When the Houston Rockets shook up the NBA world by acquiring Chris Paul for Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Darrun Hilliard, DeAndre Liggins, Kyle Wiltjer, a protected first-round pick next year and cash considerations, it was widely considered to be the start of something bigger.
General Manager Daryl Morey went hard after then New York Knicks guard Carmelo Anthony in the hopes of creating a Big Three capable of competing with the Golden State Warriors and their juggernaut roster. Having given up most of the roster for Paul already, the Rockets didn’t have enough to sway the Knicks into accepting a deal.
Ryan Anderson was the biggest piece Morey could offer, and in the end he had to go after third and fourth teams to try and make something happen, but it was not to be. Melo would end up being traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have created a formidable Big Three of their own with Russell Westbrook and Paul George.
As a lifelong Rockets fan, I can tell you I was pretty devastated. Not that I thought the combination of Harden, Paul, Anthony and role players would be enough to take down the Warriors, but the thought of Anthony turning into Olympics Melo and playing stretch four like we all know he can gave me hope that at least the Warriors would sweat a series against Houston.
Plus, at the time, I was buying into the addition by subtraction subplot that seemed to be emanating from the Paul-less Los Angeles Clippers. Soon after the trade, Blake Griffin signed a max contract after many assumed he would leave for a contender. Those close to the organization believe Paul is hard on his teammates and can sometimes be a pain to play with.
Plus, losing a guy like Beverley is never fun for a fan.
It all added up to skepticism. Can the Rockets really make this work? Can two ball-dominant players co-exist? Will James Harden agree to handling the ball less? Will he even need to?
So far this season, the duo is on fire together. Unfortunately Paul was lost for 14 games with a bruised left knee, but in the seven games they’ve played together the experiment has produced like gangbusters.
In those seven games, the prolific point guard is averaging 11 points, 10.3 assists and two steals per game. Perhaps even more astonishing: he has only committed eight turnovers in total. Houston is averaging 120.9 points and outscoring opponents by an average of 18.4 points per game when he plays.
Paul has clearly accepted his role on the team. He has a couple of awful shooting nights that has dwarfed his shooting percentages, but the perennial All-Star is only taking 9.3 shots per game, by far the lowest of his career. He also has a 50.8% three point tendency (percent of shots that are a three-pointer), which represents a 12% increase than his previous high. Cp3 has bought in.
He is perfectly content running the offense in a split-share with Harden and being a distributor to the Rockets’ bevy of three point shooters and screen rollers. He is assisting on a ridiculous 51.8% of the assists while he’s on the floor, a number almost reaching his career high, despite having a career low usage rate of 17.5%. Yes, he is somehow still averaging double digit assists despite what amounts to a very average usage rate.
Albeit in a small sample size, he has a net rating of +35.7 (136.4 off, 100.7 def) and the Rockets are 7-0 in the games he has played, with wins over the Warriors in Oakland and the upstart Denver Nuggets. Therein lies the only issue, in Paul’s limited action the Rockets have not played many playoff contenders.
It’s hard to argue with results. The Rockets are 17-4, 1.5 games ahead of the Warriors in first place through a quarter of the season. Chris Paul is a major reason for that.