Why Phoenix Suns Guard Chris Paul is NBA’s Best Fourth Quarter Player

Phoenix Suns, Chris Paul. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Phoenix Suns, Chris Paul. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

If you hear the nickname “Mr. 4th Quarter,” and only think of prolific scorers who turn it up with the game in the balance…I don’t blame you. Players like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and if you look specifically at the 2016-17 season, old Phoenix Suns guard Isaiah Thomas immediately come to mind.

Throughout history, scoring is synonymous with the word “clutch,” and being deemed a clutch player automatically includes the ability to hit shots when the stakes grow highest.

However, what if there were a player who put on great displays of floor generalship, defensive guile, and unparalleled intelligence to help stack up wins—while also scoring in crunch time all the same?

Insert one Chris Paul.

In general, anyone who scores in a timely manner and also does everything else beyond must be considered better than just a pure scorer, correct? With that in mind, one needs to look beyond Chris Paul’s total points each night out, and appreciate his plethora of skills that allow him to close out games.

Monday’s contest most recently exemplified CP3’s greatness. Paul sat with 12 points, 10 assists, and six rebounds as the Suns entered the final period. Although solid, those numbers did not exactly jump out at anyone. However, he kicked things up a notch right after, finishing the game with 27 points, 13 assists, and nine boards.

No player so heavily influences fourth quarters like Paul does. The likes of Damian Lillard, Kevin Durant, and DeMar DeRozan especially this season come to mind as appropriate arguments against that claim.

However, their impacts solely depend upon scoring, which is just one entity of the game. That’s not to minimize what they do, because scoring the basketball remains a skill which they have all mastered, but Paul’s aforementioned all-around impact during close games separates him from the pack.

The Suns boast a +3.4 point differential and league best 16-3 record in games deemed “clutch.” Paul resembles the lifeblood for those numbers though, being a +2.9 in the fourth all by himself.

When you take into context his role both as a primary facilitator and scorer in final periods, his effectiveness shines through.

In fourth quarters, he’s averaging:

  • 5.5 points
  • Shooting 52.7% (3rd best for players taking 3+ shots per 4th)
  • 2.8 assists (league-best)

Paul pulls strings on sets (sometimes spamming the same ones over), plays chess with opposing coaches, and forces their hands in pick-and-roll coverages. He also knows how to work his way to the bonus with rip through free throws, and on the other hand, dislodge or disrupt the ball properly from his opponents with ease.

Paul operates as the league’s premier tactician, and based on what each individual game calls for, deploys the right Suns who are needed to influence which direction the game swings.

Quite frankly, fourth quarters are when he’s himself the most.

With all these tools on display and the numbers backing them up, he truly resembles the proverbial “Mariano Rivera” of the NBA.

To be so consistently cerebral at the juncture of the game where A.) the spotlight is brightest and most guys shy away, and B.) where tanks are running near empty and “mental stamina” as Monty Williams often calls it, is a huge factor, Paul’s overall talent cannot be overpraised.

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He resembles a player that every franchise with championship aspirations craves, a player all coaches want in “winning time,” and a master at present-moment awareness. He is Mr. 4th Quarter.