Chris Paul to Houston: What it means in the West

Chris Paul certainly gives Houston a new look, but are they contenders?

In an article published by Zach Lowe on ESPN.com two weeks ago, Rockets GM Daryl Morey told Lowe “We have something up our sleeve.”  He came through on that promise today by reportedly agreeing to trade seven players and a first round pick to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Chris Paul.  In an era dominated by super teams, Morey knows that in order to have any chance of topping the Warriors, the Rockets need multiple stars.  Chris Paul gives Houston their second star, but how much will he actually help them?

The Harden-Paul fit is somewhat awkward.  They’re both dominant pick and roll ball handlers who create great shots for themselves and their teammates. With only one basketball, does CP3 become a glorified version of Patrick Beverly on offense, spotting up on the perimeter while Harden runs pick and roll?  Defensively, Paul would be an upgrade over almost every point guard in the league, but Beverly was the other guard on first team all NBA defense this year.  So if the trade barely moves the needle for Houston offensively, and is essentially a wash defensively, how does it help them?

The Cavs, Thunder, and Rockets all suffered from the same problem this postseason.  Their teams hung tough when LeBron, Westbrook, and Harden played, but their opponents seemed to go on a 12-0 run if their coaches took them out for even a few minutes.  It created a catch-22: they could either not rest the stars and risk fatigue (as we saw LeBron tire out during 4th quarters in the Finals), or rest them and risk falling behind by large margins (as we saw happen to the Thunder).

Houston’s offense scored 113.6 points per hundred possessions with Harden on the floor this year, which is 0.4 points better than the Warriors’ greatest offense of all time.  When he sat, that number dipped to 106.6 – almost exactly league average.  This is where the addition of CP3 will be key.  If Houston coach Mike D’Antoni staggers their minutes so that either Harden or Paul is always on the floor, they will never have to play with an average offensive unit.  They can avoid them problem that plagued them, the Thunder, and the Cavs.

Despite the criticism, Mike D’Antoni says his offense works better with two point guards

Will it be enough to beat the Warriors?  Almost certainly not, barring injury.  But there is another way that this trade could help Houston get over the top.  Houston is now just one star away from boasting its own “Big 3”.  With stars always looking to play with each other, Houston just joined San Antonio as the only other team in the West that can claim they are one player away from beating the Warriors.  Maybe Morey has something else up his sleeve.

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