Chris Paul and the pursuit of passing perfection

From ESPN - January 12, 2018

Chris Paul tapped his chest and mouthed, "My bad," to Ryan Anderson after delivering a less-than-perfect pass to his wide-open Houston Rockets teammate.

"Really, man?" Anderson responded.

Anderson was not upset about the pass. He was taken aback that Paul apologized after an assist.

Paul had just driven the lane, drawing four Orlando Magic defenders before leaping from the right block and firing a right-hand fastball to Anderson in the left corner, squeezing the pass through a tiny window between the arms of Orlando's Bismack Biyombo and Jonathan Simmons.

Anderson caught the ball above his right shoulder -- not Paul's intended target of right between the numbers -- but had plenty of time to get off his shot given that his defender was sprinting from the paint after helping on Paul's drive.

"It was not that bad of a pass at all," Anderson said. "What do you expect? He's special, man."

It does not matter if he's twisting and turning in traffic or throwing a cross-court, sidearm laser or whatever the degree of difficulty might be; Paul expects each pass he delivers to be perfect. It's not acceptable for one of his feeds to be a tick late or a few inches off target.

"I am trying to make the shot as easy as possible for the guy who's shooting," said Paul, who leads all active players and ranks 10th all time with 8,466 career assists. "We all have a job. A shooter's job is to make shots. My job is to put the ball on target.

"On time, on target."

That's not a skill Paul developed over the course of his 13-year NBA career. He arrived in the league as a remarkably accurate passer.

"His passes are going to get there," said Golden State Warriors forward David West, who received 1,120 assists from Paul during their time together with the Oklahoma City/New Orleans Hornets, more than any CP3 teammate other than LA Clippers forward Blake Griffin.

"You do not have to reach for them or anything," West said. "He's going to hit you on time, on target so you can get in your shot."

But on-time, on-target passes simply are not enough to satisfy Paul; even the ball's laces need match the way that particular teammates likes them.

"They put the laces on the ball for a reason," Paul said. And he has felt the ball in his hands enough to be able to throw passes with the preferred rotation, even on split-second decisions.

"It's probably my OCD," Paul said. "It's understanding how important the little things are."

Passing is not just an art and a science for Paul. It's an obsession. That's one of the reasons Paul, whose career average of 9.9 assists per game ranks behind only Magic Johnson and John Stockton, has established himself as one of the premier passers in NBA history.

The most steals Paul ever had in a game is nine, which came at the expense of Jason Kidd's Dallas Mavericks. One of his four career eight-steal performances came against Steve Nash's Phoenix Suns. It's not a coincidence Paul created so many turnovers against the men who rank second and third, respectively, in career assists. He watched Kidd and Nash so often, wanting to learn as much about the passing craft as possible, that he quickly pinpointed all their tendencies.

Paul points to his head when asked about the primary factors of being an elite passer. Nothing matters more than knowledge of the game.

Rockets G Chris Paul, on his passing prowess


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