);
Oklahoma City Thunder

Why Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul could be a title contender's golden ticket

What a difference a season makes.

Following an injury-riddled 2018-19 season, Chris Paul was considered to have one of the more untradeable contracts in the NBA. Following a bounce-back 2019-20 season, which saw him earn his first All-Star and All-NBA selections since 2016, he could be the hottest name on the trade market.

It didn't take long for Paul's name to circulate in trade rumours once his season came to an end. As Marc Stein of The New York Times reported a week after the Oklahoma City Thunder were eliminated from the playoffs, rival teams believe the Milwaukee Bucks will "explore trading" for Paul if he's made available this offseason. There have since been rumours linking Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers, as well as the Philadelphia 76ers, New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns.

MORE: Who should trade for Paul?

Time will tell if one of those teams actually makes a move for Paul - his contract might not look as bad as it once was but it's still not going to be easy to match his $41.4 million salary for the 2020-21 season - but what does he even have to offer at this stage of his career?

Let's take a closer look.

Scoring tendencies

According to NBA.com, Paul generated two-thirds of his offence this season on pick-and-rolls (48.7 percent) and in isolation (17.9 percent). He was incredibly efficient on both plays, ranking in the 92nd percentile in pick-and-roll scoring and the 75th percentile in isolation scoring.

Paul also generated a decent amount of his offence in transition and on spot-ups. He ranked in the bottom half of the league in transition efficiency but was among the league leaders in spot-up efficiency.

Chris Paul's scoring tendencies (2019-20 season)
Play Frequency Points Per Possession Percentile
Pick-and-roll 48.7% 1.08 92.3
Isolation 17.9% 0.99 75.3
Transition 13.1% 1.02 29.0
Spot-up 8.2% 1.21 88.7

Shot chart

A complete shooter

It's not an exaggeration to say that Paul was the best midrange scorer in the league this season.

He made a total of 157 shots from midrange, tying him with Khris Middleton for the third-highest mark in the league. The only players ahead of them were LaMarcus Aldridge (158) and DeMar DeRozan (170).

Paul converted those opportunities at a 54.0 percent clip, the third-best rate among the 165 players who attempted at least 50 midrange shots on the season. The only players ahead of him: Seth Curry and Yogi Ferrell, who combined to make almost half as many midrange shots (88) as Paul (157) did.

The midrange isn't revered as much as it once was, but it's an efficient shot for Paul. Despite being a 6-foot-1 guard in his mid-30s - the combination of which would make you think that he'd struggle to create space for himself - he can get his shot off against just about anyone out of the pick-and-roll and in isolation.

He punishes drop coverages with his pull-up.

He can create space going towards his right.

He can create space going towards his left.

He can lull defenders to sleep before pulling up on a dime.

He can score over towering defenders from floater range with high-arching fadeaways, turnarounds and step backs.

Paul has long been an efficient midrange scorer, but he didn't shoot nearly as many in his two years with the Houston Rockets, a team that has all but eliminated the midrange from their offence. In Oklahoma City, he got back to his old ways, something I covered in more detail earlier in the season.

Paul is a big-time 3-point threat as well. While very few of his 3-point attempts this season were catch-and-shoot 3s, he knocked down 42.3 percent of those opportunities. Him being someone teams can't ever ignore played a big role in the success of Oklahoma City's three-guard lineup that set the league on fire, as it gave Dennis Schroder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander even more room to operate when they had the ball in their hands.

Paul is still at his best when he's in control, but he can play off-ball.

The vast majority of Paul's 3-point attempts this season were off the dribble. He didn't shoot as many as he did in Houston - him getting reacquainted with the midrange had a lot to do with that - but Paul still made the 11th-most pull-up 3s in the league this season. He did so efficiently, making 35.8 percent of his 3-point attempts off the dribble, a similar rate as James Harden, Kemba Walker and Kyle Lowry.

Put it all together and Paul is one of the most complete shooters in the league, someone who is a threat to score at all three levels and can take whatever the defence gives him.

A passing wizard

Paul's passing resume speaks for itself. Only three players in NBA history - Magic Johnson (11.2), John Stockton (10.5) and Oscar Robertson (9.5) - have a higher career assist average than him heading into the 2020-21 season. He's led the league in assists a total of four times in his career, peaking in 2007-08 with an average of 11.6 assists per game.

Paul averaged a career-low in assists this season, but he's still one of the better passers in the league. He finished the season ranked in the top-20 in assists per game (6.7), secondary assists (0.8) and potential assists (12.5).

It helps that Paul has played alongside a variety of different players in his NBA career. In New Orleans, he played with a pick-and-pop big in David West. In Los Angeles, he played with two of the greatest lob threats the league has ever seen in Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. In Houston, he played in a pace-and-space system built around the league's best 1-on-1 scorer in James Harden. In Oklahoma City, he played with two other guards in Schroder and Gilgeous-Alexander.

As a result, Paul has just about every pass in the book. He can locate shooters all over the court and sneak passes through the smallest of windows to cutters.

It's made all the more impressive by Paul rarely turning the ball over. He averaged 2.3 turnovers per game this season, tied for the fourth-lowest mark of his career.

If a team does trade for Paul, they should have the confidence that he can get the most out of whoever else is on the roster.

One of the league's best closers

There was nobody better with the game on the line than Paul this season.

According to NBA.com, Paul led the league with 150 points scored in the clutch, classified as the last five minutes of a five-point game. His shooting splits in those situations? .522/.370/.920, putting him in 50-40-90 territory.

Paul put on a clinic whenever a game was close. His usage rate spiked from 22.8 percent to 31.3 percent, the latter being one of the highest rates in the league. He set up his teammates for a decent amount of scoring opportunities - his 17 assists in the clutch tied him with a number of players for the 10th-most in the league - but he was primarily a scorer.

Once again, it was Paul's ability to create jump shots for himself off the dribble that jumped out. Of the 47 field goals he made in the clutch, only eight came in the restricted area. According to NBA.com, he was 12-for-24 from the non-restricted area part of the paint, 17-for-27 from midrange and 10-for-27 from 3-point range.

That makes for a lot of green on his shot chart.

Led by Paul, the Thunder won 66.7 percent of their games that went down to the wire, tying them with the Los Angeles Lakers for the fourth-best winning percentage in the league.

A pesky defender

Paul has always been an elite defender. Not only has he led the league in steals six times in his career, the most in NBA history, he's made nine All-Defensive Teams, seven of which were First Team selections.

At the age of 35, Paul is obviously not the defender he once was - he was arguably the best point guard defender in the league in his prime - but he's still very much a plus on that end of the floor.

The basics: Paul averaged 1.6 steals per game this season, tying with a handful of players for the sixth-highest rate in the league. He has also averaged 3.3 deflections per game, a figure that once again put him in elite company.

What Paul lacks in size and length he makes up for with great instincts and lightning-quick hands. He guarded mostly tertiary options this season, freeing him up to roam around the court as a free safety.

Paul even provides some switchability.

Based on data collected by Krishna Narsu of The BBall Index, Paul had a versatility rating of 74.0 on defence this season, the result of him guarding point guards (20.9 percent), shooting guards (32.0 percent), small forwards (27.1 percent) and even some power forwards (14.2 percent).

Again, he lacks size, but Paul is much stronger than he appears and knows how to leverage his strength, as well as his speed, to disrupt bigger players.

Just watch him guard pull the chair on Nikola Vucevic in the post:

Or force Jayson Tatum into a tough fadeaway:

Or come up with a clutch steal on Paul George:

The advanced stats still paint Paul as one of the best defenders in the league. His Defensive Real Plus-Minus of 2.12 ranked fifth at the point guard position behind only Patrick Beverley (3.01), Kris Dunn (3.01), Shaquille Harrison (2.99) and D.J. Augustin (2.75). His Defensive Box Plus-Minus of 1.4 ranked him lower (17th among guards) but still had him on the same page as Marcus Smart and Fred VanVleet, two All-NBA level defenders this season.

Neither Real Plus-Minus nor Box Plus-Minus are the be-all, end-all when it comes to evaluating defensive impact, but Paul's defensive value becomes clear when you put it all together.

Verdict

Paul might not be able to carry the offensive load he once did, but he's still a tremendous offensive player.

If anything, him not carrying the same load he once did makes him a safer bet heading into next season because he's proven to be a malleable player in recent years. He's still at his best when he's running the show, but he's shown that he can share the spotlight with other players.

The biggest question with Paul is and will always be about his health. This season was the first time since 2015-16 that he wasn't impacted by an injury. Will that turn out to be a blip in the radar or can he remain healthy moving forward?

If he can, it will make it much easier for a team to justify trading for him with $85.6 million remaining on his contract after the season he just had.

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

More from NBA.com

amile-arena-ftr.jpg
Fasts facts on Raptors temporary home arena
Scott Rafferty
harden-wall-nbae-gettyimages
Can Harden and Wall extend Houston's playoff streak?
Gilbert McGregor
#NBAOpeningWeek
Biggest storylines to watch from opening week
Benyam Kidane and Yash Matange
lebron-doncic-010420-ftr-getty.jpg
Which Christmas Day game are you looking forward to?
NBA.com Staff
baynes-112320-ftr-getty.jpg
What Baynes brings to the Raptors
Scott Rafferty
rj barrett
Barrett enters season with something to prove
Kyle Irving
More News