Chris Paul knows all, is that a problem?

On TrueHoop, Kevin Arnovitz profiles the strain of defining and embracing a system of play in Los Angeles. Here’s what he said about the Clippers:

Back in November, when Los Angeles was engulfed in System Overload the week Brown was dismissed and D’Antoni hired, Los Angeles Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro was asked which system he deployed.

“Chris Paul,” Del Negro said.

Del Negro wasn’t being flip or coy. The question was straightforward, and he offered the best approximation of his team’s blueprint when it had the ball — the Chris Paul System.

“All those names and all that stuff,” Del Negro said of the Princeton, the spread, seven seconds or less, etc. “You just put the ball in the best player’s hands.”

To Del Negro and Paul, the NBA is a superstar league, and the offense they run is dictated by Paul. In the Clippers’ world, his instincts take precedent over any dogma. That intuition is rooted in strong principles. Paul will probe, but he’s meticulous and patient, and in the half court he’ll rarely act until the defense is leveraged.

“On offense, you just try to make the right play,” Paul said. “Every time I come down the court, I want to make sure that two people have to guard me, no matter what. If I’m in a ball screen, I want to make two people have guard me and then somebody is going to be open.”

The Chris Paul system has its advantages — mainly that Chris Paul gets to do what he wants. But when he was hurt, we saw the difference between a system that is player driven, and a system, like the Spurs, that is driven by philosophy.

When Parker or Ginobili or Duncan — or even all three! — get hurt, the Spurs

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Chris Paul’s useful technical foul

For a notorious control freak, Chris Paul has looked perilously close to losing command of his emotions in two playoff losses to the Memphis Grizzlies. Last night, Paul threw himself into near-hysterics over an official’s failure to give him a call on an obvious flop.

At that point in the 3rd quarter, the Grizzlies were comprehensively demolishing the Clippers. After battering the Clippers in the paint throughout the game, the Grizzlies led 73-51. Then, in the span of 80 seconds of game time that felt like about 10 minutes in real time, Paul, Caron Butler and Mo Williams were each whistled for a technical foul, every one for complaining to the officials.

Fast forward to 6:13 seconds left in the game (:55 left), and the Grizzlies are clinging to a six-point lead. Bet the Clips wish they could have those technical freethrows back, right?

You know what would have helped LA’s comeback? Not getting five technicals.

— John Hollinger (@johnhollinger) May 10, 2012

Mr. Hollinger’s point is well taken, it’s stupid to give up free points of any kind. This is especially true when they come, essentially, from being a bunch of complainers.

But I’m not so sure the Clippers would have even been in this one without that weird burst of technicals in the third quarter.

Paul’s tantrum reminded me of another great athlete who used his mind as much as his physical ability to upend his opponents: John McEnroe.

McEnroe, along with a few others of his generation, was famous for arguing calls at great length, earning single point penalties and other minor infractions (though sometimes things escalated), in an effort not to win that specific point, but to change the emotional atmosphere of the match.

He would stalk the baseline, screaming at his opponent, the

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Would you think I’m drunk if I said Nick Young and Reggie Evans led a historic playoff comeback?

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I have a rule that goes into effect every time I’m watching basketball and the game starts getting out of hand.

It goes something like this:  Continue reading “Would you think I’m drunk if I said Nick Young and Reggie Evans led a historic playoff comeback?” »

Boo the Clippers

Please excuse me while I remove my journo-blogger vintage sport coat and hat. Now just give me a second to change into my replica and not at all childish home-alternate Shawn Kemp jersey. It’s going to be difficult typing the rest of this with a foam finger on my hand, but bear with me—it’s fan time.

A caveat: this post has nothing to do with how good this team is, or can be. This post couldn’t care less about efficient scoring and can’t even spell utilitarenism. This post is about one thing: why I can’t stand the Clippers.

Let’s start back in December. Like everyone else on planet basketball, I was thrilled when Chris Paul was assigned by David Stern to play for the Los Angeles Clippers. Lob City, baby! A Slamstravaganza the likes of which we’ve never seen!

What could be better than the guard I find most aesthetically pleasing wielding implements as potent and dunky as Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan? It was going to be magic, it was going to be the feel good story of the year. (We didn’t know who Jeremy Lin was, or if we did we didn’t care.) Chris Paul would be on national TV all year, Blake Griffin would take that next step forward under Paul’s wing (I even predicted Blake would get more MVP votes than Kevin Durant…) and The Gentleman Chauncey would round out a cast of guys we like to root for.

But like a big piece Double Bubble, the Clippers’ initial sweetness soon departed and for the past few weeks I’ve been trying to pretend that I enjoy the basketball version of chewing on a flavorless wad of gum that any second threatens to choke me on my own saliva.

It starts with you, Blake Griffin.


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Chris Paul’s beautiful logic

For my next trick, the Clippers in the Finals

Chris Paul is a wizard, a magician, they say. And those who describe him that way are correct, not in that Paul possesses the ability to effect supernatural phenomenon upon this mundane plane of existence, but that he can make us think his tricks and sleight of hand exceed the bounds of logic. But when we peek behind the curtain, we can see that what makes Chris Paul so powerful isn’t a familiarity with the occult, but a practical mastery of the minutia of the pick-and-roll. That, and an shaman’s handle.

The two most productive offenses in the league belong to Miami and Denver, two teams that push the pace and generate steals and easy shots in transition. These teams create advantages in the open court, either by having more players than the defense or by putting great finishers in situations without help defense.

The third best offense belongs to the Clippers, who play at a much slower pace and rank in the bottom third in transition points. That the Clippers are able to be so efficient without a prolific fastbreak attack is impressive. That they do it without a ton of three point shooters or ever really running set plays is indeed phenomenal.

A quick look at league-wide field goal percentage confirms that in a 5-on-5 situation, NBA defenses have an advantage over just about any NBA offense. The reason teams run screen and rolls, back picks or flex cuts is to force the defense to think, to react, and to hopefully surrender that advantage by allowing an avenue to an easy shot.

What makes the Clipper half court offense so consistently productive is that when Chris Paul runs a regular old pick-and-roll, he is the very best

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Kyrie’s a poor man’s nobody

I’ve resisted the urge to write about Kyrie Irving because I’ve resisted the urge to do a “He’s awesome, I told ya so, I am great by proxy” victory dance. But the jig is up, or on in this case. When Irving submits a performance like last night’s Boston besting, he becomes impossible to ignore. His overall game was magnificent, but the hairpin spin layup winner pegged that brilliance to a single, memorable moment.

A fiery upstart using Boston as a staging ground for thumbing his nose at an ossified imperial power? Why, a Tea Party would be the perfect metaphor for this, had the term not become so politically loaded. Or it would be were this a new occurrence, or even that shocking. Going 10-14 isn’t that surprising when you’re shooting over 50% on the year. He does this kind of thing on the regular, his PER is only behind that of Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, and the immortal Lou Williams among point guards.

Sometimes it seems as though the only shocking aspect of Kyrie’s success is how shocked people are by it. He was the number one pick, number one picks are supposed to be potential superstars. Yet there was no superstar buzz surrounding the Duke prospect. There was Puritanical clucking over how he should have returned for another year at Duke, worries over how few games he played before succumbing to a toe injury. The general assumption was that this draft was weak and that Irving’s selection highlighted an overall talent lowtide.

In the draft lead up, the tag on Irving’s game was, “a poor man’s Chris Paul,” or “Chris Paul lite.” Here is where I think NBA pundits got wrong-footed: There is no such damned thing as a poor man’s Chris Paul because Chris

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So white guys “do the most with the least?”

In the NBA’s general manager survey, the three leaders for “Which player does the most with the least?” are what you might consider white. Though Luis Scola may not be “white” by some metrics, I’m not sure a league that deems a fellow Argentine’s move “the Eurostep” cares to parse that. Put it this way: The NBA is four-fifths black and the top three vote getters are not of that group. Kevin Love leads the pack and Steve Nash makes the list out of habitual obligation.

In 2010-2011, four of the five leading vote getters were not black. In 2009-2010, six of the seven leading vote getters were not black. In 08-09, it was four of six. The names change, but the pattern remains: A disproportionate amount of Caucasian players get cited as wringing their potential for all it’s worth.

The question itself is a bit vague. Most with the least? Weren’t Steve Nash and Kevin Love fathered into comfortable existences by professional athletes? What about Dwyane Wade muddling through his mother’s crack and heroin addictions on Chicago’s South Side? He seems to have optimized his life pretty well.

I hazard that, “most with the least” pertains to athleticism. In theory, these GMs could choose plenty of over-achieving, mediocre black athletes in a four-fifths black league. But it’s assumed that “athleticism” is black, almost by definition–in part because this athletic league is four-fifths black. I don’t think I’m stepping out of bounds in saying as much, not when there’s a classic sports movie titled, “White Man Can’t Jump.”

In 2006, after a long college night, a friend slurred, “Magic Johnson is Luke Walton with ‘black guy athleticism!’” It remains the dumbest statement I’ve ever heard, even with the circumstances considered. Magic Johnson was a basketball genius whose skills

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The one time Chris Paul failed

With the game on the line, Chris Paul broke LeBron James’s ankles with a skidding pull-back crossover that appeared for all the world to set up Paul’s patented 18-foot fallaway. After eviscerating the Heat defense for four quarters, Paul did what not even Derrick Rose could do when, instead of shooting off his crossover, he glanced at the rim, set his feet and pushed the ball forward and past the lunging James. At one point the two players were moving at full speed in opposite directions–this is the definition of breaking down a defender.

(scroll to about 2:15 for the play)

Paul’s mastery of the moment stood in stark contrast what transpired 24 hours earlier when Monta Ellis awkwardly maneuvered about the 3-point line before tossing a half-hearted pass to a teammate standing four feet away as the final buzzer sounded. Except, in effect, the same exact thing happen. Check the replay, and you’ll see that for all his shaking, baking and ankle breaking, Paul didn’t get off his 12 foot floater before the red backboard light went off.

When LeBron lunged to block the shot Chris Paul never took, Twitter exploded like the crowd at an And 1 mixtape game after a someone bounces the ball of his defender’s head then just throws the it into the stands. But that embarrassing lunge kept Paul from getting a shot off and kept the Heat in the game.

Not sure this exonerates James, but the play-by-play will tell you that the Clippers failed to get a shot off after inbounding the ball with 5 seconds and change left in a tie game.

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Zach Attacks: It’s not you… it’s both of us

From December 12th to opening night, I’ll be releasing a random essay on each team in the league. This post is about the New Orleans Hornets. You can follow the series with the “2011-12 Team Previews” and “Zach Attacks” tags at the bottom of the page.

There are many ways a relationship can end, and rarely are they as tidy and painless as when Jerry Seinfeld broke up with Janeane Garofalo’s character on Seinfeld.

Ideally, you’d love for both people to realize that the relationship has run its course at the exact same time. It would help people avoid cheating on each other. It would help people not awkwardly bicker in front of their friends while everybody around them is just hoping they’ll dump each other so you no longer have to watch them argue about if they’ll like the chicken because it’s cooked that way they tried it that one time at the other restaurant and they said they would order it again even though the other person thinks it was when they were on vacation and had nothing to do with being downtown but it doesn’t matter because you’ll just say you don’t like it because you don’t want the other person to be wrong and EVERYBODY JUST WANTS TO STAB THIS COUPLE WITH A FORK WHILE THEY HAVE TO WAIT FOR THE CABERNET TO BREATHE!
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Clippers should rejuvenate Chris Paul

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

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