Welcome to King of the Court, our daily celebration of the best players in basketball from the night that was. We’ll be keeping track of the best player of every night of the NBA season, and tallying the results as we go along.
King of the Court: Chris Paul
Since the arrival of Chris Paul, Clippers games have been a worthwhile live sports experience, and I’d argue a truly underrated one. There is really something for every fan at every vantage point. There is a thrill to watching the games up close, where Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are essentially human Gundam soaring through the air. But even from the nosebleeds, Clippers games convey beauty: Only from that bird’s-eye perspective does CP3’s manipulation of the offense and defense truly snap into view. It’s like watching a chess simulation with spontaneous explosions, except way more exciting than that. What I’m trying to say is, it’s been a fun ride for Clippers fans, who are now a part of the core that has produced the longest streak of winning seasons in franchise history. This season, though, has been something altogether different.
Naysayers will point to the Clippers’ playoff record over the years as a way of invalidating the team’s 10–1 record (c’mon, embrace the moment!), but this really has been a brilliant start for a team that has consistently stumbled out of the gate in the past few seasons. Monday night, against a Nets team running on depleted fossil fuel, they raced out to a 39–14 lead in the first quarter and never relinquished their vise grip. Chris Paul, in 25 minutes played, had 21 points, nine assists, five steals, and four rebounds. He played almost exactly as long as Austin Rivers did coming off the bench, and the Clippers still won, 127–95. That is a huge development. Not only are the Clippers winning like the Warriors did last season (the Clippers’ point differential in their first 11 games is greater than that of last year’s Warriors over the same span), but they’re also playing Paul for less than 30 minutes per game so far, closer to the minutes average that the Spurs gave to Tony Parker last season (27.5) than the 34.4-minute average in Paul’s previous five years as a Clipper. CP3’s stats haven’t declined along with his minutes, either. They’ve actually spiked.
If there is any immediate lesson to be learned from these 10–1 Clippers, maybe it’s that braving the shifting tides in the NBA landscape doesn’t necessarily have to involve selling the farm. Sometimes staying put is good enough, especially when your core of Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and J.J. Redick has been one of the very best in the league over the past four seasons. The Warriors rode discipline and continuity to a record-breaking 24-game winning streak to start the season last year; with so many teams still figuring out their identities, the Clippers have capitalized by doing the same, demolishing teams with their offensive telepathy and a newfound focus on team defense. Is this a coronation? No, not even close. But the Clippers have looked very, very good, and they deserve recognition for it. Nothing about what they’ve done in the first 11 games is unsustainable; if anything, with the minutes they’re shorn off their starters’ averages, this could keep up for much longer than any of us could have expected.
Runner-up: Kristaps Porzingis
One of the best things about Kristaps at this stage in his career is that, at only 21 years old and with a tool belt that seems to be expanding by the game, fans can still project whatever they want out of his play, as if he were still a draft prospect. Against a Mavs team that is all out of sorts, Porzingis dropped 24 points, on 8-for-16 shooting, and grabbed 11 rebounds in the Knicks’ 93–77 win Monday. Kristaps flashed the one-legged fadeaway à la Dirk; he used the glass on his bank shots like Tim; his dribble pull-up from the free throw line extended had shades of Vince (!). Porzingis remains in that dream stage of being whatever you see behind those rose-tinted glasses.
He might not have the most promising future of all his fellow multidimensional giants (which says more about the organization responsible for his development than it does Porzingis himself), but he does seem the most keen on developing style in his game, which counts for a lot in New York. He’s an exciting player who wants to be exciting! It’s nice to see Porzingis worrying about only what he can control. He’s too young to commandeer the team, and there’s no way he could eclipse all of the institutional bureaucracy within the franchise. Better to keep increasing that field goal percentage and adding more pop to his crossovers. This is the perfect time to be watching Kristaps. You just hope the Knicks can get out of their own way in time for their young, messianic beanpole to one day take the reins.