Without just answering with “incredibly good,” I’m going to try to break down just how good Chris Paul has been this season. Specifically, how good he has been passing the ball this season.
Before looking at CP3, I’ll give a little context. Blake Griffin sat out 15 games in the middle of the season for a staph infection, and at that time, the Clippers were 33-19, good enough for sixth in the conference. The next month wouldn’t be easy, however, with 12 of those 15 games coming against possible playoff teams, and 11 of the 15 would be against possible Western Conference playoff teams. It looked as though the Clippers could fall out of the sixth seed, and possibly out of the playoffs entirely with just a few bad games.
Paul had other ideas, increasing his output from 18 points, 9.5 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals per game on 47/39/88 shooting (FG%/3PT%/FT%) in the first 51 games to 21.5 points, 11.6 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 2 steals on 51/39/93 shooting in the last 29 games.
Paul is one of the few players in the league who can increase his efficiency with the loss of a dominant player because of his ability to create shots by passing (one of the reasons he’s probably in my top three for MVP), but how good has he been passing the ball this season? Let’s start with the basics:
|Minutes per game||Assists per game||Assists per 36|
I chose the seven players with the most raw assists per game to compare Paul to, but in order to make things a little more comparable, I converted all players’ numbers to “per 36,” which represents how many assists that player would tally in 36 minutes, provided they remained on the same pace.
So we know Paul hands out a lot of assists. But how well does he take care of the ball?:
|Minutes per game||Turnovers per game||Turnovers per 36|
Turnovers are something that don’t get talked about enough when discussing how good a player is. A missed shot is always better than a turnover because the team has between a 20-30 percent chance of getting the offensive rebound and will never get the ball from a turnover, which is why one of the most important stats for the passers in the league is…:
|Minutes per game||Ast/TO Ratio|
Paul outshines even the best passers when looking at assist-to-turnover ratio. He creates opportunities for his teammates while turning the ball over at an alarmingly low rate, but there’s always something missing when looking at assists. How valuable is a pass from Paul to teammate Griffin when he misses the shot? While I can’t put a number to the value of the pass, NBA.com’s SportVU cameras track this and other helpful stats:
|Minutes per game||Assist Opportunities per game||Assist Opportunities per 36|
An assist opportunity is what I like to call a “blown assist.” In other words, if the teammate had made the shot, the pass would have been labeled an assist. Obviously this isn’t a perfect metric – Stephen Curry probably has fewer assist opportunities because he passes to Klay Thompson while Lawson passes to Randy Foye – but it’s interesting whose name keeps appearing at or near the top of these lists:
|Minutes per game||Secondary Assists per game||Secondary Assists per 36|
A secondary assist is the “hockey assist,” or the pass to the assist, and is one of the more telling stats for Paul. While assists, turnovers and assist-to-turnover ratio are all relatively close between the first and second-placed player, there’s a 44 percent increase from Curry to Paul. This is one of the many stats that shows Paul’s prowess distributing the ball, but the strongest piece of evidence is the points he produces:
|Minutes per game||Points created by assist per game||Points created by assist per 36|
Points created is exactly what it sounds like – the points that come from the player’s assists – and it’s another metric that shows how unstoppable Paul has been this season.
Paul has led this Clippers team to their third straight season with at least 54 wins, is one of the most efficient scorers in the league and will take the team to their fourth straight playoff season – something that hasn’t been done in the team’s unfortunate history. Paul is unquestionably the best passer in the league, scores more efficiently than almost any guard in the league not named Curry and Harden and turns it over far fewer times per game than other MVP candidates. While Harden has been phenomenal carrying an offense that’s depleted without Dwight Howard for most of the season, I think an argument can be made (and in fact, should be made) for Paul as the second guard on the All-NBA team. Their stats are equally impressive, but Paul is a stifling defensive player and his team plays Austin Rivers, Spencer Hawes, Glen Davis and Hedo Turkoglu double-digit minutes.
So I guess my answer to that original question is this: Chris Paul doesn’t suck.