Over the course of this season, there’s been a litany of conversations and general discourse around the ‘Point God,’ Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul.
While I personally haven’t believed any of the assessments - most of them rash and reactionary - to be true, I have felt there was more of a pressing need for one of the Suns “others” to make a leap.
The goal was to allow for Paul to more meticulously pick his spots, while also enabling more space and opportunity for then-Suns, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, and Deandre Ayton, to do more - taking the 82-game demand for scoring and usage off his shoulders and effectively allowing him to play in “cruise control,” preserving himself more for the postseason.
I’ve maintained the belief that he was doing just that, especially early on before the Suns grew injury ravaged, and his play of late falls in alignment with that.
Prior to the trade, we were seeing Mikal Bridges assume said position and ascend into a realm that he hadn’t previously shown he was capable of on consistency.
(Sidenote, he is unleashed, and ‘Brooklyn Bridges’ is a bad man.)
As he began to peak and sustain that flow, the Suns were able to flip him (plus others) for an all-time scorer, player, and competitor - in Kevin Durant.
Naturally, in adding Durant, to go with the prolificity of Booker, there was a new balance in structure for the Suns to realign their roster with, particularly regarding scoring.
The system for the Suns was never an issue, it was always how the pieces in tow would perform based on the in-game demands placed upon them - particularly in the postseason.
That, in and of itself, is why the trade for Durant was an “at all costs” move.
The Suns solved, seemingly, all of the tiny issues that would snowball into big ones by adding Durant at his stature, position, skillset, and disposition.
Particularly for Paul, the addition of Durant uplifts the, at times, daunting pressure of the Suns offense needing his scoring for stretches of the game where - in his age 37 season - he’d seemingly rather keep his focus on maintaining the Suns offensive flow as the head of the snake, and pick his spots over the course of 48.
Durant directly enables him to do so with more frequency, especially with the new tweaks that coach Monty Williams has implemented into the rotation.
Monty Williams talked about having 2 starters on floor as he's ended 1st quarter with just Devin Booker and started 2nd quarter with Kevin Durant.— Duane Rankin (@DuaneRankin) April 2, 2023
"Something we're looking at from the eye test and numbers."
Williams looking at Chris Paul and Durant on floor more together. #Suns
Of late, we’ve seen the direct benefits of that Durant dynamic, in addition to Paul applying himself more, occur simultaneously.
Through the lens of the post-All-Star segment of the season, where Paul has been healthy and present in all 20 games, presents a good case study.
In said 20 games, he’s averaging 14.3 points on 52.9% from two, 37.8% from three, and is knocking down 83.8% of his free throws.
The first 10 games: 13 points on 10.9 shots - shooting 59.7% from two and 29.8% from three.
The last 10 games: 15.6 points on 12.5 shots - shooting 47.6% from two and 45.1% from three.
That final sub-segment is an indication of the space he’s operating in - rooted in ramped-up activity.
He has, now, back-to-back games compiling 20+ points (for the first time since late January) and is also coming up with baskets in waning moments, where his confidence is shining through.
Take these shots, on the road, against Oklahoma City, for example.
Even more, in the latter 10 games, though his general percentage from two has dipped, he’s still knocking down 50.9% of his 5.5 pull-ups in the mid-range and is ranked 86th percentile for efficiency on long mid-range shots (beyond 14 feet) where he’s 21-35, good for 60%.
The shot-making from him on display against Denver was exemplary of a lot of this.
Following last night’s win over Denver, Durant was asked about wanting Paul to shoot the ball more.
“It is very important; we just need CP (Chris Paul) to read the game like he always been reading it since he was in college or high school. Whatever the game tells him to do, he will go out there and do it. Tonight, he made seven threes, only two assists. We are so used to him getting close to double-digit assists every game.”
He’d also mention, “It is good when you are unpredictable and can switch attacks as a player. We going to need that going forward. Glad he is getting confidence to catch and shoot and knock down the shots while being aggressive to score.”
The aggressive switch flipping on, particularly at this time of the year, is not foreign to Chris’ career, as he averages 17.9 points in April on his career.
It’s a signature of his to ramp up in sharpness and efficiency in scoring around this time, and he’s moving in alignment with just that.
The emphasis hasn’t necessarily been the same, however, pertaining to how he fits with Durant and Booker.
In season’s past it would be Paul doing more off the dribble and creating. Now, it is rooted in his ability to catch-and-shoot, on volume and efficiency, in flow of the offense.
Post All-Star, he's shooting 52.6% on these attempts from deep.
In the last 10 games, 63.2%.
In the last five, 66.7%.
In the last three, 77.8%.
As the Suns tie a bow on a very interesting season, it’s as important as any other development to see Paul both healthy and playing his best - in a sustained manner - at this juncture.
He’s perfectly insulated with the talent types that both compliment him as a scorer and allow for him to better blend his playmaking mastery into the plot for the Suns, but also ease the burden in demand for his scoring.
His scoring will now take on more of an impact as a result of teams looking to take things off the menu for Booker and Durant - rendering themselves susceptible to the timely play of Paul - but he won’t need to be the number one or number two option as frequently as the past has required.
Should he continue to strike the requisite balance while performing within the new demands placed on him, and keep his foot on the gas, this Suns team may truly grow even more indefensible.
This holds especially true in game-changing moments.
He has donned the ‘Point God’ nickname partly for his playmaking wizardry, but also because of the efficiency on scoring - and in the “got to have it” moments - that have made him one of the most well-rounded to ever initiate an offense.
He’s proven he’s capable of rising to the occasion in all contexts of the game, and the postseason will certainly present moments where his abilities at the helm will be called to task.
As we’ve seen over the last 10 games, and especially over the last three, he’s proving he is still more than able to seize the high-stakes moments - even while performing in a unique role.