Chris Paul has been unreal early on this season, averaging 26 points and 13 assists per game, shooting 51 percent from the floor and drawing more fouls than he ever has. After an embarrassing opening night loss to the Lakers, the Clippers have strung together three straight wins, two of them against upper echelon West rivals (the Warriors and Rockets).
But the most interesting number for CP3 right now is 99.6. That's how many possessions per game the Clippers are registering this season, per Basketball-Reference.com. It has the Clippers tied for No. 5 in the NBA in pace, behind the Sixers, Warriors, Lakers and Mavericks. The Clippers' speed game was on full display on Monday night, as L.A. blistered Houston in the first half, racking up 78 points on 56 possessions. L.A. slowed down considerably in the second half (47 possessions), but a portion of that was garbage time.
The thing is that CP3 has never run an offense playing at this speed. His teams have consistently played a slow-and-steady style that bolstered his incredible halfcourt efficiency, but negated his incredibly quick wits and raw speed. A CP3-led team has never ranked higher than No. 18 in pace, according to Basketball-Reference's numbers. The best Hornets teams that CP3 led with Byron Scott patrolling the sidelines ranked No. 26 and No. 28 in pace. We've never seen CP3 unleashed quite like this.
Will it last, or is this an aberration created by an early schedule featuring two quick teams (Lakers, Warriors)? The red flag is Doc Rivers: he's never been an up-tempo coach. But there's a question as to whether that's been a function of Doc's rosters or a belief in the halfcourt system. To be honest, the pairing of Doc and CP3 looked like a recipe for a really slow-paced team on paper, despite the fact that Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are most dangerous in transition. The supplemental pieces -- J.J. Redick, Jared Dudley, Byron Mullens, even Jamal Crawford -- could be especially good in the halfcourt with a maestro like CP3 finding openings, and a slower offense could allow L.A.'s dicey defense to get set with regularity and make some stops.
Instead, we have this right now. For what it's worth, the Clippers' pace has been elevated in three of four games. They registered only 88 possessions against the Kings, but 100 or more in the other three games. Give it another two weeks to see if the high pace continues. If so, it's going to be even more fun to watch the Clippers than it has been the past two seasons. Thanks, Doc! (Or should we be thanking lead assistant Alvin Gentry?)
THE QUESTION FOR RUDY GAY
I have been critical of Rudy Gay as a player for years now, but he does seem to be a smart, good-natured person and he's really not awful. He's just not as good as most people (including himself, people who gave him a max deal and people who traded actual assets for him and his contract) believe. So he gets talked about a lot, and from a lot of us on the web, that tends to be negative.
But there is a way he can regain his status as a valuable NBA player: he can fit in with DeMar DeRozan, who is increasingly looking like a potential second-tier starting shooting guard. DeRozan is not and will not be a new James Harden or Paul George. But that next level -- he might be there. He's been the right mix of aggressive and smart early this season, and he's finally (through the fantastically small sample size of three games) taking and hitting an acceptable number of three-pointers. He's also moving the ball better than usual. That's not saying much, but it is something.
If DeRozan really develops in this way, he and Gay can make a solid offensive pairing. They are perhaps still too similar -- more comfortable slashing than spotting up -- and they don't really help the rest of the lineup being mediocre playmakers. They'd need to be teamed up with a pass-first point guard and a stretch four, in all likelihood, to make it flow at a high level. But if Gay plays off of DeRozan rather than vice versa, and the frontcourt of Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas anchors a strong defense, the wing duo can get Toronto points efficiently enough to let the team compete. With this roster, it's probably not going to get much better than that. But I trust that'll be enough for the team's ownership and maybe even for GM Masai Ujiri, who has an eye on the long-term.
The Raptors are 2-1. The No. 8 seed in the East is only like 37 wins away.
Speaking of rookies: the Warriors have had a lot of garbage time early this season. Rookie Ognjen Kuzmic has earned 23 minutes early on. Six turnovers, five fouls and a combined seven points, rebounds and blocks. He's definitely in Darko Mode right now.
Randy Wittman might have one more game left. If the Wizards lose to Philadelphia on Wednesday, can Ted Leonsis and Ernie Grunfeld keep him around? The team faces Brooklyn at home on Friday before leaving for a three-game Midwestern swing through OKC, Dallas and San Antonio. On second thought, let Wittman take those losses and free Don Newman in time for Cleveland on November 16.
As a Kings fan, I'm totally pleased to see Francisco Garcia thrive in Houston. Sacramento's relationship with Omri Casspi is a little more complicated; I'm stunned, more than anything, to see him play and play well for a contender. He's improved a great deal since 2009.