Through four franchises and 16 seasons, Chris Paul has been the picture of sameness. Even though a litany of leg injuries robbed him of his speed and the ongoing dorkball revolution has rewired the sport, Paul has always tapped into a familiar, drab palette. My apologies to Heraclitus (RIP bozo), but the only constant in life is that Chris Paul refuses to change, plays slow, does about half of his midrange jumpers, and is a jerk doing it. See basketball as a bullfight – Paul alone struggles against a massive chaotic force until he bends it to his will. In Paul’s hands, the fundamental mess of the game becomes downright orderly. On offense, he quickly scans and resolves defensive patterns as if filling out a census form. Defensively, it casually spins to the exact spot where it can preemptively plug the holes in the perimeter shell before they can open. There are no operatic frills in his playing; it does not take off with the ball of jagged and expressive riffs; the only beauty is its absence.

Yet after years of war against the spontaneous joys of basketball, Paul now finds himself at the helm of the happiest team in the NBA. Amid a gently heated disappointment of an NBA season, the Phoenix Suns have been a much needed injection of joy. Their arena beats with the same craziness that would force someone to live where the temperature is 115 degrees. Their fans host impromptu welcome parties at the airport in their honor; when Torrey Craig catches an alley-oop, the crowd turns around glossolalic; on the court, the Suns are brimming with the synchronicity and excitement of guys who love to play basketball together. the Boyz Valley are thinking Hooters tonight with the guys. Suns in four, the heavens are ringing.

So the Suns embraced Paul’s style, not his sensibility. Like almost all of Chris Paul’s teams, the Suns play at a slow pace, make their bones in the pick-and-roll, and possess a microscopic turnover rate. Unlike almost every other Chris Paul team, the Suns don’t seem universally terrified and addicted to Paul. Notably, Paul is neither the Suns’ most prolific offensive player nor their defensive anchor; in the playoffs so far, Paul’s use rate is significantly lower than Devin Booker and Cameron Payne.

Paul’s teammates are faithful disciples of God Point, built in his image and forgiving his sins. Above all, Devin Booker has gone from being a really cool guy (who is also a good player) to a really good player (who is also a cool guy). For the first five years of his career, Booker worked hard on bad teams as an avatar of Mamba Mentality Originalism – no matter how stinky his teams were, he was a star because he scored with studied grace. Now he’s the point guard for one of the league’s elite attacks, marrying his previous dominance on the ball with a smart off-ball move around Paul. On occasions where Paul’s stability locks the attack in place, Booker’s shot provides an invigorating jerk. Plus, Booker allows the Suns to thrive beyond the framework Paul imposes. Over the course of his career, Paul has been such a dominant presence that his teammates were often unable to function without him – in just about every team he’s played on since 2007, the lineups without Paul have collapsed without him. their carrier star, according to Glass cleaning. Booker provides needed counterbalance, easing Paul’s burden and ensuring the Suns’ offense can continue to buzz

Likewise, Paul’s arrival helped Ayton discover that complex problems can be solved with simple solutions. In the first two laps Ayton (relatively) thwarted Lebron James then Nikola Jokic by being huge and fast and holding his hands perfectly straight above his head; he has become a key cog in the Suns’ offense because he no longer misses shots. Ayton’s relationship with Paul is a symbiotic one: Paul’s pick-and-roll omniscience creates spoon-fed buckets for Ayton; Ayton’s gravity as a roller and offensive rebounder puts pressure on the rim that 36-year-old Paul can’t generate on his own. On the other side, Paul’s communication lines up the defense and, in turn, Ayton corrects Paul’s mistakes. Ayton is Paul’s brain muscle, his Lady Macbeth’s Macbeth, his Rocket’s Groot.

In this sense, Paul’s greatest impact is his inherent organizing influence. He broke the Suns decade-long playoff drought because he makes sense of things. With him on the roster, the rest of the players snap into their most natural roles. At the start of the season, the Suns were a promising, unfinished mashed coin okra. There is limited utility in having a secondary playmaker without a backing primary, a roller with no one to place picks to, or three-and-D wings that don’t have good opportunities to shoot threes. But add Chris Paul to the pot and, baby, you got a stew going.

More importantly, this stew continues to simmer even when Paul is not actively participating in it himself; Phoenix maintains the efficiency margin of a 54-winning team when Paul is resting, according to Cleaning the Glass. If that’s too much jargon, here’s a clearer example: Facing a 2-1 first-round deficit, the Suns faced the Lakers for three straight games to close the series, despite a nerve pinched in the shoulder of Paul who largely rendered him incapable of shooting over 12 feet or dribbling without grimacing. And he made his peace with it. For the series, Paul averaged less than 10 points and 30 minutes per game (the two lowest in the personal playoffs) and amicably split a timeshare at the point guard with Cam Payne. Ultimately, the impact of Paul in absentia (and the duration of this absence) could determine Paul’s place in the pantheon of leaders.

In the rush to appreciate Paul while he is still active, a predictable and easy tale has formed around the Suns. Somehow, the story of Paul teaming up with an immensely talented core of young players and a smart coach has been modernized to match the specs of every cliché sports movie ever made – Chris Paul is the veteran. pragmatist with a heart of gold who taught this ragamuffin group of rugrats what it takes to be a winner. Paul received courtesy votes on the backend of MVP ballots due to his intangible and his ability to do things that cannot be measured by a box score.

Rightly, Paul has done less than he has done at just about any other point in his career. This is not an indictment or a criticism; it is a fact, perhaps even a compliment. In Phoenix, Paul averaged the fewest minutes of his career and racked up both interceptions and free throws less frequently than ever. His utilization rate was the second lowest since leaving New Orleans in 2011 and his attendance rate was the third lowest during that same period. To be fair, Paul improved the Suns through manic micromanagement because he’s Chris Paul and that’s what Chris Paul does. But, really, this year has been Paul’s story masterfully mellowing with age. As incredibly effective as he is, he is no longer the conqueror of the world he was in the late 2000s. His playing has very real limits, but he thrives there. Too slow and tied to the ground to meet the centers at the rim, he simply overlooks the shots at mid-distance. He hits the passing windows as soon as they open because he no longer has the luxury of being able to zoom in on the defenses and exploit their continuous and panicked rotations. While Paul’s story is filled with tragically doomed heroism and ambition, he apparently found solace in his contracted realm of the possible. With just four wins from his first appearance in the final, he can finally capture the success that has eluded him by learning to let go.