When evaluating the offseason for the Clippers, it’s become commonplace to assume that every player will see a “bump” in their production, simply because they’ll be playing next to Chris Paul. This requires little explanation — Paul is one of the best “pure” point guards to ever grace the floor, and by definition, he makes everything easier on his teammates.
The question isn’t whether Chris Paul helps his teammates, it’s how much he helps his teammates. That’s a tricky thing to quantify for a variety of reasons (coaching, other teammates, injuries, etc.), but let’s give it a shot.
With apologies to Kirk Snyder and Devin Brown, let’s start in 2007-2008, when New Orleans had a regular starting shooting guard (Morris Peterson) and Paul was entering his third year and playing at a level similar to how he is now.
This was the year the Hornets went 56-26 and finished one game away from reaching the Western Conference Finals. You may remember Morris Peterson from his Flintstone days at Michigan State, or from his time next to Vince Carter in Toronto. At 30 years old in 2007-08, Peterson was on his last legs, but it didn’t stop him from starting all 76 games he played in.
Here’s what Morris Peterson did in his season sharing a backcourt with Paul:
- Shot a career-best 39.4 percent from the 3-point line
- Posted a near career-low in free throw attempts per-36 minutes
- Recorded his third-best True Shooting Percentage at 54.9 percent
In Paul’s next season with the Hornets, Rasual Butler would assume the starting shooting guard position for the Hornets. In addition to being quite possibly the worst interview in professional sports, Butler was a volume shooter from behind the arc. Still the Clippers’ single-season record holder for most 3-pointers made, Butler earned his future playing time for his performance during the 2008-09 season, his first as a regular starter next to Paul. For continuity, we’ll only judge Rasual Butler’s seasons where he played over 700 minutes (8 seasons total):
- Highest career field goal percentage at 43.3 percent
- Highest 3-point percentage at 39 percent
- Best True Shooting Percentage at 54.1 percent
- Highest career PER at 11.8
Since the Hornets trotted out Devin Brown, the corpse of Mo-Pete and a young Marcus Thornton in 2009-10 and more importantly, since Paul missed half of the year with injury, let’s move on to the 2010-11 season — Paul’s last in New Orleans.
Starting next to Paul in 69 games that year was Marco Belinelli — a guy getting his first chance at real starting time. Like Peterson and Butler before him, Marco Belinelli experienced the best percentages of his young career in the 2010-11 season.
- Career-best 41.4 percent (!) from the 3-point line
- Highet True Shooting Percentage at 56 percent
- Second highest season PER at 12.1
Before we move on, let’s look at Paul’s backcourt mate for the majority of the season last year, Randy Foye.
- Second best 3-point percentage at 38.6 percent
- Career worst 1.8 FTA per 36-minutes
- Second highest True Shooting Percentage at 52.2 percent
Through four years of players and data (Peterson, Butler, Belinelli, Foye), we can see that starting next to Paul provides a substantial “bump” in 3-point percentage and True Shooting Percentage. These four players often remained average or declined in free throw attempts per-36 minutes — a function of having the ball in their hands less and spending more time as a spot-up shooter.
Again though, we already knew that. Now let’s get to the good part — what is the exact “bump” in shooting percentages when starting next to Paul?
Here, we’ll find the combined 3-point shooting percentage for the four players (Peterson, Butler, Belinelli, Foye) in all of their non-Paul seasons. Then, we’ll compare that number to their combined percentage while starting next to Paul.
Without Paul: 36.1 percent from behind the arc (2144 3PM – 5924 3PA).
Starting next to Paul: 39.5 percent from behind the arc (514 3PM, 1299 3PA).
At least from this sample size of four players, the 3-point shooting percentage bump when playing next to Paul is a whopping 3.4 percent. That’s an incredible difference. The league average 3-point percentage for shooting guards last year was 35.8 percent, according to Hoopdata.com. What we can gather from this sample size (albeit limited) is that starting next to Paul can bump a player from being a league average 3-point shooter to a Top 10 guy at the shooting guard position.
Although this study has Stanley Roberts impersonating the Kool-Aid Man type holes, it gives you a general idea of the benefits that come from having an elite distributor at the point guard position.
Although it’s dangerous to automatically assume Jamal Crawford (for example) will leap to a 38.2 percent three-point shooter instead of a 34.8 percent shooter, you can reasonably accept that whoever starts next to Paul this season will receive that “Chris Paul bump” that’s very, very real.
UPDATE: Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus shared some very interesting on/off court stats for Paul with me that I’ll share with you below:
With Paul OFF the court: The Clippers as a team shot 34 percent from 3-point land. Their offensive rating was 95.6 without Paul on the floor.
With Paul ON the court: The Clippers shot 36.4 percent from 3-point land, a 2.4% differential. Their offensive rating skyrocketed to 109.6 (!) with Paul on the floor.
Further to the point of this article, check out how much better Randy Foye was when he played next to Chris Paul last year:
Randy Foye with Paul OFF the court: Shot 35 percent from behind the arc.
Randy Foye with Paul ON the court: Shot 40.2 percent from behind the arc.
The sample size for Chauncey Billups was more limited, but the Chris Paul bump was in play with him as well:
Chauncey Billups with Paul OFF the court: Shot 36.4 percent from behind the arc.
Chauncey Billups with Paul ON the court: Shot 39.5 percent from behind the arc.
Big thanks to Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) for pointing out these numbers. Make sure to head over to BasketballProspectus.com when the time comes (we’ll put out the alert) to get the 2012-13 book.