Draymond Green returned to the Golden State Warriors lineup on Sunday night.
For Chris Paul, that meant he had to come off the bench for the first time in his 18-season NBA career. The 12-time All-Star and 11-time All-NBA point guard took on his reserve role in his third game with his new team and helped the Warriors to a 106-85 victory over the Houston Rockets. Before Sunday, Paul had started each of the 1,216 games he had played in the league.
Paul’s stat line wasn’t as noticeable as that of the top-tier CP3. But he was the anchor of the second unit, posting eight points, seven assists, five rebounds and one steal. His +22 in the plus/minus column was by far the best on the team. Gary Payton II was the second-best player at plus-15, while none of Golden State’s starters performed better than plus-5 (Kevon Looney) on a night off the field (43.2% as a team).
The effort was indicative of the new, reduced role Paul will play after spending most of his career as a top star. If he continues the way he started, Paul promises to add value to a Warriors team looking to compete in a loaded Western Conference. It’s an encouraging start, considering how questionable Paul’s fit is on a team that will feature Hall of Famers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in the backfield.
Head coach Steve Kerr praised Paul after his appearance off the bench.
Steve Kerr on Chris Paul agreeing to come off the bench: “It’s massive. Massive…When a vet, an All-Star, shows that kind of sacrifice, it sets the tone.” pic.twitter.com/fzeS95uZ3Y
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) October 30, 2023
“It’s great how Chris has embraced everything here in the first month of being with us,” Kerr said of his willingness to take on a new role. “As you know, tonight was the first game of his entire career that he didn’t start. When I talked to him about it this morning, he just said, ‘Yes,’ nodded his head and said, ‘Let’s get her.’ Not even a big deal.”
Paul won’t reach his career average of 17.9 points with the Warriors. The key goalscoring roles have been taken, and Paul isn’t shooting like he used to. But his passing game remains on point. Paul is one of the game’s all-time great floor generals and plans to thrive in this role as Golden State’s leading distributor.
With Green sidelined in Golden State’s first two games with an ankle sprain, Paul started in a three-man lineup alongside Curry and Thompson. He scored 14 points, nine assists and six rebounds in Golden State’s opening loss to the Phoenix Suns. Against the Sacramento Kings on Friday, Paul had 10 points, 12 assists and two steals in a road win. His seven assists off the bench against Houston led the Warriors in assists for the third time in three games. He only turned the ball over five times in that span.
A six-time steals champion, Paul continues to be a key defensive player, recording six steals in his first three games in Golden State. Meanwhile, his goal efficiency needs improvement. A career 36.8% shooter from 3-point range and a master of the mid-range shot, Paul has missed all 11 of his 3-point attempts and is shooting just 34.3% from the floor. Both numbers are bound to improve.
It’s a promising start for an experiment that was initially met with great skepticism. And from Kerr’s perspective, it sounds like Paul is happy to embrace his new role as he pursues his first NBA championship.