5.16.2008

NBA Playoffs: The Amazing Chris Paul

by Hayden Alfano*
Special to iVoryTowerz

His team may have been blown out Thursday night (May 15), but the coverage of the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs in these pages has gone on far too long without appreciation for Chris Paul.

CP3, as Paul is known (can we get this guy a better nickname, please?) is the point guard for the New Orleans Hornets. He did finish second in this year’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) voting (to the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant), so he was acknowledged as one of the league’s best players entering the playoffs. But what he’s done in the first two rounds — the first two playoff series of his young career — needs to be appreciated.

In successive playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks and now the San Antonio Spurs, Paul has outplayed two of the best and most accomplished players at his position — first, Jason Kidd; now, Tony Parker. Paul's stats speak for themselves — he’s averaging 23.7 points, 11 assists, and two steals and has just 18 turnovers in 11 games — but you don’t need a box score to understand Paul’s impact on a game. Just watch him for a few minutes.

The point guard position over the past several years in the NBA has been defined by Kidd and two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns. Most point guards, even very good ones like Parker or Deron Williams of the Utah Jazz, tend to play “north-south;” that is, they do just fine penetrating directly to the basket, but don’t spend much time testing the defense by dribbling across the court. Kidd and Nash are adept at getting to the rim, but they also excel at dribbling laterally through the lane, picking their way through defenders. It may appear that they are dribbling too much and it can appear odd at times because so few people do it, but it makes them much tougher to guard. Should the defense sit back on its heels for just a split-second, they’ll use that opportunity to dart towards the basket, pull up for a shot, or fire a pass to an open teammate from a difficult angle.

Paul plays the position similar to the way Nash and Kidd do. Additionally, his ability at running the “pick and pop” with David West — in which West sets a screen on Paul’s defender and then steps (or “pops”) out to receive a pass from Paul for a 15-foot jump shot — evokes memories of another of the greats at the position: retired Jazz point guard John Stockton. Paul’s connections with Tyson Chandler on the “pick and roll” play — Chandler screens Paul’s defender before cutting (or “rolling”) to the basket — often end in a spectacular alley-oop dunk, and Paul is already the best the game has ever seen at that particular pass.

Being mentioned in the same breath as Kidd and Nash is certainly heady company, but it’s not even the most distinguished comparison Paul has earned; he’s often mentioned in the same breath as Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson, even as a hybrid of the two.

Isiah and Magic, however, have a combined seven NBA championship rings between them (five for Magic, two for Isiah). In order for Paul to truly belong in their company, he’ll need to earn one for himself, something that has eluded both Kidd and Nash in their otherwise distinguished careers. Barely 23 years old and in just his second NBA season, Paul has plenty of time to accomplish that feat. But if he can lead his team to victory over the Spurs — the defending champs, by the way — in the deciding Game 7 in New Orleans on Monday night (May 19), he’ll have taken an important step in that direction.

Television Viewing Update:

New Orleans-San Antonio isn’t the only series that has been a back-and-forth affair. In fact, other than Detroit-Orlando — which the Pistons won in five games — the conference semifinal series have been fascinating in that no road team has won a game. The Boston Celtics, leading three games to two, have the next shot at a road victory, as they look to close out the Cavaliers in Cleveland at 8 p.m. EDT tonight, May 16 (ESPN). Immediately following that contest, the Lakers will play in Salt Lake City with a chance to eliminate the Jazz (ESPN). If seventh games are necessary, Boston would host the Cavs on Sunday, May 18, and the Jazz would be back in L.A. on Monday, May 19. Time and TV stations for those potential matchups have yet to be determined.

*Hayden Alfano is the author of the blog 19'9" which is mostly about college basketball.










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