Chris Paul’s career-high in 3s points to PG’s evolution, Suns’ new spacing

Apr 7, 2023, 10:43 AM

Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns attempts a three-point shot over Bruce Brown #11 of the Denver Nu...

Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns attempts a three-point shot over Bruce Brown #11 of the Denver Nuggets during the second half at Footprint Center on April 06, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

Before Mikal Bridges hinted he just might be able to be Devin Booker’s running-mate, and prior to the Phoenix Suns trading Bridges for Kevin Durant to very much clear up who were the top two offensive forces on the team, all eyes were on Chris Paul.

Early on this season, he didn’t look capable of carrying the weight he had the last two seasons. Even if he trended positively, would that be enough to help the Suns to a deep playoff run?

The Durant trade erased that question from main consideration.

But as Paul has found a rhythm with two games left and five consecutive wins alongside Booker and Durant, now the question resurfaces as this: What can Paul as the third wheel do to supplement all that’s expected from Booker and Durant?

Paul is averaging 17.4 points while shooting 51.6% overall and 46.9% from three in the last five games with Durant back in the fold. The point guard is taking 6.4 threes per game over that span.

He set a career-high with seven made threes — tying a career-high with 12 attempts — in Phoenix’s 119-115 win against the Denver Nuggets on Thursday, speaking not only to his rounding into form but also the impact this new Suns ecology has made on the 36-year-old point guard.

“Should have made more, you know what I mean?” Paul told reporters. “Just trying to take them shots and that’s why these games (are) important. This is a new way. Like I said, I’ve never played with guys that’s getting doubled like this.

“I think it’s not: just wait to the playoffs and get in a rhythm. You need to use these games to do that.”

Paul was hitting 29% on catch-and-shoot attempts 14 games into this season, well below his career average (44%). Yet he was taking many more.

The question then was not about if those absurdly low percentages would improve as he got his legs under him after a sluggish start and then a month-long heel injury. It was near certain the averages would tick up. But, oh boy, have they improved.

With two games left in the regular season, Paul is shooting an absurdly high 53.8% on catch-and-shoot attempts, including 52.3% from three-point range.

Paul with the Houston Rockets from 2017-19 certainly played with an often double-teamed teammate in James Harden. Booker of course draws a lot himself. But never has Paul had two problematic No. 1 options on his squad.

Twenty-one games with the Moreyball Rockets make up the majority of 39 total games in Paul’s career (1,214 regular season games) where he’s taken nine or more three-point attempts.

Increase the cutoff of three-point attempts to 10, and the total number of games drops to 14. Two came this season with the Suns, the latest on Thursday against Denver.

Back when we looked at Paul’s shot profile 14 games in, his midrange attempt rate had fallen off a cliff. It was clear the point guard was quite aware that boosting his three-point attempt rate would help Phoenix’s spacing for Booker and Bridges to grow together back then.

Part of his recent success has been a rekindling of his groove in the midrange.

Still, Paul’s three-point shot when the ball is zooming around the perimeter could act as a backbreaker moving forward.

His catch-and-shoot frequency is 13.9% this year — it has been sub-10% most of his career — but 19.4% in the last five games featuring Durant teamed with Booker.

Mind you, Paul has never surpassed a catch-and-shoot rate of 11.9% (2014-15) as far back as tracking data goes (2013-14).

Phoenix’s roster construction has changed the spacing completely for Paul, and his three-point attempt rate likely will rise moving forward. That will penalize defenses that offer strong weakside help to stop Booker and Durant, and all this is without even considering how much Paul’s midrange mastery shows up in key moments in the playoffs.

“I think he’s in this mode of having his feet and hands ready now instead of catching and putting it down and attacking,” Phoenix head coach Monty Williams said. “He’s got to make those shots.”

Added Paul: “Guys keep telling me to shoot, telling me to shoot. I said, alright.”

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