Hollinger: This is the God Point playoffs. Here’s how Chris Paul dominates the playoffs

Who was the best player the NBA playoffs until now?

You could make several defensible choices. Jayson Tatum was awesome in round one, stalking Kevin Durant in 38.6% shooting while leading the Celtics to a sweep of the first round. His opponent in the second round, Giannis Antetokounmpo, has been a two-way destructive force, slipping passes when he’s not smashing in the paint. Ja Morant’s highlight reel was ridiculous, posterizing Malik Beasley and leaving Jordan Poole’s knees wobbly. Jimmy Butlervery discreetly, also organized spectacular playoffs.

Still, the best player of this post-season might not be one of those players, as incredible as they were and as amazingly talented as they are. The star of these playoffs so far is… a 6-0 point guard who turns 37 today?

Believe it. Through eight games, the Point God puts together video game stats. Chris Paul shoots 58.0 percent from the floor with a stunning 67.8 true shooting percentage and dished out six assists for every turnover. Among players still alive in the playoffs, he ranks second to Butler in playoff 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 off the court.

His first round against New Orleans was quite impressive. (Shout to Pelicans, Besides; this Dallas streak shows just how solid their first-round performance was.) Paul dished out double-digit assists in the first five games, allowing the Suns to overlook the lack of Devin Booker for three games, then to lower the curtain in Game 6 with one of the all-time playoff performances. Amazingly, he shot 14 for 14 from the field without ever reaching the rim, instead leading office hours into his midrange perch around the elbows. For good measure, he also went 4 for 4 from the line. The Suns needed every one of those buckets; they only won by six.

The next time you hear an announcer complaining about the lost art of the midrange, show them this image from Paul’s Game 6 against the Pelicans. This is the Mona Lisa of the shot charts:

He also didn’t lose steam in the second round. Paul was humming quietly in the background in Game 1, with 19 effective points in 28 minutes, and he made things up in Game 2 on Wednesday when the game was on the line. The Point God patiently bided his time during the major part of the first three quarters while waiting for Dallas’ Luka Dončić to empty his fuel tank. Then, in one of the most savage targeting acts you’ve ever seen, Paul and the Suns attacked him. every gamewhile a punch-drunk Dončić could barely get into position, let alone stop them.

Like that:

(Also note the subtlety here: Paul momentarily turns his gaze to the baseline, making the defender help Maxi Kleber thinks he could throw an alley-oop and clear his trail to the edge. Looking back 20-20, Kleber probably should have lived with the idea of Bismack Biyombo catch it.)

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

Behind all these great performances is an understated story: Paul has diversified his offensive attack. As my podcast colleague Nate Duncan noted on Twitter during Paul’s blowout, he went beyond his decade-long regimen of right-going midrange pullups and dug deeper into his bag of runners and floats, so he can score in different areas than just the elbows.

Watch this short clip from Wednesday night, for example: going to his left, shooting from the baseline. It’s a place on the ground he rarely attacked for most of his career, and a type of shot he rarely threw:

This whirlwind around Dončić – I was expecting someone on the Mavs bench to throw a white towel on the pitch at this point – is another example. For much of his career, Paul would turn into the lane on a play like this and drift to the right side of the lane with his dribble, completing it by leaning back to get away from his midrange. patented J. Instead, here it keeps moving forward and falls into a small float while getting dirty.

The data supports the idea that Paul changed his game this year. According to Cleaning the Glass, 33% of his shots this year have been “short-medium” (4 to 14 feet), and only 36% have been “long-medium” (14 feet to the 3-point line). While Paul hardly ever hits the rim again – only 5% of his shots have made it there this year, by far the lowest rating of his career and putting him in the 0th percentile among playmakers – that short-middle to long-middle rate is noticeable. As recently as 2016-17, he took more than twice as many shots in that long-middle zone. Aside from a two-year hiatus from the midrange while in Houston’s 3-and-rim system, he’s never shot so much of his midrange this close to the rim:

Chris Paul, percentage of FGA by range

Year Team short-medium long-medium Report

2012-13

LAKE

21

34

0.62

2016-17

LAKE

15

38

0.39

2019-20

OKAY

27

32

0.84

2020-21

PHX

26

38

0.68

2021-22

PHX

33

36

0.92

Source: Clean the Glass

He also shoots better than ever on those shots. If you’re a point guard who doesn’t reach the rim, you better be awesome on the other shots, and Paul will qualify. His conversion rate of 55% on these small intermediates is the best rate of his career; his overall rating of 55% on the unpainted 2 is also the best of his career, not to mention absolutely insane for any player at any stage of his career.

Chris Paul Midrange FG%

Year Team short-medium long-medium Globally

2012-13

LAKE

51

50

50

2016-17

LAKE

52

50

51

2019-20

OKAY

53

51

52

2020-21

PHX

55

52

53

2021-22

PHX

55

55

55

Source: Clean the Glass

Paul’s overall shot chart still tilts further to the right than the Tower of Pisa, but watch those sprues just outside the charging circle in the graph below. Somehow, at his dashing 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, this “37” part is more special than you think. Between Tom Brady, Mariano Rivera and james lebron, we have become accustomed to the idea that great athletes have long races at the end of their career; James could make the All-NBA First Team this year and is six months older than Paul.

But for a player of Paul’s size to do that is completely unprecedented. The two biggest predictors of career longevity are height and shooting ability; while Paul has the latter in spades, the former is rather lacking. Normal-sized people don’t succeed NBA unless they are very fast, and therefore most small players disappear quickly once they lose a step.

Think about the great little guards in league history and how their 30s have passed. Isiah Thomas was out of the league at 33. Allen Iverson was complaining about a bench role at 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 a bit bigger (6-1 and, for a point guard, a fucking tank). Aside from Stockton, on the only real example of longevity from a player as short as Paul Kyle Lowrywho is a year younger than Paul and hasn’t been nearly his statistical equal over the past three seasons.

In fact, here’s the full list of guards 6-0 or less to have near-All-Star production (a PER greater than 18 in at least 1,500 minutes) after age 33 for your perusal:

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 because of his shooting rating and partly because of his insane overall longevity, Paul now finds himself in an incredible position: as perhaps the most valuable player in the playoffs so far on a loaded team. from Phoenix who could most likely win the franchise’s first championship.

Of course, we all know the long and sordid story of the Suns and Paul in the playoffs, and that story is still being written. Perhaps another post-season pitfall is just around the corner – a finger in a jersey or an untimely nosebleed that once again results in heartbreak. Nonetheless, through eight playoff games, the Suns are 10 wins away from the coveted prize … and, incredibly, a 6-0 high, now 37, gets them there.


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(Photo: Stephen Lew/USA Today)

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