Russell Westbrook—the face of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the most loyal player on the face of the planet, the one who CHOSE the 405 when a certain other player left—was traded to the Houston Rockets on July 11, 2019, in exchange for Chris Paul and a load of first round picks, and I was devastated.
The media saw it coming, Thunder fans saw it coming, EVERYONE saw it coming, and even though I KNEW it was going to happen, I still struggled to find words. (I did find them, by the way, and I wrote them here.)
When the trade went down, I was immediately devastated at seeing my favorite player packing up and leaving town, but I was even more so DISGUSTED with the fact that he went to the Houston Rockets—yuck—for Chris Paul—are you freaking kidding me?
I hated Chris Paul. I couldn’t stand the guy. Yeah, he was in OKC with the Hornets back in the mid-2000s, and yeah, he was beloved by many Oklahomans because of that, but I. Could. Not. Stand. Him.
“He’s a punk,” I said. “He’s a terrible teammate,” I said. “I hope we trade him long before he even puts on a Thunder uniform,” I said.
After watching my team play AGAINST him for so many years, I had developed a disdain for his style of play, and from what I THOUGHT I knew, he was a pretty terrible teammate. I was wrong.
The season began, and all of a sudden, Chris Paul’s antics were working in my favor and for my team. His style of play was a seemingly perfect for the Thunder’s new roster make up. Also, perhaps most importantly, he appeared to have bought in as a part of the Thunder franchise from Day 1. As a result, miracles were unfolding before our very eyes.
It was a rough start to the season. Expectations were as low for Thunder basketball as they have been in a decade, but even still, the 1-4 start was frustrating. OKC was actually competing with teams, but they couldn’t come up with wins.
Before long, the Thunder was 5-10, and despite playing some of the league’s best teams down to the wire, they couldn’t get over the hump. Of those 10 losses, OKC had seen 7 of them happen by 5 points or less.
Then, almost out of nowhere, the Thunder turned a corner. The 3rd quarter woes began to improve, the wins started adding up, and players were finishing games strong. The camaraderie that this team has had at different times over the years has reached a new peak, and Chris Paul is the one at the forefront of it all.
The tailored suits. The team outings. Chris Paul is leading the way, and he is doing it well.
Not only is he coming in clutch as a leader off the court, but he is finishing games stronger than any player in the NBA right now.
The Oklahoma City Thunder leads the NBA with 28 games played in the clutch (when the point differential is 5 points or less with under 5 minutes to go in the game), and Chris Paul is atop the leaderboards in clutch statistics.
In 114 minutes played in the clutch, Paul has 103 points scored—20 more than the next guy—and in those situations he’s shooting 54.5% from the field, 36.8% from three, and 96.0% from the free throw line.
On a number of occasions, Chris Paul has almost single-handedly saved the game in the fourth quarter and/or overtime. Just last night, the Thunder entered the fourth quarter against the Nets with a tie score. In the final period (and eventual overtime), Paul scored 20 points on 7-of-9 (77.8%) shooting from the floor and 2-for-2- (100.0%) from the free throw line.
Chris Paul is a fantastic player, a quality teammate, and a unique person. While it’s easy to say that I like him now that he is playing for my team, I think it’s a bit harder to admit that I was flat out wrong about him. I couldn’t stand him before he got to OKC because I believed that he was a bad teammate, and, honestly, I kind of thought he was a bad person. Now I tend to think that a select few of his past teammates were the real issue, not him.
Either way, I owe Chris Paul an apology, and whether he’s here for a few more months to continue to mentor our young players, or if he finishes his contract (and maybe even career) in OKC, I appreciate what he’s done and what he’s doing.
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