An Idiot’s Guide to Guarding Chris Paul

Disclaimer: The title of this post is somewhat snarky; as LeBron et al. have showed us time and again, there’s really no way to shut down a great player when he’s totally on.

The evidence had been building for quite some time now; a terrific record in December for the Hornets prevented me from researching this back then. But after the awful beating they took at the hands of the Lakers, I felt compelled to do it. Are the Hornets better when CP is scoring the ball (even with great efficiency)? The answer is a resounding no. The best way to guard Chris Paul is to not guard him.

Now before you laugh at me, let me clarify. I don’t mean that in an absolute sense. Of course, if you give the guy lay-ups all day, you’ll end up paying. What I mean is that the more Chris Paul shoots, the worse the Hornets play. The more Chris Paul scores, the worse the Hornets play. Notice, I don’t say “the more CP shoots, the more the Hornets lose.” The Hornets “points scored – points allowed” differential (also known as margin of victory) decreases dramatically as their point guard attempts more shots.

Before I support my argument with actual statistics, I’ll answer what would seem the biggest argument against this. My first thought upon seeing his FGA correlation with a decline in the Hornets PS-PA differential was something along these lines: obviously if the rest of his team isn’t shooting well, CP is going to have to force the issue by shooting himself/trying to get fouled. And common sense says that while a LeBron or a Kobe can take over a game with his offensive skills singlehandedly, a 6’0”, 175 pound PG simply can’t be expected to do that. Therefore, Chris Paul shoots a lot when his teammates aren’t shooting well, and the Hornets end up losing those games (just like they would have anyway whether or not Paul took those shots).

But the stats say that’s simply not true. Take a lot at New Orleans’ effective field goal (eFG%) numbers in games he took 20 or more FGA: 47.1, 49.5, 62.8, 37.5, 55.1, 55.3, 49.3, 38.7. Granted, there’s two games where the Hornets were under 40%. But there’s an eye-popping 62.8 game and excellent 55.1 game in there to balance things out. With that in mind, on to the heavy-lifting:

I’ll start by stating his averages: CP puts up 21.6 points per game, and 15.86 shots per game. This first table charts every game he’s topped his PPG average (22 and above), his opponent, and the Hornets PS-PA allowed differential for that performance:

Date

Opponent

Points

Differential

Dec. 07

MEM

43

2

Dec. 26

MEM

40

18

Dec. 01

DAL

33

4

Jan. 09

LAL

32

-29

Nov. 26

MIN

31

-9

Dec. 12

DEN

30

-6

Dec. 09

SEA

29

3

Nov. 16

MEM

28

2

Jan. 05

PHO

28

5

Nov. 12

NJ

27

2

Jan. 04

GS

24

12

Dec. 31

TOR

23

-5

Oct. 31

SAC

22

14

Dec. 14

DAL

22

4

There they are, all fifteen 22+ performances. The Hornets’ average differential in those games: +1.21. Keep that in mind as we look at his sub 22 point performances:

 

Date

Opponent

Points

Differential

Dec. 15

PHO

21

3

Dec. 19

SEA

21

14

Nov. 30

ATL

20

6

Dec. 29

CLE

20

10

Nov. 02

POR

19

20

Nov. 06

LAL

19

14

Dec. 22

MIN

19

34

Nov. 07

POR

18

-3

Nov. 09

SA

18

-12

Dec. 28

CHA

17

14

Nov. 11

PHI

16

21

Jan. 02

LAC

16

14

Nov. 04

DEN

15

5

Nov. 23

UTA

15

-28

Dec. 05

DET

14

-15

Nov. 14

PHI

13

19

Nov. 24

LAC

11

9

Dec. 17

POR

11

-12

Nov. 21

IND

8

-12

In CP’s 19 sub 22 point games, the Hornets’ average differential: +5.32. In other words, a difference of +4.11 points per game. If you’re not familiar with PS-PA differentials, let me be the first to tell you- that’s pretty significant. It’s similar to the differential between the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic; yeah, the Magic may win a game or two, but who would you pick in a 7 game series? Now, PS-PA differential isn’t the be all-end all stat or even close to that, but virtually all statisticians agree it is a vastly better measure of a team’s ability than W-L records.

I won’t bore you with the FGA charts (leave a comment if you really want more numbers) but once again the margin of victory difference is huge: +1.47 when CP takes more than his average FGA and +5.50 when he takes less. Once again, that’s more than a 4 point difference. And by the way, if you looked at the opponents in those two charts and wondered “hey, maybe the teams in Chart 1 were much better than the teams in Chart 2, and that’s why the Hornets played worse,” here’s your answer: the teams in Chart 1 do have a marginally better winning percentage, but not by much. And certainly not by enough to account for the absurd PS-PA differential noted above.

The moral of the story is that the Hornets play better basketball when Chris Paul shoots less, and it’s not (a) because CP shoots more against better teams, (b) because CP shoots more in games his teammate suck (and therefore would lose anyway), or (c) because CP’s so bad at shooting he kills his team when he does it too much (he’s actually shooting a career best .512 (eFG%) from the field). So there you go, that’s how you give yourself the best chance to win versus one of the most un-guardable guys to come around in a while. Why does it work? I have no idea; the stats prove it works, so stop asking so many questions!

Now if only somebody would come up with a way to guard Kobe…

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6 Responses

  1. yeah that was a terrible loss to the lakes

    maybe chris paul shooting a lot is the reason but hes still developed into a good midrange shooter

  2. Interesting stuff. I would’ve thought it was a good thing that CP was carrying the load just based on their record. But I guess it pays off when everybody’s hot as/o pposed to just Paul.

  3. yea i see what you saying, in my opinion too Paul plays far too long and shoots the ball a lot of a passing guard. I think the hornets need to acquire some better bench players not only to minimize Paul’s minutes but also to add some more talent for paul to create plays with. the starting 5 are stellar but the bench is a debago.

  4. There’s already a way to guard Kobe! It’s called Ruben Patterson!

  5. Paul usually scores a lot in three situations – when his team is failing badly, he gets a pissed look on his face and will just take over. I’ve seen him do this halfway through the first.(1st Memphis Game on your list, Lakers and Minnesota games)

    The second is when his team is starting to crumble in the 4th. Then he takes over and forces things (Golden State, New Jersey, Phoenix, Toronto)

    There’s also been a couple games where he gets lots of open shots in the flow, and takes them – he’s not forcing anything. (2nd Grizz game, Dallas Game)

    The first two scenarios, which are the more common high-scoring sort for Paul, could result in bad %’s for the rest of the team, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the case. The Hornets could just be playing awful defense – like the Lakers and Minnesota games, and he’s trying to do anything to jumpstart a run or just keep up. FG% just doesn’t tell enough of the story – there are a myriad of things we could be doing that cause the situation.

    I think the “let their PG run wild” “genius idea” that Phil Jackson was attributed with after the game is crap. His teams have always sucked at guarding fast Point Guards because he always wants a smart PG who can shoot while athleticism, the primary ingredient of defense, has always been less important to him. Thus his PGs of Paxson, Kerr, BJ Armstrong, Old Harper, Brian Shaw, Derek Fisher. None of them could guard their own shadow.

    The lakers won that game not because of piss-poor defense on Paul, but because Bynum and Odom dominated our front line, and they hit their shots, while we missed a bunch of wide open looks and missed some tough inside shots.

    Sorry for the rant. 🙂

  6. Heh, no problem about the rant, you bring up some good points. First, I wasn’t able to watch the Laker game at all, so the impetus to my looking up numbers was based solely on some radio listening/box score. So I’ll agree with you about Phil (who wants to give him more credit for anything anyway? Dude already has SIX championships… ) And the guys over from Forum Blue and Gold told me prior to the game that quick PG’s have given Jackson guys’ fits over the years; your list of guys does a great job confirming that.

    What I want to concentrate on is what you said about him “getting lots of open shots in the flow.” Here’s how I’m rationalizing this: Paul is already shooting a career high 80% of his shots in the form of jumpers this year. Just from a pure logical standpoint, wouldn’t you rather allow a guy to take 18 footers (by rotating more slowly onto him) instead of having him drive and find guys with open layups?

    I guess what I’m saying is maybe the third situation you mention is more prevalent than we’re giving it credit for; maybe it might not happen over the course of entire games, but over much smaller and more unnoticed stretches.

    Last, I really hope your assessment is right, because otherwise these Paul shooting/Hornets play numbers from the first 30+ games are kind of scary in their implications.

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