Before the season, we were of the opinion that Chris Paul would help the Rockets but we were skepitcal whether he was a perfect fit. James Harden is so ball dominant that it didn’t see another player of the same ilk could also thrive with him. Rather, we thought that Paul would decline a bit and become a complementary player. So far, the Rockets look really good and are 14-0 when Paul plays. How much of this do we attribute to Paul? Paul certainly helps but the Rockets aren’t exactly bad without him (10-4).
Let’s work backwards…first, why are the Rockets going from very good team to title contender? The Rockets massive overall improvement is primarily on defense, they jumped from 18th in the NBA to 6th (their offense has also improved a tad from 2nd to 1st). Paul’s defense looks pretty good but the primary defensive star has been Clint Capela, who has gone from decent defender (0.9 DBPM in 2016-17) to dominant this season (3.6 DPM). In addition, P.J Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute have been above average on defense. This is not to take away from Paul, who is sporting a gaudy 27.1 PER and a nice 1.4 DBPM. But Paul has missed too much time to get the majority of the credit for the defensive renewal. Moreover, Paul’s defensive stats are about in line with 2016-17 Patrick Beverley on defense anyway. It’s clear that Capela has led the charge for the defensive improvement and has been bolstered by the better defending wings and Paul.
As for Paul’s overall output, here’s how his stats look so far with Harden versus CP3’s last season in Los Angeles (he has played the same 31 mpg in both seasons):
-2016-17 in LA: 6.1-12.9 FGM/A (.476 FG%), 2.0-5.0 3FGM/A (.411%), 4.3 FTA, 5.0 RPG, 9.2 APG, 2.0 SPG, 2.4 TOPG, 18.1 PPG, 26.2 PER, 24.4 USG, 8.8 BPM, 5.3 VORP
-2017-18 in HOU: 6.1-12.5 FGM/A (.486 FG%), 2.6-6.0 3FGM/A (.429), 3.2 FGA, 5.1 RPG, 9.2 APG, 2.4 SPG, 2.4 TOPG, 17.6 PPG, 27.1 PER, 22.6 USG, 8.4 BPM, 1.2 VORP (projects to 7.0 VORP for 82 games)
Surprisingly, Paul’s stats are virtually in line with 2016-17. How he has gotten those number is slightly different though. With the help of Basketball-Reference.com, we find that Paul is shooting a few more threes at the expense of free throws but is otherwise as efficient as last season. Paul’s shot chart, shows the same subtle changes. He is taking only .535% of his shots from two point range, by far the lowest in his career (.765% career average). In addition, most of his two pointers are coming from 0-10 feet (.271%). Early in his career Paul got a ton of layups but he was at a career low in 2016-17. Well, he has arrested the decline in layups to reach his highest layup level since 2012-13. In addition, the layups he does shoot are made at a crazy high proficiency for a non-dunker (Paul has converted a career high .789% of layups versus a career average of .611 FG% from that range).
Another big change in approach for Paul is that he is shooting virtually no long twos. He has taken only .083% shots as long range twos (defined as two pointers 16 feet or greater). Previously, he has never shot fewer than .204% of his shot as long twos in (in his career, CP3 has averaged .246% of his shots from long twos per season).
Finally, .465% of his shots are from three, which is also, by far, a career high (his 2016-17 rate of .385% was also a career high). To make matters better, the high rate has not reduced efficiency. Paul is shooting a career high in percentage and most of the threes are unassisted. Basically, the Rockets have turned Paul into another one of their bomb squad with little decline in the rest of his game. Whether Paul can continue to shoot so well from three remains to be seen but he clearly is enjoying the space and pace that Houston has created for him to get wide open layups and pull up threes.