Chris Paul Is Off to One of the Best Starts in NBA History
And if they weren't talking about that, they were likely talking about either the new-look Houston Rockets and point guard James Harden or about Kawhi Leonard and his great start as the new leader of the San Antonio Spurs.
There's clearly been no shortage of storylines in the NBA's Western Conference.
Through all of this, the Los Angeles Clippers have flown quietly under the radar out west. But, it's safe to say that they are no longer.
The Clippers are 7-1 and hold the best record in the NBA through eight games. They've done it on both ends of the floor, ranking ninth and first in the league in offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively. The defense has been particularly outstanding, as the Clippers rate first in the league with an effective field goal percentage against of just 43.4%.
Appropriately, Los Angeles has gone from fourth to first in our power rankings in the last six days. In this time, we've seen their playoff odds rise to 99.9%, and their championship odds rise to 8% -- fourth among all teams.
With all of this in mind, who has been the Clippers' Durant, Harden, or Leonard? Who's the player to talk about? Is it Chris Paul or is it Blake Griffin? Both are out to really hot starts and playing arguably the best basketball of their career.
Somewhat surprisingly, the numbers indicate that it's not even close. It's CP3.
Less Is More
In 29.3 minutes per game, Paul is averaging 19.3 points and 8.4 assists on the offensive end. On the defensive end, he's also adding 5.3 defensive rebounds and a league-best 3 steals per game, on a steal rate of 5.1%.
The most remarkable of these numbers is not the league-leading steals or steal percentage -- rather, it's the fact that the 31-year-old is playing fewer than 30 minutes per game. Paul's 29.3 minutes per game are the lowest of his career by a margin of 3.4. His next-lowest is last year's mark of 32.7.
One factor influencing his playing time early on this season is blowouts. The Clippers lead the NBA with an average margin of victory of 16.88 points and have won their last three games by 24, 32, and 31 points. Mind you, that's against the Spurs, Pistons and Trail Blazers, who are a combined 14-11 to this point.
If we adjust for the blowouts and Paul's decrease in floor time, his numbers are even more ridiculous.
Those are just incredible, but at the same time it appears that Paul's benefiting from not playing such large minutes. The blowouts, along with the addition of Raymond Felton, help to preserve his legs, which are undoubtedly fresher. This provides Paul with a much better base to launch shots from him.
See for yourself. Here is his 2015-16 shot chart.
Now, compare that to his 2016-17 shot chart.
By looking at the colors, you can tell that Paul's shooting efficiency and distribution are both different from a season ago. What you can't tell from comparing the two charts is that his field goal percentage of 47.1% is right around his career average of 47.3%.
Nonetheless, that large green area above is where the divergence comes in. That is Paul's shift toward shooting more three-pointers and converting at a much higher rate than he has in the past.
To this point, Paul is attempting 37.5% of his field goal attempts from beyond the three-point line. Over the course of his 11-year career, his three-point attempt rate has been no higher than 29.8%, while, in the same vein, his conversion percentage (43.6%) has never been better.
This rise in both volume and efficiency is best explained by a career-high 55.3% effective field goal percentage. So, while CP3 is still dropping dimes, he's also shooting and scoring with more efficiency than ever.
That is what makes him, through two weeks, the most valuable player in the NBA. Not only is he the unquestioned leader of the best team in the league, but he's also
performing like the best player in the league.
In our very own player rankings, Paul grades out at the very top. His nERD (which, based on efficiency, is a measure of a player's total contribution over the course of the season) of 3.3 is the only score at or above 3.0 and is 0.5 above Kawhi Leonard's mark, the next closest player in overall efficiency.
The greatness doesn't stop there. On the NBA leaderboard, Paul is the top dog in several other categories.
|Win Shares||Win Shares/
To put it better into perspective, CP3's win shares per 48 minutes are nearly a whole tenth better than Leonard's, again the next-closest player. The same can be said for historical reference. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's .3399 win shares per 48 in the 1971-72 season is the highest of all time among qualified players.
I know it's a big if, but if Paul can somehow find a way to keep up this amazing pace, we might be in for one of the best, most efficient individual seasons of all-time.