Chris Paul is a Los Angeles Clipper. Suddenly, the Clippers relevant, exciting, and a potential threat to win the Western Conference. Pretty much everyone believes Chris Paul is and will be fantastic. Still, some wonder if he’s already on the gradual down slope of his career. But Clippers fans should take heart: the numbers suggest Paul is headed for a big year.
The 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons are the finest of Paul’s career to date– virtuoso performances that stack up with the best by a point guard in the last 25 years. So why the downward trend in the year since? Well, besides an injury riddled 2009-10 season, a change in personnel – including losing Tyson Chandler – significantly impacted Paul’s game.
Chandler, at the time, was the perfect running mate for Paul, his Amar’e to Paul’s Steve Nash.
According to HoopData, in the ’08 and ’09 seasons (when he led the NBA in assist percentage at well over 50%), Paul was dolling out approximately 4.5 assists per-40 minutes that led to points at the rim. In the years since Chandler’s departure, those marks have dropped to 3.5, while the number of assists leading to mid-range jumpers has climbed significantly.
None of this should be surprising given that the Hornets replaced a 7-foot pick-and-roll nightmare with Emeka Okafur and used David West primarily as a pick-and-pop target.
Last year, the Hornets ranked 29th in the NBA in shot attempts at the rim and shot 64% on those opportunities. The Clippers, on the other hand, attempted the 4th most shots at the rim and made greater than 65% of these–all with Baron Davis and Mo Williams running the show.
Another reason for the tangible and perceived drop-off in Paul’s production has to do with how the burden to create for New Orleans’s offense shifted in the last two seasons, giving other Hornets more responsibility.
The Hornets of four years ago were the top transition team in the NBA, with over 13% of their possessions coming in fastbreaks (according to Synergy Sports Technology). After that, the most prevalent play-types were “pick-and-roll” (12.4%), “post-up” (11.3%) and “isolation” (9.3%). Last year, New Orleans actually relied on the pick-and-roll more heavily (up over 14% of the time) but used Chris Paul far less frequently (68% of the time in ’08 vs. 44% last year), meaning over half of the time someone other than Paul was running this set. Furthermore, there was a significant jump in the number of isolation sets from players other than Paul meaning fewer chances for him to create for others. While this might be an alarming collection of stats–was Paul not physically able to carry that burden?– it does explain the drop in his usage rate over the last two seasons.
Then there’s the subject of Paul’s decreased offensive potency – nearly 22 points per game on 50% shooting in ’08 and ’09 versus 17 points on 47.5% shooting the last two seasons. Again, logic seems to dictate that these will improve with his new frontcourt in Los Angeles. Despite having better passing numbers when he played alongside Tyson Chandler a few seasons ago, Paul also had better scoring and scoring efficiency numbers due to the pressure a rolling Chandler put on defenses. Griffin and Jordan will make Paul very difficult to trap because there are few players on each team that can rotate to cover either of them as they roll to the rim.
In general, over the last two years, Paul’s shot location numbers have stayed pretty consistent with what they were during the ’08 and ’09 campaigns, save for around the rim. Last season he attempted just 2.3 shots at the basket per-40 minutes, exactly half as many as he did in his final season with Chandler. As gifted as Paul is, let’s be honest, his size is a significant hindrance when it comes to finishing around the rim. It’s likewise true that he may never be as explosive as he was in 2008.
But it’s also logical to assume that accounting for Blake Griffin, a much more dynamic scorer than David West, will make it more difficult to key in on his driving angles.
Playing alongside Griffin and Jordan won’t put more meniscus in Paul’s knee, but his new front court mates should rejuvenate his statistical output.