack of a championship or finals appearance on his NBA resume, but that criticism is more of an indictment on the composition of his past teams rather than Paul’s play specifically.  

Phoenix Suns’ Chris Paul, right, tries to dribble past Philadelphia 76ers’ Danny Green during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Paul has improved the advanced numbers of nearly every team he has played for in regard to both offensive and defensive efficiency. Looking at the Phoenix Suns specifically, Paul has the Suns at 5th in points per game, which is up from 10th last season; 7th in offensive rating, which up from 17th last season; second in field goal percentage, which is up from 9th; and has maintained the team’s strong suit of being the league leader in team assists. On the defensive side of the ball, Paul has helped the Suns attain the 5th best defensive rating, which is up from 17th last season; 10th in allowed field goal percentage, which is up from 22nd; 3rd in opposing three-point percentage, which is up from 21rst; and 2nd in allowed assists per game, which is up from 8th last year.  

Another underrated part of Paul’s game is his ability to perform at his best in close games. Last year, Paul led the league in clutch points with the second highest efficiency in the league. He had a true shooting percentage of 67.8% in said clutch situations, which are defined by the NBA as play in the last five minutes when the point differential is five points or less. This was 6.9% higher than his true shooting percentage average that season. Paul’s production that season also ranks third in clutch true shooting percentage all time out of 372 players with a minimum of 15 clutch shooting attempts, ranking behind only Terry Rozier’s 70.6percent in the 2019-20 season and Mehmet Okur’s 68.4 percent shooting in 2006-07. However, when considering the sheer volume of Paul’s attempts in these situations and the fact that many of his attempts were created by himself off the dribble, it is arguable that Paul’s feat is the most impressive. Paul made 91% of his clutch field goals unassisted in comparison to 53% for Rozier and 24% for Okur.  

The combination of Paul’s experience, playmaking ability and clutch basketball genetics has allowed him to remain one of the NBA’s premiere guards despite his diminishing athleticism. While scoring point guards like Steph Curry and Damian Lillard have taken center stage in today’s NBA, every winning team still needs a playmaker, and Chris Paul is still one of the best in the business. The Chris Paul effect is real, and as a result, the Phoenix Suns are live in the grueling Western Conference.  

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