Chris Paul moves to bench for 1st time in 18-plus season career, continues to thrive in reduced role with Warriors

Draymond Green returned to the Golden State Warriors lineup Sunday night.

For Chris Paul, that meant coming off the bench for the first time in his 18-plus season NBA career. The 12-time All-Star and 11-time All-NBA point guard adopted his reserve role in his third game with his new team and helped the Warriors to a 106-85 win over the Houston Rockets. Prior to Sunday, Paul had started each of the 1,216 games he’d played in the league.

Paul’s stat line wasn’t as gaudy as prime CP3’s. But he anchored the second unit while tallying eight points, seven assists, five rebounds and a steal. His plus-22 in the plus/minus column was the best on the team by a long shot. Gary Payton II was second-best at plus-15, while none of Golden State’s starters posted better than plus-5 (Kevon Looney) on an off shooting night from the field (43.2% as a team).

So far so good for the Chris Paul experiment in Golden State. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

So far so good for the Chris Paul experiment in Golden State. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The effort was indicative of the new, reduced role Paul will play after spending the bulk of his career as an upper-echelon star. If he continues like he’s started, Paul promises to bring value to a Warriors team looking to compete in a loaded Western Conference. It’s an encouraging start considering the question marks surrounding Paul’s fit on a team with a projected Hall of Fame back court featuring Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

Head coach Steve Kerr sung Paul’s praises after his effort off the bench.

“It’s massive the way Chris has embraced everything here in the first month since he’s been with us,” Kerr said of his willingness to play a new role. “As you know, tonight was the first game of his entire career that he didn’t start. When I talked him this morning about, he’s just ‘yep,’ nodded his head and said ‘let’s go get ’em.’ Not even a big deal.”

Paul won’t approach his career 17.9-point scoring average with the Warriors. The prime scoring roles are accounted for, and Paul doesn’t shoot like he used to. But his passing game remains on point. One of the game’s all-time great floor generals, Paul projects to thrive in that role as the leading distributor in Golden State.

With Green sidelined by an ankle sprain in Golden State’s first two games, Paul started alongside Curry and Thompson in three-guard lineup. He posted 14 points, nine assists and six rebounds in Golden State’s opening-night loss to the Phoenix Suns. Against the Sacramento Kings on Friday, Paul tallied 10 points, 12 assists and two steals in. rod win. His seven assists off the bench against Houston led the Warriors for the third time in three games. He’s turned the ball over just five times in that span.

A six-time steals champion, Paul remains a difference-maker on defense and has six steals in his first three games in Golden State. His scoring efficiency, meanwhile, has room for improvement. A 36.8% career shooter from 3-point distance and a master of the mid-range shot, Paul’s missed all 11 of his 3-point attempts and is shooting just 34.3% from the floor. Both numbers are bound to improve.

As whole, it’s a promising start for an experiment that was met with plenty of skepticism before it started. And it sounds from Kerr like Paul’s eager to embrace his new role as he seeks his first NBA championship.

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