Chris Paul makes his debut in Phoenix tonight and he will be very efficient because it is Phoenix. Tonight is one of those dip the toe in cold water things where you won’t learn anything. I expect Paul to look great. Phoenix doesn’t play a lick of defense and they are bad at just about everything except feeding Devin Booker the ball. Against a severely young team without veterans- and no Tyson Chandler doesn’t count, he’s just cashing a check- the Rockets will have their way. It is not the lottery teams who trot out young, inexperienced players that you can judge the Paul-Harden tandem by.
The Rockets have a month to get the chemistry down, specifically to figure out if Paul is going to abandon the way he has played his entire career. Paul says he is tired of having the offense be all about him, acting like a conductor with incessant dribbling while players get to their spots. But after the novelty wears off, is he going to like being a spot up shooter for long stretches?
You can bet on this. Paul will take more threes this year than he has ever attempted in a single season. This is D’Antoni ball. Consider that the player he is pushing to the bench by his return, Eric Gordon, who by the way is having a career year, attempted 600 threes last year. Paul has attempted 600 threes the last two years combined.
|Eric Gordon 2016-17||661||246||37.2%|
|Chris Paul 2015-17||632||246||38.9%|
As great a talent as Chris is, he’s never been to a conference final and he played with another All-Star in Blake Griffin so some back up the brakes is necessary. The Rockets have been in a nice groove without him. Actually, more than nice.
They are third in scoring and rebounding. They have won 6 out of their last 7 games by an average margin of 17 points. Six wins in a row and they went to the line 24 times, averaged 10 steals. The Rockets own the third best record, only the Celtics and Warriors have been better this year. So how is Chris Paul going to make the Rockets better?
He is not. He is going to make them a deeper team, a smarter team, a more versatile team, a higher I.Q. team. The Rockets bench, with Eric Gordon on it, will become more lethal as a weapon. D’Antoni can really play combinations. Chris can take over the offense and finish and allow Harden to be the scorer extraordinaire he is. Harden can take over the playmaking and allow Chris to drain his efficient midrange jumpers; yes D’Antoni hates them but that is what you get when you sign Chris Paul. One more thing too. With an additional creator, playmaker and scorer, D’Antoni can cut minutes down so at the end of the season Harden and Paul aren’t fatigued by all that three point shot making.
Chris Paul is smart. Whatever adjustments he has to make he will. He has the talent and the acumen to play off of Harden or he can play effectively with the second unit. But it is still going to be a work in progress.
One of the problems OKC is having is it feels like they are taking turns and not an organic offensive unit. It looks like they haven’t played with each other and the same may happen in these early days as Harden and Chris try to figure it out.
Harden is following up his almost MVP year with a monster beginning. He is throwing out so many dimes it makes you dizzy. He is the second leading scorer, the leader in Real Plus-Minus, fourth in PER. How many times can we say this about Harden. He is the leader for MVP. Well, him and Giannis. But Harden will have a better record than the Greek Freak and he’s been snubbed so many times, this just may be his year.
That is, if Chris Paul doesn’t take it away from him.
Harden now, has to do less and Chris Paul just has to do something. There is no pressure on Harden or the rest of the Rockets. They are a top four seed contending team without Chris Paul. They just completed a six game winning streak. Chris Paul gives the Rockets more leadership and more scoring and a hell of a lot of toughness and veteran experience and just guts.
In Los Angeles, when the Chris Paul-ettes failed to advance in the playoffs it was always someone else who was blamed. Paul was untouchable. In Houston there will be a honeymoon until the Rockets play the Spurs, Celtics and Warriors. Paul is supposed to make the Rockets better, more resilient. All the pressure is on him not to mess up the good thing Houston has going.
photo via llananba