By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com
If you want to find out one of the biggest differences between the Chris Paul of 2009-10 and the Chris Paul of this season, dont examine the four-time All-Stars scoring, assists or steals averages. Just chat with the mans soon-to-be bride, Jada Crawley.
Im just happy, the 6-foot-point guard said, after the Hornets clinched a playoff berth in early April, despite many NBA analysts predicting a second straight draft lottery appearance. Most of all, Im happy Im healthy, just (having) the opportunity to go out there and play every night. My fiance would tell you Im a happier person, knowing that I have a chance to at least give us a chance to win.
Aside from a week-long stretch in March when the 25-year-old was sidelined due to a concussion, Paul has been on the floor every game for the Hornets in 2010-11, his presence one of the primary reasons theyve been one of the NBAs most improved teams. After New Orleans reached the playoffs in 2008 and 2009, Paul missed 37 games due to injury in 2009-10. That factored greatly into New Orleans disappointing 37-45 record, the teams fewest victories since the Wake Forest product debuted as NBA Rookie of the Year in 2005-06.
As you might expect in the first season following the knee surgery he underwent in the summer of 2010, Paul hasnt always felt 100 percent physically, but hes played through ailments that may have kept some players out of the lineup. His statistics are down in a few departments compared to his career averages, but not in the category that matters most to him: Hornets victories.
In mid-March, Paul compiled one of the finest three-game spans of his pro career, averaging 28.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 11.3 assists and 5.0 steals. The stretch was particularly impressive given that those performances came immediately after his concussion.
I didnt expect him to come out and have that kind of production, especially after he sat out for two or three games, Hornets head coach Monty Williams said. And yet I think he set the bar so high for himself, everybody expects that every night, and when he doesnt play to that level, I think he gets the kind of criticism that is undue from a national level. But we all know he is capable of doing that every night.
Paul has also proven repeatedly that hes capable of producing big numbers on a playoff stage. He registered 30-point, 10-assist games in each of his first two career postseason contests vs. the Dallas Mavericks in 2008. Overall, Paul has better statistics in virtually every major category during playoff games than in regular season ones, including scoring, assists, rebounds and field-goal percentage.
The soon-to-be-married man he and Crawley will be wed in September has always been the ultimate team-first player, often deflecting the rampant praise that comes his way to lesser-known teammates. After the Hornets sealed their trip to the 2011 Western Conference playoffs, Paul discussed how excited he was for key rotation players Emeka Okafor, Marco Belinelli and Jarrett Jack, who are making their NBA playoff debuts. Its been anything but a smooth path to the postseason, but the NBAs runner-up for MVP in 2007-08 is appreciative that the Hornets have reversed their fortunes following a trying 2009-10 for both he and the team.
We had so many injuries and so many new players on the team (this season), Paul said. But we all came together. Its a credit to our coaching staff. They havent expected anything less than what weve given them night in and night out.
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