More Than a Scorer

Brandon Paul may not be scoring at his usual rate, but he's finding other ways to contribute to his team's success.

Brandon Paul missed three of his four first half shots Sunday against Northwestern, heading to the locker room at halftime with three points in 16 minutes of play.

There were also four rebounds and two assists to his credit, but the lack of scoring jumped out to media and fans alike.

Paul and his Fighting Illini teammates, however, didn't share any concerns outsiders may have had. Paul came out in the second half and didn't press for points. He didn't force shots. He stayed within the flow of the game and took what was there.

He attempted only two shots the rest of the game, finishing with eight points, six rebounds, five assists, a block and a steal. Following the 62-41 Illinois victory, Coach John Groce wasn't short on compliments, but he reserved the highest praise for Paul.

"I thought Brandon Paul had one of the best games he's had all season," he said.

"I thought it was as good as he's defended all year long. He was communicating. He was locked in, a really good all around game."

Paul's scoring has dipped lately, but it hasn't hurt the bottom line. The senior has posted at least 13 points in all but four games this season, three of which occurred in the three most recent games.

With the Illini currently on a four-game winning streak, Paul has found other ways to contribute.

According to Groce, he's playing at a higher level defensively. And with other teams focusing on his scoring ability, Paul is playing unselfishly on the offensive end to exploit the holes created by the extra attention.

"I know pretty much every Big Ten team does a lot of scouting," he said. "The defense is geared toward stopping me for the most part, and I know that's going to open the floor for other guys. When I come off screens I try to do my best to take care of the ball and look for the open read. I don't try to make the home run play that much, and I've got confidence in my guys to knock down open shots."

Despite the lower scoring numbers of late, Paul is still ranked fourth in the Big Ten at 16.4 points per game.

Needing only one point to reach 1,500 for his career, history clearly points to Paul as a scorer. That fellow senior Sam McLaurin would compare Paul to Kobe Bryant isn't all that surprising. It's the context in which McLaurin mentioned Paul and Bryant in the same sentence that could potentially catch some off guard.

"Yeah it's kind of like the Kobe deal. When the Lakers were struggling, next thing you know they reel off four wins in a row when Kobe started passing the ball," McLaurin said. "That's exactly what Brandon's done."

Paul first laughed off the association to the Lakers legend. Then he came clean about connecting the same dots.

"I was thinking about that the other day," he said. "A friend was telling me about that. I haven't been taking too many shots, but I just want to help my team in other ways, whether it's rebounding, getting steals or assists. Whatever I need to do."

Three different players – Paul, D.J. Richardson and Tyler Griffey – have led the Illini in scoring in at least one game during the winning streak. With the team playing as well as it has since winning the Maui Invitational in late November, the emergence, or in some cases reemergence, of those alongside Paul on the offensive end is encouraging according to McLaurin.

He says Paul is making the right decisions within the offense, which is opening up easier shot attempts for others and enabling the distribution of scoring.

That's not to say Paul is playing perfectly. He spent much of the Purdue game in foul trouble and had four turnovers versus Indiana. Even with the setbacks though, he's shown marked improvement that has Groce and his teammates raving about his all around game.

"I'll go set screens for him, and there's two people jumping out at him at all times," McLaurin said. "He's turning into more of a player, not so one dimensional with just scoring. He's doing everything.

"He knows where his shots are. He knows that they're going to be there. Coach wants him to take the shots that he's able to make, and Brandon's a good player. He can a make a lot of them. Right now he's doing it at the offensive and defensive end. That's making us better."

Seeking a second career appearance in the NCAA Tournament, Paul provides no hesitation when asked about his lack of scoring. This isn't a new role or something set in stone. It's merely what the recent past has presented the team with, and as long as wins are happening, Paul appears fine with deferring shots for the sake of a greater good.

"As long as I'm competing and helping my team win it means nothing to me," he said. "I really don't have to score. If we're winning at the end of the day that means we're doing something right. I'm far away from Kobe but I'm just trying to do a better job facilitating."

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