Chris Paul guarding Russell Westbrook

Chris Paul was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive first team Monday, marking the third time in his career the All-Star point guard has received the honor and second time in as many seasons with the Clippers.

He led the league in steals per game (2.41) for the third straight season and was the primary catalyst for a Clippers defense that forced a league-high 16 turnovers per game, including 9.6 steals, and finished ninth in defensive efficiency rating (101.0).

Paul earned 37 points (15 first-place votes, which are worth two, and seven second-place votes), joining LeBron James, Tony Allen, Serge Ibaka and Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah, who were tied with 24 points. Paul’s point total was the fourth highest of any player. It was the fifth time in his career Paul has been named to the first or second team.

The voting panel consisted of the NBA’s 30 head coaches, who were asked to select NBA All-Defensive First and Second Teams by position. Coaches were not permitted to vote for players from their own team. 

Nuggets head coach George Karl earlier in the season proclaimed that Paul was worthy of consideration for Defensive Player of the Year. Karl called Paul “incredible” and suggested that he was as much of a leader on the defensive end of the floor for the Clippers as directing traffic on offense.

Paul has vaulted into the upper echelon of guard defenders because as one Western Conference front office member said, “He has good instincts and quick hands, not just getting steals but deflections. He does a good job of avoiding screens and is just tenacious.”

Paul’s instincts are probably his most prolific attribute. He is meticulous and studious, watching film for countless hours to pick up opponent tendencies and weaknesses. He reads screens and cutters, knows when to dig down on opposing big men to rip the ball free, and baits opposing point guards into bad decisions.

For example, in a January 4 game against the Lakers, knowing that Steve Nash wants to push the ball ahead to initiate early offense, Paul lingered around midcourt and pounced on Nash’s chest pass. The steal led to a Blake Griffin alley-oop on the other end, something that was almost requisite of Paul’s 169 steals on the regular season.

It’s why the Clippers were arguably the most feared team in the league in transition this season. Their offense was fueled, at times, by the ability of Paul, or Eric Bledsoe, who received one second-place vote for All-Defense, to create an easy opportunity off a steal or deflection. The Clippers were second in points off turnovers and seventh in fast-break points and were much more of a defensive oriented team than it seemed at first glance.

“When you look at this team they have glamorous players, but to me they’re a very blue collar team,” former Sixers head coach Doug Collins said in February.

Paul perhaps exemplified that toughness defensively as much as anyone. Twenty-two of 29 head coaches, including Collins, agreed.