Chris Paul Is a Strange Fit With the Houston Rockets
The NBA offseason remains unmatched in awesomeness among offseasons in professional sports.
That's just the way that it is when stuff like this gets dropped on a Wednesday around noon.
After Chris Paul agreed to opt-in on contract, Clippers are trading All-Star guard to the Houston Rockets, league sources tell @TheVertical
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) June 28, 2017
That'll do it.
And No, It's Not Just James Harden
You can make all the jokes you want about there being only one ball or that James Harden and Paul can't have the ball at the same time or whichever other version of the wisecrack you most prefer, but that's not really a problem -- not the main problem, at least.
While it's true that Paul is a ball-dominant player and that Harden excelled in his (apparently) lone season as a point guard, there's enough to go around between the two of them.
And even in terms of sheer "ball dominance," there probably isn't as much need for worry as you might think. Harden did tie for 5th in average time per touch (5.40 seconds) this past season, but Paul (4.98 seconds) was just 24th among players with at least 10 games and 20 minutes per game.
Paul was actually 4th in 2015-16 (5.52 seconds) when the Los Angeles Clippers played the majority of the season without Blake Griffin, yet even then, Paul posted a usage rate of just 26.9%, same as Andrew Wiggins and tied for 33rd in the NBA.
Oh, and before Harden became the point guard for Houston, he averaged 4.43 seconds per touch in 2015-16, which ranked outside the top 40.
Further, Paul understandably had few catch-and-shoot opportunities in his 61 games last year, but he produced a 69.1% effective field goal percentage on his 76 attempts, second-highest among 268 players with at least 75 attempts.
Harden ranked 54th (57.2% on 194 catch-and-shoot field goals) among 148 players with at least 175 attempts. On 257 attempts in 2015-16, he shot 60.3%, 12th-best, and converted 41.0% of his catch-and-shoot threes.
Let's just not pretend like each player is completely lost without the ball in their hands.
Yes, both players need the ball as all offensive playmakers do, but Paul has a surprisingly low usage rate for his reputation, and Harden has played the bulk of his career as a shooting guard. And let's not forget that we just saw Kevin Durant take a 30.5% usage rate with the Oklahoma City Thunder and transition to the Golden State Warriors just fine.
It's the Mid-Range Game That's Concerning
The Rockets are allergic to mid-range shots; it's just their style.
In 2016-17, just 4.4% of their scoring came from mid-range attempts, easily the lowest in the league. The Brooklyn Nets (7.9%) were the only other team below 10% in that category. In 2015-16, that mark for Houston was just 7.8%, making them the only team below 10%. The same was the case in both 2013-14 and 2014-15 (5.7% each year). You get the picture by now.
Among 116 guards with at least 20 minutes per game, Paul ranked third in mid-range market share (29.7% of his scoring came from mid-range shots) and just narrowly missed being the most mid-range-reliant guard in the league (30.6% of Ish Smith's scoring and 30.5% of DeMar DeRozan's were mid-range buckets).
Now, Paul has shot at least 35% on three-point attempts in 10 of 11 seasons since his rookie year, so that fits in well with the most three-point-dependent team in the Association, but it's fair to wonder what will happen to Paul's elite mid-range game (he has ranked top-12 in mid-range field goal percentage every year since 2011-12) when he joins the Mike D'Antoni system.
From 2004-05 to 2007-08, D'Antoni ran an offense that saw Amar'e Stoudemire maintain usage rates of 28.6%, 27.7%, 25.6%, and 28.2% and Steve Nash produce marks of 20.5%, 23.3%, 22.8%, and 21.8% -- before even accounting for Shawn Marion hovering around 20% while he was there.
We've seen Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook each rank top 10 in usage rate for a 55-win Thunder team in 2015-16. And again, we've seen the best team of all time absorb the high-usage Durant in a pretty seamless fashion this past season.
Paul and Harden will almost assuredly figure out how to play with one another, especially with their ability to convert catch-and-shoot opportunities and to create for one another. And especially if D'Antoni, you know, staggers their minutes (seems easy enough).
But bringing in a mid-range guru for the most three-or-rim team in NBA history remains the most head-scratching part of the deal. Perhaps there are more deals to come that will shed light on it all, but Paul remains -- undeniably -- an odd choice to run point for the Rockets.