Richardson for three, Paul for three, Paul again for three….Illinois play-by-play announcer Brian Barnhart has been uttering those words a lot this year. This year’s Illinois squad is on pace to attempt 785 three point field goals, 174 more than last year. Until someone steps up and becomes the “playmaker” this team desperately needs, the Illini will be lucky to make the NCAA tournament. There's one guy who can fill that role, and that's senior guard Brandon Paul.
Paul leads the Illini this year averaging 18 points a game. That ranks second in the Big 10 only to Ohio State Junior Deshaun Thomas (20 ppg). While the numbers look “sexy,” his game is far from it. Paul is a former Illinois Mr. Basketball and one of the most talented players the Illini have had in years. From his highlight real dunks, to some of his killer crossovers, he has the ability to dominate. But there’s one major problem, Brandon plays soft.
With Brandon's size and strength, he can take anyone off the dribble in the Big 10. At 6’4 200 pounds, Paul is bigger than most shooting guards he matches up with. But he continues to sit on the perimeter and hoist threes. There is no reason when a player like Northwestern’s Alex Marcotullio is guarding him, that he should be settling for a three. This year, he’s already attempted 132 three point field goals. If he keeps up that pace, he will attempt 211 3’s on the year. With his athletic dominance, there is no way he should be shooting that many threes.
His game reminds me a lot of LeBron James during his days with the Cavaliers. The scouting report on James was to make him sit and settle for jumpers. If you could limit his driving ability, you had a great chance of beating him. James would get his points with the Cavaliers, but he never got his teammates involved and they would often become spectators. Once James went to Miami, LeBron no longer settled for jumpers. He now drives with authority and has become an unstoppable force. While Paul isn’t nearly as talented as James, in the Big 10, he can play the same role. The Illini need Paul to become the Miami version of James, not the Cleveland one.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier with upcoming games against ranked Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, and Minnesota. With inferior talent guarding him, Paul needs to start taking the ball to the hoop more. With his strength and athleticism, Paul should be making a living at the free throw line. The time is now for Paul to put this team on his back and become the playmaker he can be. The sky’s the limit for this Illini squad if he does.