"As long as (Paul) has that, there's no way he's going to get dumber or whatever. ... I'm telling you, he's going to be right there with (the all-time great guards)."
Paul's scoring (15.8 points per game) and field goal percentage (41.9) are at career-low levels, but there's no doubt that he has been a dominant force despite inconsistent shooting during the Rockets' recent surge.
That trend tracks to even before the current six-game winning streak started with a road win over the Warriors, when Paul had 23 points and 17 assists to lead Houston to a victory without Harden.
Paul is averaging 16.6 points, 9.9 assists and 5.6 rebounds in the past 11 games, which coincides with his minutes restriction being lifted following his recovery from the hamstring strain.
The Rockets' second unit, with Paul running the show, is dominating opposing benches again like it did last season. His net rating during that stretch is plus-11.7 points per 100 possessions, by far the best of Houston's starters.
Since Paul returned to the lineup on Jan. 27, the Rockets have an offensive efficiency of 117.1 when he is on the court and 106.4 when he is off the floor. And according to Second Spectrum, he has created 6.8 "wide open" looks per game for his teammates this season, most in the NBA (that number jumps to 7.4 since Jan. 27, which is also tops in the league during that span).
D'Antoni expresses complete confidence that Paul can continue starring deep into his 30s, much like high-IQ Hall of Fame point guards of the past such as Nash, John Stockton and Jason Kidd.
But one major difference between Paul and both Stockton and Kidd is that the men who rank first and second in NBA history in assists were remarkably durable deep into their careers.
Stockton missed a total of 22 games in his 19 years, playing every game — only 50 during the 1998-99 lockout season — in 17 different seasons.
When Kidd finally won a title at age 38 with the 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks, it marked the sixth straight year he played at least 80 games in the regular season.
Paul, on the other hand, missed 21 games in 2016-17, 24 last season and 23 (two to suspension) this season.
Rehashing that painful history is pointless for Paul, as relentless a competitor as there is in the NBA. His plan is simple: Keep putting in the work.
"One of the things I've always prided myself on is preparation," Paul says. "Freak accidents happen or whatnot. Injuries, they come and go. But preparation is about discipline.
I prepare myself every day, every day. If I prepare the way that I know that supposed to, whatever happens, happens."