The Whiteboard: Chris Paul aging like fine wine for Thunder

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images /

The Whiteboard is The Step Back’s daily basketball newsletter, covering the NBA, WNBA and more. Subscribe here to get it delivered to you via email each morning.

Even after losing two superstars last summer, the Oklahoma City Thunder‘s roster is teeming with likable personalities and crafty basketball players that are impossible to not appreciate.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a young star in the making who slithers to the rim with grace and poise. Danilo Gallinari is a delightfully wicked stretch-4 of impressive skill, Steven Adams is arguably the NBA’s most lovable character and deceptively agile despite being built like an Easter Island head, Luguentz Dort is an undrafted rookie success story … the list goes on and on.

The most debatable inclusion on that list, depending on who you ask, would have to be Chris Paul. There are some nights where it’s easy to despise CP3 — when he’s yelling at teammates, complaining to referees, fishing for fouls, tearing up your favorite team or starring in his 117th State Farm commercial.

But there are some nights, like his dominant performance against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday, where the fading beauty of the traditional “true point guard” comes rushing back into focus.

Paul’s numbers — 21 points, seven rebounds and six assists on 8-of-12 shooting — were solid, but they hardly leapt off the page. Even so, there was no question who the best player on the court was, which was no small feat in a contest featuring LeBron James and Anthony Davis. And that ability to control a game, even without posting gaudy numbers, has been CP3’s sweet spot all season and for the majority of his career.

Perhaps it’s been more obvious in the bubble, where the eye test reigns supreme, since this is the first basketball that’s graced our eyeballs in months and we have such a limited sample size to work with when it comes to the advanced numbers.

But watching him size up the 7-foot-2 Bol Bol before creating separation for his shot, toy with Utah Jazz defenders and put the Lakers in jail off the dribble has been delightful no matter how surly he can be, no matter how cumbersome his contract is and no matter how old he gets.

While pundits continued to lament his unwieldy contract heading into his first season in Oklahoma City, Paul gave them something better to focus on, submitting one of the more impressive campaigns of his career in terms of expected team success vs. actual success.

After years of watching him howl at DeAndre Jordan and simmer in uncomfortable silence alongside James Harden, many thought his attitude would be a problem with a rebuilding team in OKC. Yet the Thunder surged up the Western Conference standings, with CP3 doubling as the team’s best player in the present and most important mentor for the future with Gilgeous-Alexander.

And the best part? He did it all while maintaining that same, familiar sense of spite for his doubters and critics that seems to fuel his competitive fire — that unmistakable Chris Paul disdain for anyone who stands in his way of winning a basketball game.

It’d feel obnoxiously toxic if it wasn’t so downright enjoyable to drink in.

CP3’s game, on-court demeanor and place among the greatest NBA players ever — championship or no — is not for everyone. But in his age-34 (now age-35) season, Paul has somehow managed to improve every month throughout the season, and his aging like fine wine is the biggest reason the Thunder boast the league’s second-best record since Thanksgiving.

This particular vintage has quite a kick to it, but don’t be surprised if two weeks from now we’re all getting drunk on OKC snagging home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, when most of these Sober Sallys thought they’d ship the whole bottle out before the trade deadline.

Get The Whiteboard delivered daily to your email inbox. light. SUBSCRIBE


Which four role players could swing a playoff series in the Western Conference? Our own Ben Ladner took a look.

Syntax aside, LeBron James is correct about his assessment of Donald Trump’s support of the NBA.

Some of you owe Carmelo Anthony an apology after finally embracing his role in Portland.