What Will A Thunder Team Led By Chris Paul Actually Look Like?

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Chris Paul isn’t exiting Oklahoma City any time soon, according to reporting from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Rather, the Thunder front office has canvassed the league and not found a trade they deem suitable, so they will hold on to the star point guard and look for a move at a later date. With so much of the league unable to be traded due to recently being signed to new contracts, it makes sense that Oklahoma City found it difficult to move on from Paul. Come Dec. 15, things will change significantly, as most of this summer’s signings will be trade-eligible.

For now, though, Paul is a member of the Thunder and will likely begin the season as the team’s starting point guard. So how will this new-look Oklahoma City outfit actually look on the floor?

Barring an unforeseen injury or trade-related holdout, Paul will walk right into the role that Russell Westbrook vacated as the starting point guard and primary offensive initiator. For much of the Thunder roster, this will be a relatively straightforward swap, as they should be used to playing with a ball-dominant point guard capable of being an offense unto himself. Paul will step into the Oklahoma City’s spread pick-and-roll attack and feel right at home with the ball in his hands, particularly after playing in Houston for the last two seasons.

In his final season with the LA Clippers in 2016-17, Paul ran more than 18 pick-and-rolls per game; in the two years in Houston, that number dropped to 15.86 and 14.68 pick-and-rolls per game in 2017-18 and 2018-19, respectively. Expect that particular statistic to tick way back up in Oklahoma City. His pick-and-roll usage has dropped over the years as he’s aged out of his prime athletic years and no longer has the burst to get to his spots, but in an offense designed around spread pick-and-roll and surrounding players who command defensive attention, Paul’s usage and efficiency in pick-and-roll should increase.

Spread pick-and-roll with Steven Adams is going to be the Thunder’s bread-and-butter play next season, as the Westbrook-Adams combination was the basis of nearly everything they’ve done offensively over the last several years. In Westbrook, Adams had an uber-athletic pick-and-roll partner, which led to Adams often trailing Westbrook as he rolled to the rim. As a result, Adams developed a very strong floater; he would often stop short of the restricted area, where Westbrook already was, and be available for a short dumpoff pass. From there, he was a skilled finisher, particularly for a paint-bound big man.

Adams will have to change his game slightly in this regard, as Paul is not the same explosive athlete Westbrook is. Rather than mash his way to the rim no matter the opponent, Paul is going to probe intelligently and patiently, waiting for the perfect hole in the defense to open up before slipping a pass to Adams or lofting his patented right elbow jumper up in the air. Adams will set the same bone-crushing screens he’s set throughout his career, but the passing angles and timing will be different for him for the first time in his career and will be worth monitoring as the partnership with Paul grows.

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Statistically, Adams is likely to be the key beneficiary of the swap, as Paul is a better passer than Westbrook and Oklahoma City won’t gear their defensive rebounding strategy around Westbrook’s very strong transition offense. Adams will be charged with crashing the glass on both ends of the floor, which has the potential to end in him winning the rebounding title next season and averaging something like 15 points and 15 rebounds per game.