Mr. Christopher Paul has received multiple awards, set multiple records, transformed teams from irrelevant to perennial playoff teams, and made buckets of money. If the preseason is any indication, Mr. Paul, at 38, is still playing at a remarkably high level. Yet his most amazing feat is that after some 1200 NBA games, he plays every minute he is on the floor with the intensity of a playoff game, because the one thing Mr. Paul never learned is how to ease up.
One example from one of his many all-star appearances serves as a good example. Most players at an all star game are out to have fun, to show off their skills (which are considerable), and to shoot the ball. But on one play, some years ago, Mr. Paul dove at full speed for a loose ball, tried to grab it before it went out of bounds, and crashed into the chairs lining the sideline. In a meaningless game, Mr. Paul could not ease off the gas. Perhaps he does not know how.
The Splash Brothers could teach him. In a recent pre-season game, the Lakers quickly set their offense and easily scored because they were playing 5 on three. Neither Stef Curry nor Klay Thompson made it over the half court line when the play was over.
Worse, this failure by both Splash Brothers makes it difficult for other teammates to listen to veteran leadership, particularly when they preach ‘value every possession’ but squander a defensive play by failing to get back on defense. Sure, one can say that a pre-season game is a glorified practice, and it is, but practice is to repeat skills needed to execute plays in a game. When a team ‘practices’ not getting back on defense, it will not surprise anyone that this will be repeated in a game.
This, perhaps, explains in part last season’s road losses. It is very difficult to win on the road for any NBA team, but it is almost impossible to win when a road team doesn’t get back on defense. It is a cardinal principle of defense to stay in front of your man. It is a cardinal sin to not get back on defense on every play. In the Warriors’ heyday, the Warriors routinely punished teams by beating them down the court. One of Alvin Gentry’s favorite plays was to send an offensive player streaking down the court and hit him with a full court pass, scoring seconds after the other team scored. But now the streak is on the other foot.
Coach Kerr is very diplomatic and doesn’t call out players in public. Lesser coaches would turn a blind eye when a star player shows such indifference. But imagine Coach Popovich in his prime. He’d be beside himself. He’d be screaming, especially when a star player makes such a fundamental defensive error. He’d jank them out of the game and be justified, because outside of inability, there is no excuse.
‘This does make the starting line-up easier to choose. If a player does not get back on defense, they shouldn’t start.