Chris Paul is at a crossroads. Sixteen years into his remarkable NBA career, the Phoenix Suns‘ star guard is simultaneously the closest he has ever been to a title but also now one loss away from what could be considered his most bitter postseason disappointment.
By any measure, Paul is one of the best point guards to ever play the sport, and he’s arguably the greatest passer of his era. But his passing has come up short at the most critical time. He’s averaging 8.8 assists per game in the NBA Finals, barely lower than his average of 8.9 during the regular season, but his turnovers have skyrocketed from 2.2 to 3.6. In the two games in Milwaukee, Paul had nine turnovers against 16 assists. A large portion of that is due to the defense of Jrue Holiday and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Still, if Paul wants to force a Game 7 back home at Phoenix and give himself a chance to win his first career NBA championship, he’ll need to perform like the player who has a well-deserved reputation as the grand master of the NBA chessboard. He’s a player who has seen every defensive coverage and figured out how to beat them all. Paul is capable of using his dribble to snake through the scoring area and manipulate the arrangement of defenders before consistently making the right play for his team.
Throughout this season, Paul has conducted the Suns’ offense with near-perfect precision, getting everyone involved on a nightly basis. He’s the passer on the team’s top four assister-scorer duos, and it doesn’t matter if Paul is setting up a star or a role player; he gets them all buckets easily — just not easily enough in a series the Suns trail 3-2, which has them facing elimination Tuesday night in Milwaukee (9 p.m. ET on ABC and the ESPN App).
When operating at his best, Paul can get Deandre Ayton easy shots in the paint (the former No. 1 overall pick shot a career-high 62.6% this season). Paul can get Devin Booker clean looks at jumpers (Booker shot 53.1% from between 10 and 16 feet this season). Paul can set up wide-open 3-pointers for Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder, both of whom saw their 3-point shooting percentage increase significantly from a season ago.
That diversity of execution has earned Paul his “Point God” moniker; he can do it all, and he has been doing it for the better part of two full decades.
Between the regular season and the playoffs, Paul has logged a staggering 11,332 total assists to 137 different teammates. A quick review of the top of that list is more than a trip down memory lane. It’s also a reminder of the many different ways Paul, when operating at peak efficiency, is capable of breaking down any defense, even one as stout and complex as the one Milwaukee has thrown at him for the past few games.
1. Blake Griffin: 1,318 assists
It should come as no surprise that Paul’s most frequent assist target was the teammate who coined the term “Lob City” himself in 2011. More than 10% of Paul’s career assists have gone to Griffin; among active players, only the Russell Westbrook-to-Kevin Durant combo has resulted in more assists than those created by Paul setting up Griffin. The two stars spent six years together with the LA Clippers,…