Phoenix Suns face Chris Paul, new-look Warriors to open season

Oct 24, 2023, 7:48 AM | Updated: 7:59 am

PHOENIX — Everywhere Chris Paul has been has quickly become a Chris Paul Team. New Orleans. Los Angeles. Houston. Oklahoma City. Phoenix.

All of those franchises operated through Paul’s leadership and style of play shortly — if not immediately — after his arrival. And rightfully so, given he is one of the greatest players of all time. No other player in the history of the league can say they helped a handful of teams take the steps forward that each of those teams did (Let me know who I’m missing. I’m waiting. Go on.)

Since Paul’s third season in the NBA, he has a record of 718-354 (.670) in regular season games he’s played. LeBron James at 756-349 (.684) is the only guy who has been winning more besides Paul for that long, per StatMuse.

But one of Paul’s last chapters in Golden State will be a first. The 2023-24 Warriors, who open their season Tuesday hosting the Suns, have the same leaders who helped them win four championships off a style of play that revolutionized basketball.

This will be perhaps the toughest test of Paul’s career in terms of a transition, and the former Suns point guard will get to show how he’s adapting right away against the team that traded him for the fifth time in his career on opening night Tuesday.

Someone who knows the Warriors DNA better than just about anyone is a member of the Suns, Kevin Durant. He spoke on how he sees Paul fitting in.

“He fits well. Somebody that can off-set just the 3-point chase and a guy that can shoot the midrange. … Just do something outside of shooting 3s like the rest of the guys do so it’s kind of like that specialty player that they needed,” Durant said Sunday. “Him, (Andrew) Wiggins, Draymond (Green), those guys are that kind of the glue for the team. They can pretty much fit anybody into their system and it’ll work well.”

Paul is going to offer Golden State a change of pace, with a pick-and-roll maestro operating in the midrange, two skillsets the Warriors don’t use much of.

But balancing that switch-up and Paul picking his spots while also operating within what the Warriors have expertly done the last decade will be the true test.

“We gonna have to learn, sort of, identity. Who we are. We know how we want to play but we’re gon’ have to see it in real game form,” Paul said Monday. “We gon’ have to see how we guard, how we defend. We’re gonna have to see how teams defend us.”

Paul’s remaining salary, age and injury history in the postseason were always going to make it tough for the Suns to find the right match in a trade partner last summer.

It took a unique circumstance in Washington D.C. for it to get done, and just like how the Suns took on Bradley Beal’s large contract to make it happen, the Wizards did the same for the Warriors with Jordan Poole. For both teams that acquired Paul this offseason, you could make the case it was more about the contract they got rid of as opposed to the benefits of receiving Paul, who made an All-NBA team three straight years prior to last season.

Golden State could certainly use the supplementary ball-handling but the question of who starts makes this a bit awkward. The Warriors’ lineup of Curry, Klay Thompson, Wiggins, Green and Kevon Looney has more or less been a powerhouse since Wiggins found his stride in 2021.

Paul figures to slip right in as the sixth man, giving the Warriors an immense luxury to turn to when Curry rests and also someone to run the offense at a high level in spots while Curry is creating his usual brand of havoc off the ball. Then again, Paul has played in 1,214 NBA games and started every single one.

The question hovered over the Warriors’ offseason but will likely wait to get answered until Green is healthy. He’s out for Tuesday’s game due to an ankle sprain. Head coach Steve Kerr brought Paul off the bench in Golden State’s second-to-last preseason game before starting him alongside Curry in the finale.

If Paul indeed starts on Tuesday, he or Curry could have to defend an elite scorer, though the Suns might save him from that because of absence. Beal (low back tightness) and Devin Booker (left big toe soreness) are questionable.

For years defensively, Curry or Paul have mostly been hidden on the opposition’s largest non-offensive threat, but both can’t do that now. No team offers that level of the problem like Phoenix but it’s something the Warriors will have to figure out if Curry and Paul share the floor enough.

If Booker plays in the opener, it’ll provide high-quality entertainment with how well he knows Paul. Booker could certainly defend Paul, and Paul could take a few cracks at Booker on switches.

“Me and Book, we so close,” Paul said. “It’s gonna be like that for life. … I’m sure after the first couple minutes it’ll be like it was when I was in OKC and Houston and all that before. It definitely should be fun.”

On a smaller note, keep an eye on Paul’s stretches with Warriors reserve big man and former teammate in Phoenix Dario Saric. Those two had exquisite chemistry on the Suns.

Once Paul got situated in the Bay and was informed by key decision-makers that the Warriors had a shot at signing Saric, Paul called the Croatian big immediately. Those two loved playing with each other, and Paul always complimented Saric as a tremendous teammate who just knows how to play.

It is hard to shine the spotlight here directly on Paul and his first matchup against the Suns since they moved on from him. The Suns themselves have changed so much since then anyway. It’s not the team Paul once knew anymore.

And Paul has been here enough times for it not to be much of a deal, even for himself.

“I don’t really think that much about it,” he said. “I sort of knew as soon as the trade happened. You know, I’ve been through this a while. You gon’ play them four times anyway.”

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