Chris Paul is ready to thrive in the role the Warriors need most originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area
There has never been, nor should there have been, an internal debate about the best place for Chris Paul on the Warriors. They always knew.
Paul’s greatest value to this team is his role as a leader of the second unit, the role he assumed on Sunday in Houston.
After publicly dodging the topic for more than three months, Warriors coach Steve Kerr finally made it official. And his logic was visible in it Golden State’s 106-95 win over the Rockets at Toyota Center.
“He’s so good he makes everyone else better,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters in Houston. “Whether he plays in the starting line-up or on the bench, he will influence the game.”
Paul led a second unit – with Gary Payton II, Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody and Dario Sarić – that gave the Warriors a lead so significant with a 24-8 run in the second quarter that they even briefly trailed during a Houston game In the fourth round, Stephen Curry managed to quickly regain the victory with four 3-pointers in less than two minutes.
Paul finished the game with eight points, seven assists and five rebounds. Additionally, he was a team-best plus-22 in his 27 minutes on the floor. Each of the other four members of the second unit also landed in the plus column.
“Did I like it? Who likes new things?” Paul said of the first reserve appearance of his 18-year NBA career. “It’s not about whether you like it or not. It’s new. I don’t hate it. It’s not about liking it. I like the fact that we won. That was the most important thing.”
Paul’s leadership in the first half saved the starters in some ways. Curry had a quiet first half. Draymond Green, returning after missing training camp and the first two games, committed three turnovers and three fouls in nine minutes. Andrew Wiggins played 28 minutes – 15 in the first half – and didn’t manage a rebound. Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney were usually solid.
Curry was the last starter to be substituted. When he went to the bench with 4:15 left in the quarter, the Warriors were struggling for points and trailed 18-15. When he returned with 7:42 left in the half, the second unit had given the Warriors a 39-26 lead.
“They were the much better unit in this game, there’s no doubt about it – in large part because I killed our first unit,” Green said. “But they were the much better unit and Chris is at the forefront of all that. That will be an advantage that we will have. When you talk about replacing Steph Curry with Chris Paul, it can’t get much better than that.”
In recent seasons, and especially last season, Golden State’s second units have often struggled on offense. It wasn’t unusual for the lead to evaporate as the starters – most notably Curry – went to the bench. Finding a solution to the problematic “Non-Steph” protocols was a priority last summer.
What led incoming General Manager Mike Dunleavy to Paul. Yes, CP3 was a long-time enemy. Yes, he is 38 years old. Yes, he was paid $30 million this season. And yes, he is known for being quite prickly.
But there was no doubt that he was the best Curry replacement available in the world.
Through three games, including two starts, Paul continues to search for his shot but has 28 assists and five turnovers. His 5.6-to-1 ratio isn’t sustainable, but the Warriors would be happy with a 4-to-1 ratio. In his career, which began in 2005, a total of 1,365 games ago, he was 7-1 in his first game off the bench.
“I’m figuring it out,” Paul said of his role. “It’s something so new. It’s all I have to do to help our team win. If that means you can’t finish some games or something.”
CP3’s dual task was to reduce the team’s turnovers and solve the non-Steph minutes. After three games, Paul does both.
Until this season, Kerr was content to play 35-37 minutes per game in the Curry-Green-Thompson core. He hopes to have enough bench support to get all three down to the low 30s, ideally no higher than 32.
“We’ll see how it turns out,” Kerr said of his rotation. “Things could change.
“But I love the look tonight. This starting group was the best group of five in the league last year. We have data to tell us that and our own eyes to tell us the group knows how to play together.”
The second unit often sabotaged the starters last season. CP3 coming off the bench should change that, even if it costs him the longest starting streak to begin an NBA career.
“I’ve always been the same when it comes to competing and doing whatever I need to do to help our team win,” Paul said. “In this role – whether that means being in the starting lineup, whether that means coming off the bench – I know who I am and what I can do. And with our team it works. It gives us a bigger lineup.
“I’ve never been on a team with this depth. I’ve been on really good teams – don’t get it twisted – but not necessarily where all these guys can start.”
Eleven Warriors might be able to start, but the legal maximum is five. This was Paul’s first experience outside of the starting five and it was a win for the Warriors in almost every way.