To make Olympic team, Paul must show bigger isn’t better
Paul’s averages of 21.1 points, 11.6 assists and 2.7 steals — the latter two figures leading the league during one of the most productive seasons ever for a playmaker — make an emphatic case for including the New Orleans All-Star.
Two numbers work against him: 6-0 and 175, his listed height and weight.
“It’s a factor,” Krzyzewski said. “I’m not saying it’s the deciding factor because Chris has shown he’s beaten a lot of bigger guards in the NBA this year. And he’s stronger.
“Chris is strong right now. That’s really the toughest decision we all have to make is at the guard position because we have a high, high quality of player.”
Jason Kidd is the starter, though it’s hard to consider him America’s best after Paul so severely outplayed him in the postseason. Chauncey Billups and Deron Williams also are expected in Las Vegas when the Americans gather to pick their team the last weekend in June.
Kidd managed 8.6 points and 6.8 assists — to Paul’s 24.5 and 12.0 — when the Hornets eliminated the Dallas Mavericks in five games.
Kidd wouldn’t weigh in on Paul’s prospects for making the Olympic roster.
“We’re loaded at the point guard position, so we’ll soon find out,” Kidd said. “I have no idea who they’re going to put on the team.”
The only point guard competition on Paul’s mind for the moment is the one with Tony Parker. The Hornets are trying to get by Parker and the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals and reach the conference finals for the first time.
Until then, the Olympics can wait.
“I want to play, but I’m not thinking about it right now,” Paul said.
Paul emerged as a superstar this season, finishing second in the voting for MVP and being chosen to the All-NBA first team. He became just the sixth player to average 20 points and 10 assists, and is one of the fastest players in the league.
And he consistently showed that speed can beat strength. While in New Orleans for the All-Star game in February, USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo recalled one of those times, when Paul torched the Suns for 42 points and nine assists in a Hornets’ victory in Phoenix 10 days earlier.
“When you see him go like he did against Phoenix for 42 and 9 and the game that he played, it doesn’t seem to matter who’s in front of him,” Colangelo said.
The problem for Paul is the guys who might be ahead of him are all much bigger. Kidd goes 6-4 and 210 pounds, Billups is listed at 6-3 and 202, and Williams is 6-3, 208.
And anyone who thinks “size matters” is only a cliche never watched Greece’s big backcourt punish the smaller American guards two years ago in the semifinals of the world championships. Paul was on the floor that night, struggling to defend the pick-and-rolls that the Greeks used to shred the U.S. defense.
Krzyzewski repeatedly said afterward that international guards play a more physical style, so it was no surprise the American ballhandlers were much bigger last summer in the Olympic qualifier.
“I think that’s one of the reasons they looked at me and Chauncey and J Kidd, just because we’re bigger guards,” Williams said earlier this season. “We can handle more physical style of play.”
Paul seems better equipped for it now than he was two years ago, when he was only 21 and had just completed his rookie season in the NBA. That was before he found himself matched up against opponents who had been playing international basketball for years.
“I don’t think he needs to adjust that much,” Krzyzewski said. “When he played for us two summers ago, he was really college age. These guys are getting older. He has jumped away the way the Hornets thought he would, how we thought he would.”
Paul started six of the nine games in the world championships, ranking third in the field with 4.9 assists per game and committing just nine turnovers while leading the Americans’ uptempo offense. But he lost his starting spot late in the tournament and struggled mightily toward the end, going 2-of-10 in the final two games and missing all five shots in the semifinal loss to the Greeks.
In fairness to Paul, he probably wasn’t supposed to have such an important role so soon, but the Americans didn’t have many choices at the point.
Kidd declined Colangelo’s original invitation to play, Billups stayed home with his pregnant wife, and Gilbert Arenas played poorly during exhibition games and was cut, so Paul emerged as the starter almost by default.
“The team we had in the world championships was not necessarily the team we would have had if everyone had been healthy,” Colangelo said. “Chris Paul was a young player and was a little bit of a stretch to have him on the roster.”
Paul sat out last summer recovering from surgery on his foot, and now hopes to reclaim a spot next month. Kidd seems entrenched as the starter, so Paul would probably have to beat out Billups or Williams — or perhaps both.
An NBA team might take Paul ahead of all those players. But to go to Beijing, Paul will have to prove to the U.S. leadership that bigger isn’t always better.
“He is what he is,” Colangelo said. “He’s not going to grow between now and July, but Chris Paul’s going to come in there and make things very interesting and he’s got to compete for a job.”
I also have to say that if Chris Paul is not representing our country in the 2008 Bejing Summer Olmypics then their is no justice in the world and Team USA Coach Mike Krzyzewski is an absolute joke!