We’re used to seeing Chris Paul make basketball look easy. The perennial all-star guard of the New Orleans Hornets usually dazzles us with speed, crossover dribbles, pinpoint passes and creativity. But he hasn’t lately. And that made many NBA fans who watched him at Madison Square Garden last night leave shaking their heads.
Madison Square Garden is home court of the New York Knicks, whose fans see Paul as the missing link for the team’s first NBA championship since 1973. Fans chanted Paul’s nickname, CP3 (his initials and uniform number), and urged him to join all-stars Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire on the Knicks when he becomes a free agent next summer.
Paul then killed the buzz, scoring a season-low four points while being outplayed by New York’s backup point guard Toney Douglas (24 points) in the Knicks’ 107–88 victory. For whatever reason, Paul has not played like a star recently.
“He’s never gone through a period like this in his career,” Hornets coach Monte Williams said.” “I’ll just continue to talk to him. He’s not being aggressive enough. I don’t think he’s afraid.”
In Paul’s first five NBA seasons, he has averaged 18.8 points a game. This season, he’s averaging 15.8 points. In his career, he has made 47 percent of his shots from the field. In the Hornets’ last three games—all losses—he has failed to score in double figures and has made just 23 percent of his shots. The poor shooting, combined with indifferent defense and indecisive offense, makes it appear as if Paul is distracted by all the free-agent talk.
“It’s not a distraction at all,” he insisted while encircled by reporters in the Hornets locker room. “I’m one of those guys who’s fully invested in anything I’m part of.”
Paul brought this media scrutiny on himself last summer when, as a guest at the wedding reception for Anthony and TV personality LaLa Vasquez, he proposed a toast to someday playing on the same NBA team with Anthony and Stoudemire. That team would have to be the Knicks, since Stoudemire had signed a long-term deal with them and Anthony was angling for a trade to New York that finally occurred last week.
At his best, Paul is one of the NBA’s finest point guards. And at 25, his best seasons should be ahead of him. But it’s been a while since we’ve seen him at his best.
Cecil Harris is the author of three books, including Charging the Net: A History of Blacks in Tennis from Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe to the Williams Sisters.
Image: Jeff Gross/Getty Images