Chris Paul Making Matt Barnes NBA's Most Improved Role Player

Maxwell Ogden@MaxwellOgdenCorrespondent IIIJanuary 11, 2013

Nov 21, 2012; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (right) talks to Clippers forward Matt Barnes during the second half against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena.  Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

With each passing NBA season, we bear witness to a new generation of NBA standouts. On a pleasant occasion, however, it is not the younger players that rise to new levels—it's the veterans.

This season, Chris Paul is transforming Matt Barnes into the NBA's most valuable role player.

Barnes is having a career year from both an offensive and defensive standpoint. The reason this is such an extraordinary breakthrough is that he is playing virtually the same amount of minutes as he had in recent seasons.

Over the past four seasons, Barnes has averaged 24.2 minutes per game. He's playing 26.5 in 2012-13.

Even still, Barnes is exceeding expectations. Now that's what you call improvement.

The question is, how is it that Barnes has become the NBA's most valuable role player? If it isn't a matter of his increase in playing time, what could have sparked this late-career improvement?

The answer can be found in three letters: CP3.

Discovering his Scoring Touch

It may have taken nine seasons, but Matt Barnes has finally found his scoring stroke.

The 32-year-old small forward is presently averaging a career-best 11.1 points per game. He's doing so on a slash line of .495/.360/.745.

Most impressive of all, Barnes has topped 15 points in eight separate games. That's the same number of times Barnes achieved said feat in 2011-12.

The difference is, Barnes has only played 35 games in 2012-13. He played 63 in 2011-12.

The reason for this sudden increase in offensive production is simple. For just the second time in his career, Barnes is playing alongside an elite facilitator.

The first time he did so was 2008-09, as Barnes averaged 10.2 points alongside Steve Nash with the Phoenix Suns—the only preceding season that he scored in double-figures.

Working with Chris Paul, Barnes is regularly placed in a position to score. As the numbers display, the veteran is converting.


Defensive Guru

This shouldn't surprise anyone, but Barnes continues to smother his opponents on defense.

Barnes, long known as one of the top man-to-man defenders in the NBA, stands at 6'7" with a 6'9" wingspan. He's agile from a lateral perspective and has long enough strides to make a difference vertically.

For the first time in his career, he's also become a ball hawk.

Barnes is averaging a career-best 1.3 steals per game. He's also posting a career-high average of 1.0 block per contest.

Barnes is the only full-time reserve to average at least 1.0 steal and 1.0 block simultaneously.

As the saying goes, the numbers never lie. Barnes has been the most defensively productive reserve in the NBA.

So how is it that Barnes is having the best season of his career in year 10? Trust and chemistry.

Two qualities that the team has embraced en route to their 28-8 start.

The Key is Chemistry

The Los Angeles Clippers have taken the NBA by storm. That statement needs no more evidence than the fact that they own an NBA-best record of 28-8.

They're also one of just two teams to simultaneously rank in the top 10 in both scoring offense and defense. The Oklahoma City Thunder are the only other franchise that qualifies.

According to Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles, that comes as a direct result of team chemistry.

"It matters," [Chris] Paul said when asked about chemistry. "It matters a lot when you really, truly care about somebody. You'll dive on the floor for them. You'll run through that screen for them. You really genuinely care how they feel. It just means a little bit more. When you win, you're genuinely happy. You'll go out to eat with your teammates after the game. You want to win for each other and not just for yourself."

That quote embodies what this team is all about.

No individual is more important than another in the Clippers' locker room. On the floor, there is no difference in that approach.

Which is exactly why Matt Barnes is thriving.

The Clippers are not a team defined by their championship aspirations or their undying desire to prove the world wrong. Instead, they're a team that simply loves to perform the art of basketball with one another.

In other words, Barnes has found his comfort zone.

Led by Paul, Barnes is consistently being placed in the positions that he is most likely to succeed. That applies to both the offensive and defensive end of the floor.

In turn, CP3 has made Barnes the NBA's most improved role player.


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