Just two seasons ago, Chris Paul’s future in the NBA looked bleak. Fast forward to the present day and Paul, now on the Phoenix Suns, is being named to his second consecutive and 11th overall All-Star team. This achievement proves he is still one of the NBA’s best point guards, leading many experts and fans to scratch their heads wondering why they ever doubted him in the first place.
In the 2019 playoffs, the Houston Rockets crashed out of the Western Conference Semifinals at the hands of the Golden State Warriors. The James Harden-Chris Paul experiment, which began in 2017 when Paul was traded to Houston from the Los Angeles Clippers, was over.
After faltering in the postseason again, Paul, once considered the league’s best point guard, was seen as a washed-up player with little trade value because of his exorbitant four-year, $159.7 million contract.
The Rockets then orchestrated a trade that allowed the franchise to acquire the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook and send Paul to Oklahoma City.
Stashed away in Oklahoma, Paul was supposed to be nothing more than a veteran on a middling, rebuilding team. Instead, he led Oklahoma City to the playoffs as a fifth seed with his resurgent performance — averaging 17.6 points and 6.7 assists per game to go along with the league’s ninth-most win shares — that earned him an All-Star selection for the first time since 2016.
Then, Paul was traded to the Phoenix Suns, a team with the worst cumulative record of any team in the past five seasons. Paul, along with teammate and budding star guard Devin Booker, was supposed to help the Suns compete for the playoffs in the West. Instead, Paul — averaging 16.6 points and 8.5 assists on 39.5% three-point shooting — has the 20-10 Suns within two games of the second seed in the West and on pace to return to the postseason for the first time in 11 seasons.
As the common denominator to the unprecedented success of his past two teams, it is more obvious than ever Paul is a true leader and, more importantly, a winner.
The NBA media often shines the spotlight on a select handful of players. Fans scroll through their social media feeds to see a Giannis Antetokounmpo poster dunk or a Luka Doncic stepback three-pointer on the daily, yet they rarely find even a single Paul highlight.
Standing just six feet tall and weighing 175 pounds, the 35-year-old is not a highlight-reel player. He is, however, the best pure floor general in the NBA, knowing when and how often to feed each of his teammates, when to slow down and speed up the pace of the game and constantly providing encouragement and constructive criticism to his team.
Although Paul has never reached the promised land of an NBA championship — with only one conference finals appearance in 15 seasons — in Phoenix he is arguably in one of the best situations of his career.
In Phoenix, just as in Oklahoma City, he is tasked with fostering the talents of young, gifted players. Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander reveled in Paul’s wisdom in their lone season as teammates, and Booker believed the veteran playmaker unleashed the best in him. These testimonials serve as indications of an elusive quality Paul possesses: the ability to make his teammates better.
At sixth all-time in assists and seventh all-time in steals, Paul has already etched his name into the list of the greatest-ever point guards.
In addition to proving his years as a valuable starter are not over, Paul is demonstrating he can bring previously mediocre teams to the playoffs by elevating the quality of the players around him.
The Suns’ young core of Booker and third-year center Deandre Ayton has thrived under the on-court tutelage of Paul, and if the team can sustain its form throughout the postseason, Phoenix could be a dark horse and win the Western Conference.
In all likelihood, Paul and the Suns will not hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end of the 2021 season, but his continued — or rather, renewed — brilliance in Phoenix reminds us why we should appreciate the greatness of Chris Paul.
Christian Baldari is a first year in the College. Bringing the Heat appears online every other week.