Celebrating Chris Paul’s signature moves on his 36th birthday
Chris Paul makes me laugh more than any other Phoenix Suns player I’ve watched in my lifetime.
It’s meant as the highest of compliments, because some of the stuff he does is downright silly — and unbelievable. When you see something that checks both of those boxes, you can’t help but marvel at it while getting a chuckle in.
Paul makes at least two or three plays every game that are highly irregular. It’s something that you know is different when you see it.
It’s easier to pick up on those things by watching him every night, and on top of his greatness, his signature moves are part of why the Point God nickname is so apt. He plays the position unlike anyone else, and he’s still doing it as he turns 36 years old on Thursday.
As someone who long admired Paul’s game from afar, it’s been delightful to notice the patterns and how consistently he executes some of these tricks.
So who better to ask about them than the Suns players and staff, the majority of whom are spending their first season with Paul.
To celebrate Paul on his birthday, here are some of those signature moves that have come up over the last 15 years and what his teammates had to say about them.
Where else would we start besides Paul’s pull-up jumper?
“Chris gets whatever he wants whenever he wants,” guard Jevon Carter said. “If he wants to get a certain kind of shot, he knows how to get it. Just watching him do that and watching the way he manipulates the game, it’s just crazy seeing it up close and personal.”
In mid-March, Paul picked his spot against Memphis from his go-to area, the right side of the floor in the midrange.
“The shot is so money it’s like a layup to him,” forward Jae Crowder said.
Paul shot 9-for-9 from the field in the win over the Grizzlies, making six of his shots from that sector.
“You even see things (where) we’ll go in actions during games, and he’ll kind of make a call that if it’s something that’s working (then) he’ll keep going to it over and over again until the other team figures out how to stop it,” center Frank Kaminsky said.
Here are three of those money jumpers, and I’m pretty sure on the first one you can hear Crowder proclaim it as a “layup”:
When I asked guard Devin Booker if he’s ever seen a scorer pick a spot like Paul, he replied: “No.”
“Never,” Carter said to a similar question. “I’ve never seen nobody play like him.”
There is no way to guard it. No matter how big the defender is, how good the contest is or how off-balance Paul is, his tilt and launch angle make it a near-impossible shot to block. And Crowder said it doesn’t really matter if the 6-foot-tall point guard can see the rim or not.
“That’s definitely routine. It’s really routine,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re there or not for the most part. He knows where he’s at on the court.”
Paul hit three straight pull-ups to ice the New York Knicks in late April.
On the first one, Knicks guard Reggie Bullock throws off Paul’s rhythm by beating him to the spot. On the second one, New York forward Julius Randle makes Paul rush it to beat the shot clock. On the third one, the Knicks send a double team.
All of that did not matter.
“I think he was guarded well on most of those possessions and it’s just one of those things you can’t do anything about it,” Booker said after the fact.
“That’s Chris Paul. He makes those plays and you just have to bow your head to him because it’s that level of focus, that level of intensity, that will to win. You can’t teach that.”
Paul has an uncanny feel for steals. His hand placement and timing for getting a piece of the ball are unreal.
It’s really hard to not bring the ball back down around your hips on a drive. Paul knows this and will rip it from you the second it’s in danger. It’s this sixth sense he has for the window to swipe in there.
Occasionally, it seems like he even has the ability to Jedi mind trick the opposition into putting the ball where he wants it.
That’ll happen most often in transition right after Paul’s turned it over himself. Yes, you are reading that right.
Watch this, and picture me wildly gesturing to the screen, because I don’t know what “this” even is:
I’ve seen this back 15 times to try and figure out what exactly Paul is trying to do. I still don’t know. It looks like he’s maybe getting ready to go for a strip on Minnesota’s Jarred Vanderbilt before he reads Vanderbilt’s eyes and gets his right arm up in time to snatch it.
Suns head coach Monty Williams is with me. He doesn’t get it and has seen Paul’s knack for doing this since their days together in New Orleans.
“I don’t know what he does or what he sees — he just has the ability to go get it back,” Williams said.
On this possession, Paul loses the ball to Mavericks guard Luka Doncic. As he gets back on defense, watch how there’s a subtle quick look behind him to see Dallas’ Willie Cauley-Stein running free, tipping him off to a potential kick-ahead to the big. He was ready for it.
Paul must start drooling when he sees a big dribbling the basketball. Look at poor Mavericks center Maxi Kleber here after a Suns turnover (to slightly cheat).
Poor Grayson Allen got the outlet off a Paul miss.
If Paul is under the basket defending a fastbreak, he’s trying to get a paw on it. And he’s going to be successful more times than not.
Here, Booker calls out for Paul to cover the cutting Josh Hart for the Pelicans, but Paul can cover both at the same time.
Williams said in all his years watching the game, he’s never seen someone do this as consistently as Paul does.
“It wasn’t like once or twice. I saw it once every two or three games (and) I could see it happening. And that’s pretty extraordinary,” Williams said.
Kaminsky started smiling as he heard the description of Paul meandering inside the three-point line, finding an open patch of space in the defense and doing a flashy, borderline mean one-handed between-the-legs dribble from behind his back.
“Well I’ve unfortunately been on the other side of that for a while now,” Kaminsky said with that smile.
If you pay attention more closely, look at who is on Paul as he executes the move. It’s Celtics center Tristan Thompson, and Kaminsky expanded on Paul’s ability to keep that big where he wants him.
“He’s always been so good at getting to his spot, getting to his places, keeping bigs — especially in the pick-and-roll — on the backs of their feet, not being able to come up and pressure,” Kaminsky said.
If Thompson comes forward, it’s a lob to Deandre Ayton. He’s just gotta be close enough until Celtics teammate Romeo Langford gets back, but unfortunately for Boston, Langford bites on Paul’s pump-fake.
“He’s been doing that for so long it’s normal … That’s just Chris being Chris,” forward Cam Johnson said of that move.
Ayton said that defenses as the season progresses have tried to “corral” Paul, and oftentimes, you’ll see that result in a defender on the strong-side corner bizarrely leaving their man.
Here’s the move again, but watch what All-World defender Paul freaking George is left feeling he has to do to try and restrict Paul.
On another angle, you’ll see Paul briefly looks at the right wing, so that’s why George flails around. But do you think Paul ever really lost track of where Mikal Bridges was?
Ayton joked they have run 1,000 pick-and-rolls a game to find their rhythm as a duo, and he knows his job is to get by the hoop in position for a pass if needed.
“He’ll create. He’ll do the rest,” Ayton said.
Paul will even do it through traffic, and again, he gets the defender in the strong-side corner stuck in a haze.
It’s about the slight pauses he can take and making something happen out of it.
Sometimes Paul pounds the ball so hard on the floor you can hear it squealing, gasping for air.
He bullies MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic in this example with a ferocious 1-2 to make Jokic keep coming his way:
He even whips out my personal favorite from time to time, the yo-yo dribble. That’s where Paul spins the ball like a yo-yo, faking a pass and a move in the process.
He’s a unique player, to say the least.
This is going to be a little more generic to close things out, a tribute to that pass Paul finds once a night that makes you rewind a few times to try and see what he saw.
“That kind of gift is something that Chris and (Steve) Nash — guys like that who have been in a Suns uniform — it’s just a gift … They’ve been in so many situations they can read defenses before the defense even sets up,” Williams said.
I don’t think Paul ever looks at Johnson in the corner here. He’s focused on the way the defense is shifting, notices Hart out of position and punishes him by feeding Johnson perfectly without probably ever glancing at him.
“When I’m watching on film I can kind of put it together a lot better than I can in real-time, as to what he sees on the floor. And then when you watch it on film you’re like, ‘Oh, OK. That’s why he made that pass,'” Williams said with a laugh.
To Williams’ point, this looks like standard Paul capitalizing on a defender a step out of position.
But watch again. Paul in the backcourt performs another one of his signatures, momentarily keeping a retreating big in jail. This now forces Dallas’ James Johnson to be at the free-throw line to prevent a pass to Ayton, and thus, that step of space for Cam Johnson’s look is born.
Along the lines of what Williams said, Paul for sure benefits from experience, but he’s also constantly watching everything back. Even in Year 16.
“He’s locked in on that film 100%,” guard Cameron Payne said. “Me and him had a conversation the other day about watching. He watches his shots, like all the shots he takes … He sat down and watched all his shots and then went back and watched the last game we played against [the upcoming opponent] and he does that with every team.”
Payne was talking to assistant coach Willie Green and he told Payne to watch even more film to get to Paul’s level. When the two of them went to go continue that conversation with Paul, guess what they found him doing?
On this feed, Paul immediately recognizes there’s one defender, Miami’s Duncan Robinson, covering Bridges and Johnson. So, he motions for Crowder to get on his horse to fully open that side of the floor up to put Robinson in an impossible situation.
It’s difficult to comprehend Paul is still achieving this level of play at the age of 36, but watching him at that age comes with better understanding the incomparable way he sees the game. It’s a treat to watch every night.
“That’s one thing that I see. It’s not about the physical stuff 100%, it’s mental as well,” Payne said. “And CP does a great job in that aspect and that’s what makes him such a great player.”