Aside from the All-Star game, and the U.S. Men’s Olympic team, this season’s Los Angeles Clippers might be the best cast of characters Chris Paul has ever played with. With All-Star Power Forward Blake Griffin continuing to improve in all facets of the game, Center DeAndre Jordan swatting his way into defensive player of the year territory, and do-it-all guard Darren Collison stepping up big in place of injured sharpshooter J.J. Redick, the roster has proven to be deep with talent at all positions. Even with the NBA’s perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate Jamal Crawford out with a calf injury, the Clippers have not suffered because the recently acquired Danny Granger has filled in nicely while showing small shades of his former self. Coach Doc Rivers has his squad playing like a team determined to make a deep post-season run, though with all that firepower filling out the roster, it is still Chris Paul that fuels the Clippers Championship dream.
CP3, as the fans call him, has been having a stellar season. He leads the team in both assists and steals by a long shot, and is second only to Blake Griffin in points. His uncanny ability to create offense for others, as evidenced by his league leading 10.9 assists per game, is the catalyst that drives this Clippers team. And when Paul is both passing and scoring at a high clip, there are very few teams in the NBA that can match up with LA. But the Clippers often go only as far as their all-world point guard goes. Take last Wednesday’s game to New Orleans for example, a non-playoff team and one the Clippers in all likelihood should beat, however, when Paul shot 0-12 with only two points they lost. But in Thursday night’s game against Dallas, a team fighting for their playoff lives, Paul scored 31 points to go with nine assists and the Clippers won. CP3 the playmaker makes LA competitive, but CP3 the scorer makes them a championship contender. And while there is no denying his abilities, or his importance to the team, the question still remains, is Paul the type of star that can carry a team to an NBA title?
When Paul was drafted fourth overall by then New Orleans Hornets in the 2005 NBA Draft, they were after a franchise player, and that is exactly what they got. The young point guard from Wake Forest exploded on the NBA scene, driving and dishing his way to being named rookie of the year at just 20 years old. In his first two years, however, the team did not do so well, finishing below .500 in both seasons. Then came the 2007-08 season and not only did the young star make his first NBA All-Star Game, but he lead the Hornets to the post-season. Though, they lost to the NBA powerhouse Spurs in the Western Conference Semi-Finals, Paul and company had created a lot of buzz in New Orleans, and the future looked quite bright.
Then misfortune began to strike. The Hornets would make the playoffs only to be bounced out in the first round. The following season injuries struck for CP3 and New Orleans missed the playoffs as a result. In 2010-11 rumors that Paul had grown disillusioned with New Orleans began to spread. Though his regular season numbers declined, Paul was lights out come playoff time and carried the Hornets on his back. However, it was all for not as they made a quick exit in the first round. After the season, the star point guard was traded to Los Angeles, where fans went wild with thoughts of Chris Paul fueling a Clippers championship dream.
Even though Paul missed some games, his point total rose in the 2011-12 season. He was rejuvenated with his new team, and eventually was crowned MVP of the NBA All-Star Game. He would lead the Clippers into the playoffs but once again he was denied by the Spurs. In his second season with Los Angeles, the team improved to win their division, but when the playoffs came they were defeated in the first round. Coach Vinny Del Negro was then fired after the season and Doc Rivers jumped from the plummeting Celtics to take over.
With Rivers at the helm the Clippers currently sit at third in the Western Conference with a 51-22 record and are looking to leapfrog the San Antonio’s and Oklahoma City’s of the Western elite. Their goal is to finally breakthrough to the NBA Finals, a place where Coach Rivers has been, but CP3 has not. Nevertheless, LA is not the same team without their star playmaker.
His credentials are sound with seven All-Star appearances, three All-NBA first team selections, three All-Defensive team selections, a five time league leader in steals, twice led the league in assists, a former NBA Rookie of the Year, and a two time Olympic gold medalist. Yet, despite his impressive resume he has never made a trip to the NBA finals, and neither has Los Angeles’ other basketball franchise. And if they are to make it there this season it will be due to Chris Paul, and the way he fuels the Clippers championship dream.
Commentary by Kalen Skalesky