Stat: Per 36 minutes of “crunch time” (in a game’s last five minutes and the score within five points), Chris Paul averages 6.6 more field goal attempts, 2.2 more three point attempts, and 5.6 more free throw attempts than he does at any other point in the game.
Take: This is an awfully topical post considering Paul’s second-half and game-winning heroics last night in Oklahoma City, but what he does in the clutch as opposed to how he plays the rest of the game merits such special attention that we’re not worried about covering such an obvious narrative.
Paul is the true point guard’s true point guard, as his first, second, and third goals are looking to get the ball to teammates in scoring opportunities where they’re most comfortable. No matter that he could easily and efficiently rank among the game’s top scorers if that was his preferred role; but it’s not, it never has been, and Paul’s teams have enjoyed success throughout his career with him playing that way.
None of that’s changed in his first season in a Los Angeles Clippers uniform. He still defers to players like Blake Griffin, Caron Butler, and even Randy Foye throughout the course of a game. That is, until it’s winning time.
Paul’s New Orleans’ teams of yore were always among the most effective in crunch time, despite lacking superior individual talent. This was mostly due to the extra and aggressive gear Paul entered when the game was close and the clock was winding down. He took more shots, attacked the paint with more urgency, and put the team on his proverbial back time and time again down the stretch as a Hornet, and now that he’s a Clipper he’s taken it to a whole new level.
Paul’s clutch numbers (again, per 36 minutes) in 2011 as a Hornet and 2012 as a Clipper:
- FGA: 14.8 / 21.1
- 3PA: 2.7 / 5.7
- FTA: 7.1 / 10.4
- AST: 7.8 / 6.6
- TOs: 2.2 / 3.3
- Usage %: 29.3 / 35.5
- PTS: 18.6 / 30.1
Paul, for reasons we can only guess, is looking for his shot in crunch time even more often this season than he did in his final season in New Orleans. And while one might think that approach would yield even more glaringly positive results for the Clips on the scoreboard, that just hasn’t been the case.
Despite a true shooting percentage slightly better than his game-long average and almost seven points better than last season, Paul’s clutch plus/minus is -.7 this year, down from an amazing +10.9 in 2011. Maybe more telling is the decrease in his crunch time offensive rating with regard to both the entire game in 2012 and last season; he’s down a staggering 6.7 points with regard to the former, and an even worse 7.1 points compared to the latter.
It should be stressed that there are an infinite number of extenuating factors that could be limitng LAC’s effectiveness down the stretch other than Paul’s extra shot-happy play, but the numbers still tell a less than stellar story. This new crunch time approach obviously worked with flying colors last night against the Thunder, but the season-long analytics paint a much darker picture. Pay attention to how Paul plays late in the fourth quarter of close games in the playoffs; if he’s aggressive but probing shots for teammates as much as himself like he did in New Orleans, the Clippers will likely be better off.