Success has typically followed Chris Paul wherever he settles and in year 16 at the age of 36, he is once again in the playoffs with his fifth team.
This is in fact a compliment to him more than anything considering how Paul brings this type of winning culture to the teams he joins. With him on board, even the already-good teams become even better.
What makes this feat all the more impressive is that the six-time NBA steals leader has spent his entire career so far in the competitive Western Conference.
His addition to a Phoenix Suns team that went 26-39 during the (pre-pandemic) 2019-2020 regular season and 8-0 in the Orlando bubble transformed the squad into a 51-win team that will enter the playoffs for the first time since 2010, which was also the time they had another elite point guard in Steve Nash.
If one can quantify his impact, Paul’s 9.2 win shares (or the number of wins contributed by a player) would be the second-highest in a decade, with only Goran Dragic’s 10.3 win-shares in 2013-2014 coming in as the higher figure.
CP3’s 2020-2021 season averages of 16.4 points (on .499/.395/.934 shooting splits), 8.9 assists, and 1.4 steals through 70 games are a tad below his career averages, but his impact on the team goes beyond the numbers.
The current NBA landscape is littered with point guards who rely more on speed and athleticism especially earlier in their careers. Paul may not out run his defender nor can he jump out of the gym, but the two-time Olympic gold medalist relies on his smarts and high basketball IQ to make the right plays for him and his teammates. This has allowed him to play high-level basketball for a long time and at an advanced age for athletes. As of this writing, Paul is the only active player among all the lottery picks from the 2005 NBA Draft class. The Atlanta Hawks’ Lou Williams and the Utah Jazz’s Ersan Ilyasova are the only other players from the 2005 rookie class currently on NBA rosters.
Thanks to the 11-time all-star, Phoenix’s offense has become more nuanced, to the point that the players are being utilized in a much more effective way than in recent years. With Paul orchestrating the offense, opposing defenses now have a cause for pause when devising schemes to contain the Suns’ attack. It also helps that CP3 had previously played for Phoenix head coach Monty Williams back when both belonged to the New Orleans Hornets organization. Both have grown since then and this reunion has been nothing short of beneficial to their current squad.
Paul has also been a valuable mentor and backcourt partner to Devin Booker, who seems to have finally found the backcourt stability that will allow him to experience the postseason for the first time in his career. The playmaking duties now don’t solely rest on his shoulders as the four-time NBA assists leader allows Booker to do what he does best: score. CP3 has also helped contribute to the development of DeAndre Ayton and Mikal Bridges, with Bridges even earning some consideration for this season’s Most Improved Player award.
Legacies set the great ones apart from the good ones and CP3’s legacy is perhaps in the leadership qualities that help him lead teams to the playoffs. The nine-time All-NBA teamer led the Houston Rockets to a 65-17 record back in the 2017-2018 season and was a healthy hamstring away from upsetting the Kevin Durant-led Golden State Warriors in the postseason. An MVP trophy and a title are the only things missing on his resume, but at this point, he’s more concerned about winning and will likely be a sure-fire first ballot hall of famer when it’s all said and done.
CP3 has brought a different attitude to the Suns, and the results have been quick and promising. Phoenix has the second-best record in the NBA (behind the 52-20 Utah Jazz) and apart from Paul, their core players of Ayton, Booker, and Bridges are all under 25. Paul’s game is not something that will drastically deteriorate with age so this group could be together for a long time and will likely be a force in the West for years to come.
Barring a monumental first round upset, the Phoenix Suns are poised for a deep run in the playoffs. At the forefront of it all is Chris Paul, who will be leading a revitalized offense that has brought success and excitement back to the valley of the sun. To be fair, though, if they face the full-strength Lakers in the first round, then things could get difficult.