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Oklahoma City Thunder

The secret to Chris Paul's resurgence? He's back to being himself again

Chris Paul spent the last two seasons reinventing himself to get the most out of his partnership with James Harden.

Now with the Oklahoma City Thunder, the future Hall of Famer is back to being himself again.

Paul's numbers don't necessarily reflect that - his scoring (16.5) is up only slightly compared to last season and he's never averaged fewer assists (6.5) in his NBA career - but it's the way in which he's manufacturing that scoring and those assists that has him playing like the Chris Paul of old again.

Specifically, Paul is not isolating nearly as much in Oklahoma City as he did during his two seasons in Houston. Paul has always been an elite isolation scorer, but his scoring skyrocketed in those situations under Mike D'Antoni, to the point where he trailed only two players in isolation points per game in his first season with the Rockets and only three players in his second season.

Paul is instead feasting on pick-and-rolls with the Thunder, much like he did when he was running the show with the LA Clippers.

Not only is Paul among the league leaders in pick-and-roll scoring this season, he's among the league leaders in pick-and-roll efficiency. According to NBA.com, he currently ranks in the 92nd percentile with an average of 1.07 points per pick-and-roll possession. Those are impressive marks for anyone, mind alone a 34-year-old, undersized point guard who is coming off the worst season of his career.

Put it this way: Kemba Walker and Damian Lillard - two multi-time All-Stars who are in the prime of their careers - are the only players of note who have been more efficient than Paul when it comes to scoring as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls this season. Everyone else ahead of him generates a tiny portion of their offence on those plays, such as Tony Snell, JJ Redick, Rudy Gay and Karl-Anthony Towns.

MORE: Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are a match made in heaven

The result of Paul isolating less and running more pick-and-rolls is his shot profile has changed quite a bit. In his two seasons with the Rockets, close to half of his field goal attempts came from the 3-point line, way up from close to a quarter in the first 12 seasons of his career. He didn't completely eliminate the midrange from his game as other players have in the D'Antoni era, but he relied far less on those shots than he ever has before.

In other words, Paul didn't go full Moreyball next to Harden in Houston, but he wasn't far off.

While Paul is still taking more 3-pointers in Oklahoma City than he did during all but one season in Los Angeles, the amount of players scoring a higher percentage of their points from midrange can be counted on one hand. It might not be an efficient shot for most, but Paul has always been prolific from that distance, this season being no exception. Having made 56.6 percent of his midrange attempts, he stands alone at the top of the league.

Paul has been particularly potent from midrange in the clutch - the last five minutes of a five point game - where the Thunder have been dominating teams due in large part to the nine-time All-Star's ability to flip a switch. Of the league-leading 36 shots Paul has hit down the stretch of close games, 15 have come from midrange. An additional nine have come inside the paint but outside of the restricted area.

Although those aren't technically midrange shots, you can think of them as such because almost all of them have been of this variety - a pull-up a step or two inside the free throw line:

The irony is that this version of Paul would be perfect alongside Harden, but saying that this is unexpected would be an understatement, both because of his injury history - he has yet to miss a game this season after missing a combined 48 games in 2017-18 and 2018-19 - and because what he's doing hasn't been done many times before. According to Basketball Reference, Paul is on track to become only the 10th guard since 1946-47 to have a Player Efficiency Rating of 20.0 or better at his age or older.

Factor in the efficiency with which he is scoring, and that list shrinks to him being one of only four.

For that reason, it will be fascinating to see whether or not Paul can continue to play at this pace for the remainder of the season and how that impacts the Thunder, both as we get closer to the trade deadline - will Oklahoma City be buyers or sellers? - and in the playoffs.

But whatever happens between now and the end of the season, it's good to see one of the greatest point guards of all-time turn back the clock and remind everyone what he's capable of doing.

On his terms, no less.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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