Last year, the Houston Rockets went 55-27 and finished 3rd in the Western Conference They were led by MVP candidate James Harden who averaged 29.1 points, 11.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds per game which lead the team in every category. The Rockets had a disappointing end to their season when they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in six games, including the blow out in the final game at home 114-75. The Rockets were left looking for answers on how to compete, and surpass the Spurs and Warriors.
In a league that is dominated by these “Super Teams”, it was clear to the Rockets they needed to add another superstar talent to play along with James Harden. The Rockets found that answer in a big way by trading for All-Star PG Chris Paul from the Los Angles Clippers. The Rockets sent a big load in return for Paul, trading away Patrick Beverly, Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, Darrun Hillard, DeAndre Liggins, Kyle Wiltjer, and 2018 protected first round pick. The Rockets traded away a lot of key players from the 2016 team but were able to keep their starting lineup intact with Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, Clint Capela, and 6th man Eric Gordon, to go along with their dynamic backcourt duo of Harden/Paul. But how does the new pair match up with other top backcourts in the NBA, including the “Splash Bros”?
The deadliest backcourt in the NBA?
The addition of Chris Paul in Houston makes for one of the scariest backcourts in the entire NBA and is a matchup nightmare for the entire league. Across the league, there are backcourts in the East such as John Wall/Bradley Beal in Washington, or the Raptors Kyle Lowry/DeMar DeRozan. Some of the best young guard tandems in the West are the Suns Devin Booker/Eric Bledsoe, and the Blazers Damien Lillard/C.J. McCollum, who can all light up the stat sheet at any given night. But I think Chris Paul and Harden together, and their ability to be able to score from anywhere on the court and create their own shot at any time. Their ability to handle the ball, and open up space for their teammates, separates them from almost every backcourt in the NBA.
I say almost because the Golden State Warriors have 2-time MVP Steph Curry and All-NBA SG Klay Thompson, who is the best spot up 3-point shooter in the league and can torch you on any given night. Here is a closer look at how the new look Rockets match up with the defending champions.
Can Chris Paul evaluate the Rockets to Championship status?
On opening night, the Warriors opened their season at home vs the Rockets, and we saw the debut of Chris Paul. Houston stole one on the road 122-121 after Kevin Durant’s game-winning buzzer beater was waved off due to time expiring. Paul struggled shooting scoring just four points, going 2-9 from the field and 0-4 beyond the 3PT line. One thing that didn’t change for Paul is his ability to find the open man, as he had 11 assists, to go along with eight rebounds.
The addition of Paul showed it won’t take away from Harden’s game as he finished with 27 points, 10 assists, and six rebounds. I think it is clear it will take time for things to develop in Houston, as Paul tries to get acclimated to the offense and how to play with another dominant ball handler. They will definitely be struggles throughout the season.
But the impact on the court was noticeable having both on the court together as it opened up things for the sharpshooters and playmakers around them. Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker had over 20 off the bench, and Mbah a Moute had 14 as well. They all shot above 50% from the field due to good open looks because of the great ball handling ability of Paul, and the overcompensation to try and contain Harden.
Come playoff time, I fully expect this Rockets team to be clicking on all cylinders and will be in a position to take down the Warriors, led by their new veteran presence who is desperate to win a title, Chris Paul.
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