Hollinger: It’s the Point God’s playoffs. Here’s how Chris Paul is dominating the postseason

Who has been the best player in the NBA playoffs so far?

You could make several defensible choices. Jayson Tatum was awesome in the first round, hounding Kevin Durant into 38.6 percent shooting while leading the Celtics to a first-round sweep. His second-round opponent, Giannis Antetokounmpo, has been a destructive two-way force, zipping passes when he isn’t crushing in the paint. Ja Morant’s highlight reel has been ridiculous, posterizing Malik Beasley and leaving Jordan Poole’s knees wobbly. Jimmy Butler, very quietly, has put together a spectacular postseason, too.

Yet the best player in this postseason might not be any of those players, as amazing as they’ve been and as freakishly talented as they are. The star of these playoffs so far is 6 a 6-0 point guard who turns 37 today?

Believe it. Through eight games, the Point God is putting up video-game stats. Chris Paul is shooting 58.0 percent from the floor with a mind-boggling 67.8 true shooting percentage and handing out six assists for every turnover. Among players still alive in the playoffs, he ranks second only to Butler in postseason PER. The Suns have a 125.5 offensive rating with Paul on the court this postseason and have been outscored by 14.2 points per 100 possessions when he’s off the floor.

His first round against New Orleans was impressive enough. (Shout-out to the Pelicans, by the way; this Dallas series is showing just how stout their first-round performance was.) Paul handed out double-digit assists in the first five games, allowing the Suns to shrug off the absence of Devin Booker for three games, then bringing the curtain down in Game 6 with one of the all-time playoff performances. Amazingly, he shot 14-for-14 from the field without ever getting to the rim, instead of conducting office hours in his midrange perch around the elbows. For good measure, he went 4-for-4 from the line, too. The Suns needed every one of those buckets; they only won by six.

Next time you hear an announcer whine about the lost art of the midrange, show them this picture from Paul’s Game 6 against the Pelicans. It’s the Mona Lisa of shot charts:

He hasn’t lost any steam in the second round, either. Paul quietly hummed in the background in Game 1, with an efficient 19 points in 28 minutes, and he dialed things up in Wednesday’s Game 2 when the game hung in the balance. The Point God patiently bided his time for most of the first three quarters while waiting for Dallas’ Luka Dončić to run his fuel tank empty. Then, in one of the most savage acts of targeting you’ll ever see, Paul and the Suns went at him on every single playwhile a punch-drunk Dončić could barely get into a stance, let alone stop them.

Like this:

(Note also the subtlety there: Paul momentarily turns his gaze toward the baseline, making help defender Maxi Kleber think he might throw an alley-oop and clearing his runway to the rim. In 20-20 hindsight, Kleber probably should have lived with the idea of ​​Bismack Biyombo catching it.)

Paul scored 14 points in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter of Phoenix’s 129-109 Game 2 win, and – in true CP3 fashion – also drew a sketchy backcourt offensive foul on Jalen Brunson. His outburst quickly turned a six-point game into a blowout that allowed him to rest the final 5:45.

Underlying all of these great performances is an underrated story: Paul has diversified his offensive attack. As my podcast colleague Nate Duncan noted on Twitter during Paul’s eruption, he’s moved beyond his decade-long diet of midrange pull-ups going right and dug deeper into his bag of runners and floaters, such that he can score from different areas than just the elbows.

Check out this short clip from Wednesday night, for instance: going to his left, shooting from the baseline. That’s a spot on the floor he rarely attacked for most of his career, and a shot type he rarely launched:

This whirlybird around Dončić – I was waiting for somebody on the Mavs’ bench to throw a white towel onto the court by this point – is another example. For much of his career, Paul would turn into the lane on a play like this and drift toward the right side of the lane with his dribble, completing it by leaning backward to get away his patented midrange J. Instead, here he keeps going forward. and drops in a little floater while getting fouled.

The data support the idea that Paul has changed his game this year. According to Cleaning the Glass, 33 percent of his shots this year have been “short-mid” (4 to 14 feet), and just 36 percent have been “long-mid” (from 14 feet to the 3-point line). While Paul virtually never gets all the way to the rim anymore – only 5 percent of his shots came there this year, far and away the lowest mark of his career and placing him in the 0th percentile among point guards – that rate of short-mid to long-mid is notable. As recently as 2016-17, he took more than twice as many shots from that long-mid area. Aside from a two-year hiatus from the midrange while he was in Houston’s 3-and-rim system, he’s never shot such a great portion of his middies this close to the rim:

Chris Paul, percent of FGA by range

Year Team Short-mid Long-mid Ratio

2012-13

LAC

21

34

0.62

2016-17

LAC

15

38

0.39

2019-20

OKC

27

32

0.84

2020-21

PHX

26

38

0.68

2021-22

PHX

33

36

0.92

Source: Cleaning the Glass

He’s also shooting better than ever on those shots. If you’re a point guard who doesn’t get to the rim, you had better be awesome on the other shots, and Paul qualifies. His 55 percent conversion rate on those short middies is the best rate of his career; his 55 percent overall mark on non-paint 2s is also the best of his career, not to mention completely insane for any player at any stage of his career.

Chris Paul midrange FG%

Year Team Short-mid Long-mid Overall

2012-13

LAC

51

50

50

2016-17

LAC

52

50

51

2019-20

OKC

53

51

52

2020-21

PHX

55

52

53

2021-22

PHX

55

55

55

Source: Cleaning the Glass

Paul’s overall shot chart still tilts further right than the tower in Pisa, but look at those clusters just outside the charge circle in the graphic below. Somehow, at his frisky age, he’s taking advantage of those spots more often and more effectively than ever, as this chart of his last 750 shots from Cleaning the glass shows:

Finally, that “37” part is more special than you may realize. Between Tom Brady, Mariano Rivera and LeBron James, we’ve become acclimatized to the idea of ​​great athletes having extended late-career runs; James might make first-team All-NBA this year and is half a year older than Paul.

But for a player of Paul’s size to be doing this is totally unprecedented. The two greatest predictors of career longevity are size and shooting ability; while Paul has the latter in spades, the former is rather lacking. Normal-sized people don’t succeed in the NBA unless they’re crazy fast, and as a result, most smaller players quickly vanish once they lose a step.

Think of the great small guards in the league’s history and how their 30s went. Isiah Thomas was out of the league at 33. Allen Iverson was complaining about a bench role in Memphis at 34. Tiny Archibald was an All-Star at 33 but finished at 35. Lenny Wilkens was considered a wizard because he was still starting at 36 Yes, John Stockton played until he was 90, but he was slightly bigger (6-1 and, for a point guard, a freaking tank). Aside from Stockton, about the only real example of longevity from a player as small as Paul is Kyle Lowry, who is a year younger than Paul and wasn’t nearly his statistical equal the past three seasons.

In fact here, for your perusal, is the complete list of guards 6-0 or shorter to have quasi-All-Star production (a PER above 18 in at least 1,500 minutes) after the age of 33:

Source: Stathead.com

(Sidenote: Remember when we thought he was washed after that 2018-19 season in Houston? What a time to be alive.)

Partly as a result of his shot evaluation and partly as a result of his insane overall longevity, Paul now finds himself in an unbelievable position: As perhaps the most valuable player of the playoffs so far on a loaded Phoenix team that could quite possibly win the franchise’s first championship.

Of course, we all know the long, sordid history of both the Suns and Paul in the playoffs, and this story is still being written. Perhaps another postseason booby trap lies just around the corner – some finger in a jersey or ill-timed nosebleed that once again results in heartbreak. Nonetheless, through eight playoff games, the Suns stand 10 wins away from the coveted prize… and, unbelievably, a 6-0 tall, now 37-year-old is leading them there.


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(Photo: Stephen Lew / USA Today)

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