Has Stephen Curry Surpassed Chris Paul as the NBA’s Best Point Guard?

Chris Paul may not have vacated his spot atop the NBA‘s point guard rankings, but the Los Angeles Clippers floor general no longer occupies it by himself.

Stephen Currylethal as always on the offensive end and better than ever defensively, has forced himself onto the same plane as Paul. That’s an incredible accomplishment in itself, and there are no reasons to believe Curry has any intentions of stopping here.

For those willing to frame this as a single-season discussion, Curry might already be sitting in Paul’s old throne.

“No point guard is playing better for his team right now,” an Eastern Conference executive said of Curry, per NBA.com’s Sekou Smith. “His game has come full circle. He can do it all, score and run the show. … He’s the best shooter and is improved in every other area of his game.”

Former NBA coach and current ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy called Curry the NBA’s best point guard “without question” in late November, per Bay Area News Group’s Diamond Leung. Shortly thereafter, Hall of Fame point guard Isiah Thomas also moved Curry to the front of the line, per Leung:

“The guy has taken it to another level,” Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Curry earlier this season, per Leung. “I think he’s the best in the NBA right now at that position.”

The sentiment for slotting Curry ahead of his point guard peers is strong. Whether it’s actually justified may be a matter of personal preference.

Direct statistical comparisons between the two are tough because they play such different styles. Both can shred a defense with either their scoring or their passing, but Curry strikes more with the former, while Paul often opens his attack with the latter.

Each also boasts the skills and savvy to impact the stat sheet in areas well outside of their greatest respective strength.

Widening the lens, Curry and Paul provide nearly an identical amount of points on any given night.

Paul gives the Clippers 22.2 points a night off his assists alone, per NBA.com’s player tracking data. Curry’s assists add another 17.5 points to the Warriors’ per-game scoring average. Adding in their individual point production, Paul has his hand in 40.1 points per game, while Curry helps put up 41.4.

It’s hard to say what, if anything, that advantage actually means. Curry’s number is called upon far more often than Paul’s (29.1 usage percentage to 22.4), and the former gives away more possessions than the latter (14.5 turnover percentage to 12.2).

Particularly on the offensive end, Paul more easily fits with people’s conventional image of a point guard.

“Paul is like a surgeon on the court, carefully creating incisions in the opposing defense with precise dribbling and meticulous passing lanes,” wrote CBS Sports’ Zach Harper.

It would make so much sense to dub Paul as a “game manager” if the label didn’t carry such a negative connotation. He stays in complete control of a contest, knowing who to pass to and when but always sensing when he’s needed to carry the scoring load.

With him on the floor, the Clippers have torched their opponents by 13.5 points per 100 possessions. When he has sat, L.A. has been outscored by 8.8 points per 100 possessions. That’s the difference between a league-best net efficiency rating and a mark worse than 28 of the 30 NBA teams.

Without question, Paul makes his teammates better. DeAndre Jordan is shooting 82.1 percent off passes from Paul. Jamal Crawford has cashed in 63.6 percent of his two-point field goal attempts set up by Paul. As a team, the Clippers shoot 49.0 percent from the field off Paul’s passes, more than a full percentage point better than their season average of 47.8.

Curry is a completely different type of player, really a gift to the analytical crowd thanks to his perimeter proficiency. His combination of three-point volume and success is unlike anything the basketball world has seen. This has been the worst three-point shooting season of his career, yet he still ranks first in made threes (77).

Less than 56 percent of his triples have come off assists. In fact, he’s been a much better marksman on pull-up threes (41.7 percent) than catch-and-shoot attempts (37.6 percent). With his rapid-fire release, he needs only a sliver of space to fire up a shot. And his handles are certainly tight enough to create all the breathing room he requires.

But he’s so much more than a long-range specialist.

He has never based so much of his offense around the restricted area (20.2 percent of his field-goal attempts have come from within three feet), nor enjoyed more success from that range (71.6 percent shooting). His assist percentage is the second-highest of his career (37.9), and his turnover rate is the second-lowest. 

Defenses have to stay on their toes and try guarding against everything.

And thanks in no small part to his work with assistant coach Ron Adams, Curry no longer gives opponents a break at the defensive end. He is taking on assignments he used to be hidden from and still holding point guards to a lower player efficiency rating (11.7) than Paul has given up (13.3), per 82games.com.

When Curry takes the floor, the Warriors become the Harlem Globetrotters playing the Washington Generals. Golden State has an absurd plus-19.8 net efficiency rating with him leading the charge. But once he sits, the Warriors have a Generals-esque minus-8.9 efficiency mark.

Curry’s creativity and propensity to catch fire at a moment’s notice puts opposing defenses under constant pressure. Combine the threat of his eruptions with the Warriors’ commitment to ball movement, and it’s no wonder that Klay Thompson (21.6 points), Draymond Green (13.1 points, 3.3 assists) and Harrison Barnes (11.2 points on 52.6 percent shooting) are all enjoying career years.

Curry deserves a lot of credit for those successes and for Golden State’s scorching 22-3 start. The Clippers’ 19-8 record isn’t bad, but it’s a reflection of expectations being met—not exceeded. At the very least, this should slot Curry ahead of Paul on any MVP rankings.

But is that enough to sway the debate in Curry’s favor? It depends on who is voting and what their criteria is.

Paul has the better track record, even if it’s light on postseason success (three playoff trips past the first round, none out of the second). He has played at an elite level long enough that it’s easier to trust his production than that of any other point guard in the league.

“I’m still taking Paul as the league’s top point guard,” NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman wrote. “He has such a long track record holding that title. … Maybe by the end of the season Curry will have claimed the crown, but for me, it’s too soon to downgrade Paul.”

That said, Curry is having the better season—both on individual and team levels.

Curry has the edge over Paul in PER (26.8 to 25.5), win shares per 48 minutes (.278 to .265) and value over replacement player (7.8 to 6.1). Curry’s Warriors have played a harder schedule than Paul’s Clippers and still compiled a better record—despite losing both Andrew Bogut and David Lee for significant stretches.

Curry hasn’t knocked Paul off the top, but he has at least opened up what was a one-player discussion. This is now a 1A-1B scenario, with Curry looking most deserving of that 1A designation.

But these positions are always subject to change. Russell Westbrook is quickly throwing his name in this conversation and the MVP race, Tony Parker saves his best work for when it matters most and John Wall‘s statistics are getting harder to ignore.

Even if Curry has surpassed—or will surpass—Paul, there is no guarantee his reign will be anywhere near as long as that of his predecessor. Life at the top isn’t easy, despite how Paul has made it look over the past decade.

Curry will figure that out soon enough. He still has some work to take complete control of Paul’s throne, and there are already a number of elite floor generals threatening to take that spot.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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Chris Paul, Blake Griffin lift Clippers over Bucks

Paul and Griffin combined for 51 points as Los Angeles held on for a 106-102 win.

      
 

 

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Florida Gators’ Chris Walker Reaches Way Back for 1-Handed Alley-Oop Dunk

The Florida Gators routed Texas Southern 75-50 on Friday, and the icing on the cake came at the end of the game from sophomore forward Chris Walker

Walker reached way back for a one-handed alley-oop dunk that punished the rim. 

[Vine]

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Butler coach Chris Holtmann embraces tough decisions, tough jobs

The interim coach is well-suited for his unexpected task of stepping in for Brandon Miller.

      
 

 

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Shabazz Muhammad throws down the hammer on Chris Kaman (Video)

Minnesota Timberwolves reserve forward Shabazz Muhammad finished a fast break by throwing down a monster one-handed slam over Portland Trail Blazers center Chris Kaman during the second quarter of Wednesday night’s game at the Target Center.Muhammad scored 11 points off the bench as the Timberwolves pulled off an upset the Blazers with a 90-82 victory.Video via NBA.
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‘Greek Freak’ posterizes Chris Bosh with monster one-handed slam (Video)

Milwaukee Bucks big man Giannis Antetokounmpo, a.k.a. “Greek Freak”, posterized Miami Heat center Chris Bosh with a monster one-handed slam during the third quarter of Friday night’s game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.On a fast break, Jabari Parker dished to a wide-open Antetokounmpo, who threw down the huge dunk. Bosh had no chance and drew the foul in a failed attempt to stop him.”Greek Freak” had 14 points and 7 assists as the Bucks blew out the Heat 109-85 to snap a three-game losing streak. Video via NBA.
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Chris Paul Slips Up Saying ‘Dictate’ in Press Conference, Blake Griffin Laughs

It doesn’t matter if Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin displayed a bit of immaturity when teammate Chris Paul slipped up at the microphone during Wednesday’s postgame press conference. The only thing that matters is the hilarity that followed.

After the Clippers’ 114-86 rout over the Orlando Magic, Paul tried his best to comment on his team’s performance. He jumbled his words, though, which led to a bit of an awkward—but hilarious—situation.

Warning: Video contains possible NSFW language.

[Instagram, h/t SB Nation]

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How the Clippers’ Chris Paul-Blake Griffin Pick-and-Roll Has Dominated the NBA

Blake Griffin can’t help himself.

It’s a typical Clippers practice and Doc Rivers wants all five of his players in motion, so he has his team run a half-court exercise where they can’t set any pick-and-rolls. But every time Rivers calls for the drill, Griffin loses focus and finds himself initiating a pick-and-roll with Chris Paul.

“It never fails,” Griffin said, referring to his routine habit. But it was an indirect point well-taken: the Clippers’ pick-and-roll featuring himself, Paul and a steady dose of DeAndre Jordan has become one of the most unguardable plays in the NBA.

Last season, Paul and Griffin averaged 1.11 team points per possession on pick-and-rolls (according to STATS via SportVU), ranking fifth in the league. And Paul was just as productive with DeAndre Jordan. Not surprisingly, Paul and Griffin ran the second-most ball screens (971) in the league last season (for those tandems averaging at least 0.96 team points per possession), while Griffin and Jordan combined for the seventh-highest total (758).

The pick-and-roll has long been a staple in basketball, and perhaps no team rode it to more acclaimed success in recent years as the Utah Jazz featuring John Stockton and Karl Malone, who reached back-to-back Finals in 1997 and ’98. Of course, they weren’t alone.

There was Kevin Johnson and Tom Chambers in Phoenix, Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp in Seattle and later Tim Hardaway and Alonzo Mourning in Miami. Then came Tony Parker and Tim Duncan in San Antonio, Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas and later Nash and Amar’e Stoudemire with a new team in Phoenix.

Now the torch has been passed to Paul and Griffin.

“When you’ve got a guy like Chris Paul that’s a great scorer and he passes the ball so well, and they’ve got shooters surrounding him, it makes it hard to control the ball,” Damian Lillard said. “Blake is going to go get [the ball] over everybody else. And Blake is getting a lot better at the pick-and-pop, so they can get to any option in the pick-and-roll. When you can get to every option and it’s effective, that makes it that much harder to guard.”

Their partnership doesn’t come without plenty of preparation. The two work on different angles and situations before practice, and they study film of how certain teams defend pick-and-rolls. Paul and Griffin can run them anywhere with the same results, delivering more than one team point per possession on the left (1.11), right (1.13) and middle (1.09) of the court last season—more than seven percent higher than the league averages for all three (according to STATS via SportVU).

“The pick-and-roll is such a dynamic play that it changes every possession, which direction you go, and it’s the toughest thing to defend,” Paul said. “I’ve made a living off the pick-and-roll.”

Paul is arguably the most creative and deceptive ball-handler in the NBA with gifted passing and play-calling abilities that have convinced Rivers to give him a lot of flexibility running the offense. “He’s smarter than me,” Rivers said. Then there’s Griffin, a rare breed of power and athleticism with a skilled ground game of low-post moves and some of the best fundamentals in the league for a big man. “He has the whole package,” Rivers said.

Let’s examine the elements further.

 

Creative Freelancing

Beyond his obvious talents, Paul popularized a move that has revolutionized the pick-and-roll: a cross-back maneuver. Instead of driving toward the basket after a pick, Paul—who recalls first trying the move during a practice during his second or third year in New Orleans playing with Tyson Chandler—curls tight around the pick, putting his point guard defender on his back, and dribbles to the other side of the free throw line with the big man defender also trailing him.

With two defenders gravitating toward Paul, that creates more room for a pocket pass to a teammate. It also confuses the middle of a defense, where a sag off to shade Griffin or Jordan from attacking the basket can give Paul enough space to shoot a pull-up jumper with his slight fade and high release point to counter being 6’0″. Entering Wednesday, he’s hitting 57.3 percent from midrange (according to NBA.com), way above his 47.4 percent mark when he first arrived in Los Angeles in 2011-12.

Since Paul has mastered the “cross screen,” as the Clippers call it, more point guards—even Kobe Bryant, according to an Eastern Conference scout—started copying his maneuver.

“[The late] Jack Ramsay every time he saw me, he used to always tell me that he loved how I started doing that,” Paul said. “He said I was the first one that he saw do that. A lot of guys try to use it against me.”

Lillard has taken note.

“You’re taught as a defender in the pick-and-roll to get back in front of the ball to pursue the ball, and he gets you on his back so you can’t get back in front of him,” Lillard said. “So that’s putting the defense and the big man in a tough position to basically pick—if you’re going to stop the ball or stop the lob. And that’s why it’s so effective.”

In today’s faster-paced NBA, most point guards want to push and shoot fast. And they’d prefer to go completely around a hard show by the big man defender to try to speed by him to the basket or make a quick pass if the pressure persists. But Paul doesn’t avoid extra contact and adjusts well on the fly, pointing out who he wants as a fall-back screener.   

Paul can change speeds quickly with exceptional balance and controls his dribble well in traffic, making behind-the-back passes out of pick-and-rolls and difficult sidearm passes with his opposite left hand down the baseline. His 6.38 assist-to-turnover ratio is best in the league.

“Chris can pick things up and calls audibles. It’s like Peyton Manning with Denver,” the East scout said. “Chris is also like a kung fu player on the basketball court. He’s very physical and he has a chip on his shoulder. Stockton was the same way. That’s why teams physically try to pound the hell out of him, sometimes with a bigger defender.”

But Paul said he’s “seen all coverages,” comparing his style of play to martial arts.

“When I’m coming, I’m reacting to what you do,” he said. “When you get really good at [the pick-and-roll], you stop thinking about it and it just becomes reactive. It’s like people that fight, martial arts. Whatever you do, that’s what I’m going to do. It’s the same thing basketball-wise.”

 

Blake Branches Out

Griffin’s shooting improvement has arguably been the biggest addition to the Clippers’ pick-and-roll. In 2012, the team hired esteemed shooting coach Bob Thate, who the New Jersey Nets brought on years ago to work with Jason Kidd, to specifically help Griffin who had a hitch at the top of his jump.

“A lot of his shots hit the front of the rim,” the East scout said. “He still has a little bit of a hitch, but it’s less. His shot has more rhythm.”

It also has become an increasingly bigger focus of his game. In 2012-13, Griffin averaged 1.204 points per roll (according to Synergy Sports). Last season: 0.953. This year: 0.778.

But after hitting 33.9 percent from midrange during his rookie season in 2010-11 (according to NBA.com), Griffin is at 39.4 percent so far this year. He’s also attempting more from midrange, firing off 8.1 shots per game from the area this season as opposed to 5.8 in 2013-14. Not only are Paul and Griffin more successful in pick-and-pops, but Griffin is also finding open looks when leaking out to the weak-side perimeter during strong-side pick-and-roll action.

Griffin’s outside development has given the Clippers a boost in side pick-and-rolls, which he ran 51 percent of the time on the left side last season with Paul, leading to a standout 1.11 points per play (according to STATS via SportVU). One reason for the favored left side—21 percent on the right—is because, off a pass, Griffin likes to penetrate the middle of the paint with his natural right hand.

So when Paul gets forced down the sideline by his point guard defender and the opposing big man—increasingly more teams want to do this to limit spread offenses and swing passes to the opposite baseline corner—he’ll often make a pocket pass to Griffin.

Then there are options: He can shoot at the elbow, kick out to Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford or J.J. Redick, or throw a lob to Jordan, who’s finishing 76.3 percent of his attempts in the restricted area (according to NBA.com). “It’s like a boom-boom play or hockey assist,” the East scout said.

“My job, especially now, is to find the open area,” said Griffin, an underrated passer who’s averaged nearly four assists per game over his career. “I don’t roll every time, I don’t pop every time. I try to mix it up, and I think that’s a key. It’s keeping it a good mix, so [the pick-and-roll] is not predictable.”

Griffin’s expanding game isn’t just generated by his shooting touch. He also occasionally facilitates his own pick-and-rolls with Jordan, who’s averaging a league-leading 1.824 points per roll this season (according to Synergy Sports).

“We started doing it a little bit toward the end of the season last year with DJ and me,” Griffin said. “It just gives us a different look because two bigs aren’t really used to guarding both sides of the pick-and-roll, so maybe we can catch somebody off guard, especially in transition.” 

 

Follow The Greaseboard

Misdirection is the name of the Clippers’ evolving pick-and-roll game. It starts with Griffin and Jordan, who are great at faking a screen and then rolling quickly to the basket, even while initiating a drag screen in transition. They’re also nifty against Paul’s defender, where they might initially approach the defender to the side, but then rotate to stand directly behind him to sandwich him from going left or right. Both Griffin and Jordan set wide, strong bases.

And with Paul directing, a defense can never rest.

“If [Paul] doesn’t like what he sees, he’ll do a re-screen. He may do a third screen,” Crawford said. “So for the defense, that’s tough for a guard to fight through all those screens and still be up there with him.”

Then there are the quick ball hand-offs. Sometimes if Griffin is coming off a down screen, Paul will pass the ball to him and then he’ll flip it right back to Paul to engage in a pick-and-roll. That abrupt action can confuse the defense.

Beyond those different nuances, misdirection lies in the Clippers’ actual half-court plays, and that’s where Rivers cleverly has his team running pick-and-rolls in more secondary action.

“That’s where their pick-and-roll is the deadliest because defenses are not expecting it,” said NBA analytics guru Justin Zormelo, who has worked for the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls. “When it’s their first option, teams load up on it. While the Clippers sometimes make their pick-and-rolls too predictable and over dribble in them against top teams, they’re running things more sharply. It reminds me of the precision during Doc’s championship run in Boston.”

Rivers even had Griffin this preseason watch film of how he coached Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett to play off each other. Jordan has studied Tyson Chandler.

“Doc always wants things to get to the second option, the third option, the fourth option,” Crawford said, “because in the playoffs the really good teams are going to take away the first option.”

No matter the option, Rivers tries to plot a new range of actions.

Take these three schemes, for example:

In one, Griffin and Redick set a staggered screen for Crawford in the right baseline corner, and after Crawford runs to the other side without getting open, Griffin then executes a pick-and-roll with Paul at the top of the key, which ends with a Griffin floater.

In a second, Redick is at the left elbow and runs a down screen for Griffin on the right block. Paul passes to Griffin on his way up, Griffin sends the ball back to Paul and then sets a pick for him. Paul runs off it and makes a pocket pass to Griffin, who dribbles in and lobs the ball to Jordan for the dunk.

And in a third, Paul is on the strong-side left wing and Crawford sets a back screen at the strong-side elbow for Redick, who frees up to set a screen for Griffin on the opposite block. Griffin runs off it, fakes as if he’s going to post up and then sets an up-screen for Paul, who uses it to knock down the jumper.

Rivers believes Paul and Griffin, the heart and soul of the Clippers’ offense, still haven’t reached their potential as a duo yet.

“Their chemistry is growing,” he said. “It’s not perfect yet, but it’s really good, and it’s just going to keep getting better. The thing is they both know they need each other, and that makes it work.”

 

Jared Zwerling covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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Miami Heat News: Chris Andersen Out 2-3 Weeks

The Miami Heat’s injury list just keeps piling up. You can now add Chris Andersen to that report—again.
Ira Winderman of The Sun Sentinel reports that Andersen himself stated that he’ll be out two-to-three weeks due to a high ankle sprain he suffered versus the Charlotte Hornets last Sunday. The injury forced Andersen to miss the Heat’s loss to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night.
Because of said injury, the Heat had already prepared for life without ‘Birdman’ by cutting guard Shannon Brown and signing center Hassan Whiteside just a day after Andersen’s injury versus the Hornets.
The 2014-15 season has been an injury-plagued campaign for the ‘Birdman.’ After playing the first two games, Andersen has struggled to remain healthy. In a 114-96 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on November 1st, the 36-year-old big man suffered a rib injury. The rib injury forced Andersen to miss the next five games.
In the seven appearances he made following his recovery from the injury, the vet…

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Chris Paul Fulfills Special Request, Pays Tribute to Fan’s Late Mother

Thirteen-year-old Jack Gallagher wanted Los Angeles Clippers star Chris Paul to honor his late mother with a special sneaker tribute. What Paul did was more than the teenager could have hoped for.

Gallagher put together a special request to Paul in a touching video that details a bond he had with his mom, all because of a pair of CP3s.

What was Paul’s response to seeing the video? He wanted to find the Gallaghers and make good on that request.

The Clippers point guard hooked the Gallagher family up with tickets for Wednesday night’s game against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. However, he wasn’t done there.

Paul gave Jack three pairs of sneakers and two bags full of Jordan CP3 gear, per NBA.com. The 29-year-old spent some time before the game with the family as well.

Of course, Paul also honored the request by writing Jack’s mother’s initials—”L.E.G.”—on his shoes.

With Jack watching from the crowd, Paul had 23 points and seven assists in a 104-98 Clippers victory.

[YouTube]

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