This showed up in my inbox, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Here’s Davis Vo with a breakdown of Chris Paul’s game when he enters the “zone” we’ve all come to appreciate. You can follow Davis on twitter at @vosephful.
If this season has made anything more evident, it is that as Chris Paul goes, the Clippers go. During Paul’s injury earlier in the year, the Clippers went 6-6, which included unforgiving losses to the Phoenix Suns, Washington Wizards, and a blowout loss to the Toronto Raptors.
For better or worse, the Clippers offense is the Chris Paul offense. This is likely what he wanted as the Clippers’ franchise player. The player personnel that the Clippers have acquired are complimentary to his skillset. Because of this, there is absolutely no doubt that Paul has to be the player with the ball at the end of games.
As calculated as he is, Paul has gotten his play down to a science and consistently plays to his talents and his formula. During the first 3 quarters of a game, Paul will try to get his teammates involved above all else. Paul prefers to win this way and will only “flip the switch” when he has a sense of urgency to do so.
When Paul gets into what I like to call “the maestro zone,” he balances his magical act as a passer and a scorer unlike any other player in this league not named of LeBron James. During this zone, Paul’s mindset is not fixated on making the “right pass,” but instead, he is trying to make the “best play” for the Clippers to win. This often comes out during the 4th quarter of games, where Paul’s heroics have long been documented and praised.
What noticeably happens when CP3 enters the maestro zone is that he becomes more aggressive — he looks less to pass to his teammates and more for opportunities to score on his own. That is not to say that Paul neglects his teammates during this time. In the 2011-2012 season, Paul averaged 8.9 assists per 48 minutes of clutch time. Paul inherently trusts his teammates, and his court vision is so refined that his aggression rarely leads to ball-hogging and overly selfish play.
Instead what happens is that Paul puts more weight on his own shoulders to carry the scoring burden. According to 82games.com, in 2011-2012, only 3% of Paul’s baskets during clutch-time (five minutes left, score within five points) were assisted. We can see that over his two full seasons with the Clippers: in close games decided by 5 points, Paul takes more field goal attempts and scores more points. He is using his possessions differently, as evidenced by his field attempts and lower assist numbers.
20 close games (games decided by 5 points or less):
16.1 FGA, 21.4 PPG, 8.5 AST, 2.3 TO
40 non-close games:
13.9 FGA, 19 PPG, 9.4 AST, 2.1 TO
9 close games (games decided by 5 points or less):
13.9 FGA, 18.7 PPG, 8.7 AST, 2.4 TO
45 non-close games:
11.6 FGA, 16.2 PPG, 9.8 AST, 2.0 TO
We often see players score in bunches or pass in bunches (see Kobe Bryant’s assist barrage week as an infamous example, although less talented players such as Nate Robinson and Jeremy Lin will be consistently guilty of this) between games and even within quarters of games. This is made salient by a conscious effort to “get my teammates involved” or to “be more aggressive in finding my shot.”
Few players in the league are able to react to what the defense gives them as the play develops within a possession, while at the same time dictate what the defense has to give them when these top players choose their angle of attack. Paul has the luxury being great at both and this is what makes him so special.
In order to make up for the lack of coaching and offensive/defensive system that is needed to win in the playoffs (Spurs), teams must rely on talent (Thunder). The Clippers must also rely on the latter. Therefore, Paul’s maestro zone will dictate how far the Clippers will get during their playoff run this season. In order for the Clippers to stand at the top of the Western conference, Paul’s maestro zone cannot be exclusive to the fourth quarters of games.
We have seen that Paul can enter this zone for full games – the most recent win over the Pacers is a recent example of this, but Paul’s playoff game against the Lakers in 2011 with Hornets remains his personal gold standard. However, what rarely happens is that Paul consistently stays in this zone for a series of games without easing off of the gas petal. And that is not a slight on Paul: it is ridiculously taxing physically and mentally to perform at the maximum potential every single game. But this is what the Chris Paul system relies on: it’s Paul or bust.