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Chris Paul’s declining usage rate is beneficial for the young Suns core

It’s the lowest we’ve since he joined Phoenix. Which is what the Suns need.

Phoenix Suns v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Through the first three games of the Phoenix Suns season, we are seeing a different version of Chris Paul. In his first two seasons with the Suns, Paul was the tip of the spear on offense. Thus far this season, he’s just another part of the machine.

Father Time is undefeated, and with Chris Paul’s lack of perceived engagement, it appears that he is losing his one-on-one battle with the guy.

Some fans are losing their minds.

How are the Phoenix Suns gonna win if Chris Paul isn’t a primary cause of it? Why did he sit out the final six minutes of the game against the Dallas Mavericks? Is this the beginning of the end? Even our buddy, SoSaysJ from the Fanning the Flames Podcast, who recently made an appearance on the Aussie Suns Fans Podcast, stated that Chris Paul was “washed”.

He then reminded us of his affinity for reverse psychology. I see what you did there, Justin…

Maybe it’s true. After all, Chris Paul is in his 18th year in the NBA. At 37 years of age, he’s the second oldest player in the NBA to log minutes thus far this season (behind LeBron James). He was drafted in 2005. That’s three presidents ago.

Point guards don’t always age gracefully, and the physical toll that they take deteriorates their skill set earlier than some other positions. Only 28 times in the history of the NBA has a point guard started 50 or more games over the age of 35. How does 37 and over fare? 7 times. Ever. Last done by Steve Nash in 2012-13.

Chris Paul is an anomaly. The sheer fact that he is out there playing is special. A typical NBA point guard is seizing their opportunity to give their take on a game in 30 seconds or less during a halftime show for a local broadcast at his age. He isn’t only on the back nine of his career, he’s entered the clubhouse. It is only normal to expect some regression.

We’ve seen his usage rate drop dramatically to start the season. Usage rate does not include assists, though, where Chris Paul is good as ever: his 10.7 assists is currently second in the league behind Trae Young’s 11.7.

It’s the 32.1 FG% and 9.1 3PT% — factoring into a career-low shot and free throw attempts — that has people worried. He’s averaging 33 minutes per-game, but with the game against Portland being an overtime game, there were some additional minutes that can be accounted for. Against the Mavericks he had 30:17 minutes and against the Clippers he had 32:37. Yes, three games as a small sample size, but it is the beginning of a trend.

The trend that seems to worry some, but in the long run is highly beneficial for the team, is CP3’s usage rate. It’s on the decline. Since joining the Suns, here is Paul’s usage rate:

Usage rate is a stat that counts shot attempts + free throws + turnovers by the player against a team’s total minutes played. All those numbers are at career lows for Paul so far.

Some say he is disengaged. Others believe this is a sign of his age catching up to him. Perhaps. But I believe this is by design.

Think back to the 2022 postseason. I know, it’s tough, we all have our scars. We’ve done our best to delete that run last April/May from our memory banks, and I’m asking you to go back there. Process and move on already.

If you recall, the strategy against the Suns was simple. Fluster the Point God. Pick him up full court. Tire him out. Make him work for every possession, knowing that throughout the game and throughout the series it would wear him down. It worked.

What would’ve made the Suns successful in the postseason is if his team possessed more confidence and more repetitions running the offense. They were too reliant on Chris Paul’s initiation of the offense, and when he was blitzed and tried, the team crumbled.

What we’re seeing so far this season is a correction to what rendered the Phoenix Suns ineffective in the postseason last year. We’re seeing more of Mikal Bridges bringing the ball up, more of Point Book, and more wings initiating offense. Chris Paul is still on the court, but he isn’t as active. The offense is designed to be executed by the team, and if they get stuck, CP3 is present to reset possession and assist in navigating the offense.

That’s exactly what they need.

So, let’s hold our horses, Suns fans. Sure, it might be true. Chris Paul has a finite playing career. In the process of his aging, however, he is empowering those around him. He is allowing this team to become more holistic offensively, which will do nothing but benefit the Suns in their quest for a championship.

Justin, perhaps you were right. But also, perhaps this plays in the Suns favor.

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