NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley constantly likes to remind us that L.A. Clippers point guard Chris Paul is the "best leader in the NBA". Prior to this season, that claim may have been argued by some who could've countered with names such as LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant or even Kevin Durant.
Following his performances this year after the injury to Blake Griffin, you would struggle to find many who could argue with Barkley's frequent statement.
Griffin has been out of the Clippers lineup since December 25, he was the Clippers' leading scorer averaging 22.7 points per game up until that point and it wouldn't have been a surprise if his absence had derailed the team's performances.
The Clippers could've felt sorry for themselves and used Griffin's injury as an excuse if things were to go bad. When you have Chris Paul, however, this isn't an option.
This is a player who led a New Orleans team, devoid of any star players, to the playoffs in 2008-09. Paul thrives in the face of adversity and enjoys putting teams on his back, which is essentially what he has done with this Clipper team.
Per ESPN, Chris Paul’s on-court presence is the difference between the Clippers having the best offense and the worst offense in the NBA. With Paul on the floor since December 26, the Clippers are averaging 113.0 points per 100 possessions, which would tie for first with the Golden State Warriors over that span. In the nearly 600 minutes that Paul has been off the court over that span, the Clippers' offense has managed 97.2 points per 100 possessions, which would rank last.
That’s a swing of nearly 16 points per 100 possessions, which is the largest on-court versus off-court impact of any player in the NBA over that span.
The point guard has been largely responsible for the team's 31-15 record without their star power forward and has embraced the added responsibility. He has cemented his status as the best playmaker in the league by regularly making his teammates better during that stretch.
Per SB Nation, before Griffin went down Paul was assisting on 43 percent of the Clippers' buckets when he was on the court, which was the fifth-best in the league. Since Griffin's injury, however, that number has climbed to 52 percent. No player has eclipsed 50 percent for a full season since Paul himself did it in the aforementioned campaign with New Orleans.
By his own very high standards, the 30-year-old has been playing at a very high level and is determined to end his long wait for that elusive championship.
After Paul, Griffin was the Clippers' best facilitator up until Christmas, and the increase in Paul's numbers are due to him taking over all playmaking duties, as well as creating his own offence. The floor general is averaging a career-best 19.9 points and 9.9 assists a game, shooting an efficient 46 percent from the field and 37 percent from beyond the arc.
The numbers don't lie, the Clippers have done better than expected without Griffin and that has led to questions about whether the team is better off without the five-time All-Star, with trade rumours intensifying prior to the trade deadline in February. Displaying his leadership qualities on and off the court, Paul had an emphatic answer for that notion.
“We can’t win a championship without Blake. That’s the only reason we play… I don’t care if he gets back the day before the playoffs," Paul said, via Bleacher Report. "We’re playing for a championship and there’s no championship without Blake Griffin. There’s not one.”
With the extra load he's had to carry and the rigours of the playoffs to come, Paul was forced make the difficult, but sensible, decision of taking himself out of consideration for Team USA at this summer's Olympics in Rio.
“I feel my body telling me that I could use the time,” he said.
With the point guard position being reinvented by players such as Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving, Paul is one of the last of a dying breed with his pass-first style, but there aren't many who combine every required aspect of the position as well as he does.
With the Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs, two of the best regular season teams of all time, standing in his way, the nine-time All-Star is unlikely to win the ring he desperately craves this year.
But the floor general deserves to achieve this before he calls it a day, it would be a shame if he were to be put in the dreaded list of best players to have never won a championship.