CHRIS PAUL'S sacrifice this past season started with his body, at the expense of his taste buds and cravings. The now 35-year-old went plant-based over the summer and even in a pandemic-shortened season, managed to play more games than in any year since he turned 31. He had an extra step on drives, he rose up to knock down jumpers and sat down in deep defensive position. He spearheaded a spunky Thunder group to a 44-28 record and the 5th seed in the Western Conference.
While the Thunder's playoff dream fell short in Game 7 of the first round, Paul earned a reward for all of his sacrifice and his excellent season. On Wednesday the NBA announced that Paul was named second-team All-NBA. It's his ninth time being named to an All-NBA team and the fourth time he's been named to the All-NBA second-team. The selection is the Thunder's 17th since the team arrived in Oklahoma City in 2008, the most for any team during that time span. The Thunder has had an All-NBA player on its roster during each of the last 11 seasons, the only NBA organization to do so.
All season long, Paul was committed, connected to the team and the organization. When he was named to the All-Star team, his first since 2016, Paul met with the entire coaching staff to personally thank them for their efforts. When he was in the locker room, in the huddle, on the court, on the plane, on the bus or anywhere within earshot of a teammate, he was either hyping them up, coaching them up or simply just cutting up.
Paul's dedication allowed for a resurgent year in 2019-20, knocking down 48.9 percent of his shots, the third-best mark of his career, including 36.5 percent from behind the arc and 90.7 percent from the free throw line. He led the team in assists at 6.7 per night and had a 2.9-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
His 17.6 points per game were emblematic of a team-wide, ball-sharing trend that he initiated. The Thunder was one of just four teams since 1989 to have four players average 17 points per game or more and because of its unpredictable nature was never out of a game.
Time management, game management, make sure we get a good shot. That's, to tell you the truth, why you play sports
When it came to crunch-time, Paul excelled. He was one of the most clutch players in the league, helping the Thunder win an NBA record-tying 17 games after trailing heading in the fourth quarter. The Thunder won a league-best 30 games when the score was within five points with five or fewer minutes to go. Often it was Paul with an elbow jumper or a deft pass that got OKC over the top.
"Time management, game management, make sure we get a good shot. That's, to tell you the truth, why you play sports," said Paul. "For those feelings. I feel like I've been in those situations 1,000 times, and that's when it gets fun, when you get a chance to get that adrenaline going and you know each shot matters."
Defensively, Paul still is as pesky as ever. He knows that in his mid-30's he shouldn't be expending the energy to chase high-level shot makers around the floor for 36 minutes, but in the game's final possessions, it was often Paul who got the task of defending a hot shooter. He averaged 1.6 steals per game in '19-'20 and is one of the NBA's very best in that category. In fact, this season he passed Clyde Drexler for 7th All-Time on the steals list.
"You can sometimes energize your team with your defense," said Paul. "It's a lost art."
At the beginning of the season, Paul walked into a team with two other high-level point guards on the roster in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schröder. At least to start, it was clear that a three point guard approach was inevitable and it was up to them to figure it out and be on the same page as they did it.
Paul, the elder-statesman, celebrity and NBA legend was the was the one who had to embrace it for it to work. He reached out to Gilgeous-Alexander and Schröder consistently as human beings first, and it just became natural.
Paul has never come off the bench. Not once, in over 1,000 career games. In his NBA experience, it's been his team and his ball. Yet knowing it would mean less time with the ball in his hands, Paul brought his point guard compatriots in closer, reeling in the trio together to get the most out of them all.
It's a philosophy of over-communication that Paul ascribes to. When in doubt, talk it out. That was evident all season long as Paul pulled teammates aside during games and afterwards too. He was constantly talking, helping and engaging with the game on and off the floor.
Paul's leadership over the summer to architect the NBA bubble to allow for a continuation of the season coincided with him taking charge of the players' message with regard to racial justice and police violence. His ability to work on the human level with the players in the bubble to save the season from breaking down in late August proved once again just how valuable he is to the league, and country, as a whole.
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