October 5, 2009

Since my debut covering the Hornets in November 2005 a couple weeks into Chris Pauls NBA Rookie of the Year season Ive been able to watch virtually every game of the All-NBA point guards four-year career. Ive interviewed him countless times, joined him in filming a TV feature, read scores of articles by other publications about his career, written extensively about his rise to stardom, even played pickup basketball with his older brother, C.J.

As the seasons have gone by and Paul has continued to receive a staggering amount of media attention, its become increasingly difficult for reporters who follow the Hornets to come up with any ground that hasnt already been covered. Its even more challenging to ask the 6-foot, 175-pounder a question that hasnt already been presented to him multiple times by other reporters.

With that as the background, I presented myself with a challenge: Put together a list of questions that Paul does not get asked regularly if ever. The Wake Forest product agreed to discuss a few topics that, at least from what Ive seen, have not been well-documented so far. Here are four things you might not know about Chris Pauls game:

1) His shot-clock awareness may be more acute than that of any NBA point guard
Have you ever watched a Hornets game and wondered why Paul constantly lets inbounds passes from New Orleans defensive baseline roll for several seconds before he picks up the ball? Its not a completely unique tactic in the NBA, but the frequency with which Paul employs it is highly unusual. No player in the NBA does it as often as he does.

So why does CP3 so frequently wait as long as possible to grab inbounds passes? Its because hes trying to save a few precious seconds on the 24-second shot clock. He believes there is no reason to pick up the ball 85 or 90 feet from the basket, dribble up the court slowly, then try to get the Hornets into their offensive play, because by the time a point guard has done all of that, the shot clock may already be down to 15 or 16 seconds. That leaves less time to execute the play and get a good shot at the basket.

It depends on the game situation, but for the most part, I let the ball bounce and roll up the court because 24 seconds isnt as long as people think, Paul explained. And in our offense, some plays take a little while to develop.

Paul notes that when NBA teams run through their halfcourt offensive plays during practices, they generally use a shot clock that starts at 18 seconds, not 24 seconds (because on average, it takes a team roughly six seconds to advance the ball into the frontcourt and move into position to begin a play). The way Paul sees it though, why initiate an offensive play with 18 seconds remaining on the shot clock, when you can do it with 20 or 21 ticks left?

A lot of times the (opponents) defense is already standing on the other end of the floor when we pass the ball in. If the other team is going to let me get the ball into the frontcourt a lot earlier than (with 18 seconds left), why not do it? Paul asks rhetorically. That way you dont have to rush the play, and you have more time to let the play develop. Sometimes (letting the ball roll) can even be the difference of having four or five more seconds to work with.

There is no apparent downside to Pauls tactic. There may have been one or two occasions in four seasons when his defender has come close to stealing the ball away from CP3 as Paul let it roll along the floor, but I dont recall it ever actually happening.

From a fans standpoint, there is one negative aspect to this strategy, but only if you dont have a lot of patience: Since the game clock doesnt start until Paul touches the ball, when he does this repeatedly in one night, his tactic might add a minute or so to the length of the game. Hornets employees who travel with the team on the road have heard opposing fans yell things at Paul such as Come on! Pick up the ball! The game is already long enough!

2) and so is his awareness of 2-for-1 situations at the end of quarters.
The next time you watch a New Orleans game, pay close attention to the way Paul approaches the final 35 seconds or so of each quarter. Although many NBA point guards make a concerted effort to give their teams extra possessions by exploiting 2-for-1 situations, Paul sometimes seems obsessed with it (if youre unfamiliar with the 2-for-1 concept, basically it means that if an NBA team gains possession of the ball with between about 35 and 50 seconds left in a quarter, it will try to shoot with about 30 seconds remaining, because based on the 24-second shot clock, doing so means getting the ball back again for a second possession. Hence, the term 2-for-1).

If there are 35 or 40 seconds left in a quarter, I want my team to have that ball for the last shot, Paul said. If you can score at the end of a quarter or a half, a lot of times that gives your team the momentum. Finishing quarters is huge for a team. Many times a team will go on a 5-0 or 6-0 run at the end of a quarter and it gets them right back into a game. I dont think people pay enough attention to who scores at the end of a given quarter.

Not only does Paul try to remain cognizant of 2-for-1s during his games, but he also watches closely to see how other NBA teams handle those situations during telecasts he views on League Pass.

When I watch other teams play on TV and I see a guy dribbling the ball slowly with about 37 seconds or so left in the quarter, Paul said, Im usually like, Man, they just lost a great opportunity.

One aspect of the 2-for-1 situation that Paul has been trying to improve is to reduce the number of times he rushes up a low-percentage shot during the first of the two possessions.

I really get mad at myself when I force a 2-for-1 situation, he said. Because you can do a 2-for-1 but get a bad shot on the first one. I try not to do that as much as possible.

3) Many of the CP3 highlights you see on TV are not pre-planned.
Paul is often asked by reporters how he comes up with some of the creative moves he produces during games. Does he spend part of the summer envisioning different combinations of dribble moves, then goes about practicing them? For example, last season, he began doing a dribble move during games in which he dribbles the ball from behind his back and forward between his legs. He executes this dribble move while continuing to penetrate toward the basket and without slowing down (the forward motion of Pauls move is rare because at least 99 percent of the between-the-leg dribbles basketball players use are from side to side, not back to front).

The truth though, is that Paul does not pre-plan his multitude of creative moves. He believes that all of the practice and repetition hes done to improve his familiarity with handling the ball allows him to quickly react to situations during the heat of the moment. He never heads to the gym with the intention of mulling over new moves hed like to attempt.

Its just something I think of while Im playing the game, he explained. I think all of the different ballhandling drills Ive done over the years help me prepare for anything that could happen. There might be a game where I dribble behind my back or between my legs and everyone will ask, Man, did you practice that?

Well, not necessarily. But all of the drills that Ive done, theyve gotten me to the point where there is nothing a defender can do to me that I cant react to with the basketball.

Perhaps the best example of Pauls on-the-spot improvisation came during a TNT game last season against the Dallas Mavericks. Upon grabbing a loose ball vs. the Mavericks, Paul deftly dribbled a ball between Jason Terrys legs, then kept possession of his dribble after running past Terry.

Paul explains: On that play, I wasnt thinking ahead of time, OK, this is what Im going to do

Paul noted that he had watched San Antonios Manu Ginobili use the same tactic several times in the past. Paul realized that in terms of getting from Point A to Point B, there are actually some instances when dribbling through a defenders legs is the most efficient play a ballhandler can make.

Ive seen Manu Ginobili do it a lot, Paul remembered. When I watch him dribble through someones legs, its not necessarily about being fancy; its just that in some cases, its a lot quicker to do that, instead of trying to make a move where you have dribble around a guy. Because if you take a more direct line to the ball when it goes past the defender, youre getting to the ball a lot faster.

4) He has joined an elite group hes cheered by opposing fans in every road arena. Well, almost every road arena.
There are only a handful of NBA players who are so popular that they regularly receive positive ovations at all of their away games. For example, megastars such as Shaquille ONeal, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant are virtually guaranteed to hear some cheers when their names are announced during starting lineup introductions. Hornets employees who attend the teams road games say that Paul is now also the recipient of this rare honor.

Its such a great feeling, Paul admitted. Id be lying if I said that I dont pay attention to it. When you go to your hometown or something like that, you might hear that roar from your friends (and its not a surprise). But to hear fans cheering for me on the road like that, its such a humbling feeling. The thing about it too is that when you hear it, you say to yourself, Man, I really need to perform well for them.

Among the 29 NBA road venues Paul visits each basketball season, there remains one holdout: fans at Utahs EnergySolutions Arena still grudgingly refuse to show any signs of support for him. Its difficult to fully explain, but part of the animosity may come from the fact that some Jazz fans consider their own point guard, Williams, to be an equal to Paul, but also believe Williams does not receive a tenth of the attention and accolades that Paul does.

Paul grins when the subject of his nonexistent fan base in Salt Lake City is mentioned.

Yeah, still no cheers whatsoever in Utah, Paul said, smiling.

Buy 2012-13 Season Tickets Now