Months after he signed a $160 million contract to remain the point guard of the Houston Rockets until 2022, (when he will be 37 years old), injuries have interfered with Chris Paul’s ability to play.
Throughout Paul’s career, hamstring injuries have slowed him down at the worst possible time and his current hamstring trouble is no exception. The Rockets have no depth. Much has been written about the loss of key personnel over the summer of 2018 creating a woeful imbalance of James Harden and Chris Paul, and then everyone else.
Without Paul (an evaluation in two weeks), the Rockets will depend on James Harden’s MVP tricks and James Harden pick and roll game with Clint Capela and Nene, with games such as the Thunder, Celtics, Warriors, Blazers and Bucks coming up.
Before Paul’s injury, it had already been a tough going for the Rockets, and without Paul, the Rockets are vulnerable facing elite and very good teams who have two stars, while the Rockets have one. This season has been a Houston nightmare.
They are 24th in field goal percentage, 26th in rebounding, 27th in field goal percentage defense, 29th in pace, 27th in defensive rating.
Last season, they were 15th in field goal percentage, 16th in rebounding, 18th in field goal percentage defense, 13th in pace, 6th in defensive rating. The Rockets have crashed.
As if the Rockets haven’t been dismal enough, like a bad riddle repeated over and over and boring after the 20th time, Chris Paul has had his own issues. Career low shooting, His 3-ball has not been this bad since year two of the Paul career. His rebounds are a seven year low making you wonder if age has caught up with his legs and he just doesn’t have the mobility. Career low in scoring.
The Rockets cannot endure a mediocre he-is-old-now Chris Paul. They paid him as if he was an impact player but he’s not having much of an impact except when he is not playing, the Rockets are wounded.
They needed to make a move to boost their confidence. They signed Austin Rivers.
A former teammate, Paul reportedly had issues with Austin Rivers, an often moody and edgy player. In particular, why was he still in L.A. when the Clippers could have traded Austin to the Knicks for Carmelo Anthony?
Paul and Austin’s father (Doc Rivers) never saw eye to eye at the end of the Clipper train wreck, and although [Austin] Rivers wasn’t the center object of all things going wrong in L.A, he was a (or the) example of what Paul thought was dysfunctional with the Clippers.
They favored Austin because of who his father was instead of trying to make the Clippers better. In the Clippers defense, Carmelo, when the Austin-Carmelo trade rumors were percolating, was not in his prime anymore. He would have added offense but no defense and the Clippers would be where the Clippers always are, on the outside looking in.
But here’s the truth. Austin Rivers was a convenient Chris Paul scapegoat. Like a patient with multiple diseases, the Clips had other problems that kept them from getting past the Warriors. One of those problems being Chris Paul himself. He plays too slow in a Steph Curry conference.
Actually, Rivers isn’t a bad pickup for a desperate Rockets team, although his Washington numbers were pathetic (39%, 31% from 3). Rivers has a chip on his shoulder for obvious reasons. Everyone thinks he got to where he is, a NBA journeyman player, because of his last name. No one really respects his game.
But. What is his game?
He can slash to the rim, make an open three, sometimes guard his man. That’s about it. He doesn’t really rebound and is not anyone’s version of a scorer. He’s the type of player that plays well with veterans who have their mind right and not that soap opera in Washington. He’ll play well under D’Antoni even if he doesn’t have the D’Antoni skill set. He’s not a bomb thrower. But he doesn’t dominate the ball either. The Rockets are not privileged enough to be greedy. The pickings were slim.
Paul and Rivers will hash it out and possibly laugh about their time playing for Doc. Rivers isn’t that fond of his father either. Off the court, Doc and Austin’s relationship is strained, according to the son. More importantly for Austin, he has a moment to show he can make an impact on a team who needs a point guard.
He cannot be Chris Paul. But he can do things to keep the offense going, like shoot it or move it, legitimize players who just stand there like a mummy and watch James Harden step back all of us into numbness. It’s a good move for him career wise. If the Rockets make it through this 3-week Chris Paul absence (or perhaps longer) Austin Rivers will be credited. If the Rockets go into the tank, well, that was supposed to happen.
Austin Rivers has no pressure other than being Doc’s son. Chris Paul has all the pressure as he coaches from the sidelines. That contract and his body are not mutually exclusive. One may be broken while the other has a lot of zeros deposited in the bank.