Doc or CP3?
“We’ll have ball movement.” This was Doc Rivers's response when asked what would be the biggest difference in the Clippers' style of play.
The only other time where four words sparked such a storm was when Allen Iverson lost his cool with a reporter about a missed practice session.
It’s hard to tell who was more ludicrous in their comments. Iverson was valid in his frustrations with the reporters’ questioning, whereas Doc’s comments came out of nowhere. They were a distinct shot at a player (Chris Paul) who has done so much for not only the Clippers, but for Rivers’ coaching career also. To put his comments in context here’s what he said in full:
Firstly, let’s break down the part where he said, “He was a guy that needed the ball to make plays”. Most point guards are going to have a relatively high usage rate as they are the floor generals. In support of Rivers’ argument, last season Paul averaged 86.2 touches per game, ranked 8th overall in the league. However, he only averaged 4.98 seconds per touch, so he wasn’t necessarily hogging or slowing the play. In fact Lebron James (88.7 touches, 4.12s) and Eric Bledsoe (87.9 touches, 4.57s) were the only two players in the top eight touches who averaged less time with the ball; Westbrook, Harden, Wall, Walker and Lillard all averaged more. As for the team itself, the Clippers averaged a miserly 2.78 seconds per touch, ranking in the top half of the league. Alternatively, the Raptors (3.02s) and Blazers (3.00s) with great ISO players (Lowry, DeRozan, McCollum, Lillard) are the top teams who held the ball for extended periods.
Another stat which shows whether Paul ‘needs the ball’, is usage rate. His usage rate from last season is startlingly low when looked at in the broad scheme of things. His usage rate was 24.1%, miles behind players like Westbrook (40.8%), DeRozan (34.2%) and even new Rockets teammate, Harden (34.1%). When compared to his own teammates last season, it paints a picture that Doc is way off the money. Former teammate Jamal Crawford averaged a higher usage rate (24.2%) and even current franchise cornerstone Blake Griffin averaged more (27.6%). You’d expect that number skyrocket for Griffin in the absence of Crawford and Paul.
The passing stats of Paul and the team paint a picture of the ball movement Doc was referring to. The Clippers ranked 13th in passes made while Paul himself was top four in the league for the same stat, behind TJ McConnell, Ricky Rubio and James Harden. He was also top five for points created off assists with 21.7. Seems to me as if Paul is creating a lot of the fluid ball movement Doc was talking about.
Finally, offensive rating conveys how good Doc’s teams have been offensively over the span of his career. As illustrated below (Doc’s Orlando years have been omitted) his best years have been with the Clippers. It’s no coincidence that Chris Paul has been the major factor in making those teams so great. Meanwhile with the Celtics you had Rajon Rondo running the show. His personal PER in that championship year (2007-08) was 14.5 (14 is seen as average), which pales in comparison to Paul’s in 2014-15 (one of the Clippers’ best seasons), when it was 25.6.
Offensive Rating of Doc Rivers’ Teams, 2004-05 to 2016-17
So maybe, Doc just didn’t look hard enough. Maybe it was just how he perceived his Clippers team ran. Paul’s replacements in Beverley and Teodosić will certainly have a lot to live up to. Blake will also have to pick up the slack and become more of a playmaker. Though, it’s unlikely we’ll see his efficiency rank alongside Paul’s nor will next year’s team be a top-five offense without him. Prove me wrong Doc, prove me wrong.