There were nights last year when it looked as if the Rockets had cracked the code to basketball. They let James Harden run wild as a point guard and surrounded him with shooters bombing threes. The Vegas over-under for last year's Rockets was 41.5 wins. They finished with 55.
The problem was the playoffs—or, more specifically, the Spurs. They ceded the middle of the key, protected the rim and smothered the three-point line. Houston had no answers.
Enter Chris Paul, the nine-time All-Star point guard from the Clippers. Paul attemped 5.3 midrange shots per game—just 1.8 fewer than the Rockets averaged. He'll not only diversify the offense but also absorb a good amount of Harden's playmaking load to keep the Beard fresh for the stretch run. That's how it should work in theory, anyway.
Reality could be more complicated for Paul and Harden, two players used to total control of an offense. A year ago the Rockets found a formula for regular-season success that would have kept them relevant for years. And then they traded half the roster to go all-in for something more.
COACH MIKE D'ANTONI
(2nd season with Rockets)
2016--17 RECORD 55--27
(2nd in Southwest)
7 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
PG CHRIS PAUL [NEW ACQUISITION]
18.1 PPG; 9.2 APG; 47.6 FG%; 41.1 3FG%
5 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
SG JAMES HARDEN
29.1 PPG; 11.2 APG; 44.0 FG%; 34.7 3FG%
62 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
SF TREVOR ARIZA
11.7 PPG; 5.7 RPG; 40.9 FG%; 34.4 3FG%
97 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
PF RYAN ANDERSON
13.6 PPG; 4.6 RPG; 41.8 FG%; 40.3 3FG%
58 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
C CLINT CAPELA
12.6 PPG; 8.1 RPG; 1.2 BPG; 64.3 FG%
83 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
SG ERIC GORDON
16.2 PPG; 2.5 APG; 40.6 FG%; 37.2 3FG%
SF LUC MBAH A MOUTE [NEW ACQUISITION]
6.1 PPG; 2.1 RPG; 50.5 FG%; 39.1 3FG%
9.1 PPG; 4.2 RPG; 1.0 APG; 61.7 FG%
• THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP HOUSTON
It's a knee-jerk reaction to think that if you add CHRIS PAUL, you can't get worse. But history shows you that if you don't find a way to integrate everything, these moves aren't going to have the desired result. That's one of the big question marks: Are Paul and JAMES HARDEN going to be able to mesh? ... Everything last year was predicated on Harden's breaking down the defense, but Paul needs the ball in his hands. It's going to be a big challenge. However, with MIKE D'ANTONI, there's so little stress on defense and you get so many possessions in their offense, maybe that's the way you get it done. The more offensive possessions there are, the more satisfied the guys can be.... CLINT CAPELA is never going to be a polished offensive player, but that fits the profile of the team: Only a few guys need to have plays run for them.... There are definite holes in RYAN ANDERSON's game. [But] how many stretch fours out there are good defenders and rebounders? ... The ability of P.J. TUCKER to reinvent himself as a shooter at this stage of his career is pretty rare. He's known as a good defender, and in this era of positionless basketball, he's not a wing or a four. He's just a player.... LUC MBAH A MOUTE is a great person and very aggressive defender. These are limited pieces, but personality-wise they can work. You surround your stars with accepting role players.... ERIC GORDON can give you 17 points per game right there. He's so laser-focused as a scorer—I'm gonna get my buckets, I'm gonna draw a foul, I'm gonna use my strength. I'm gonna rise up in your face.
TELLING 5.3 STATISTIC
If Harden and Paul make up for a depleted bench, a trip to the conference finals could be in the cards.