“Houston, we’ve got a problem.”
Rockets fans everywhere are hoping that this famous quote doesn’t apply to their squad this year; James Harden and Chris Paul could arguably be the most talented back court in NBA history. The pairing of Harden and CP3 seems exciting, but I see some bumps and issues that could arise.
Let’s begin with the obvious: both players are ball dominant. This is the highest usage rate of any combined duo coming together. Both players ranked top 50 in usage rate in recent history; both have had one role for their respective teams, to create and dish out of the pick-and-roll.
Obviously there is only one ball in the game of basketball, and at least one has to compromise and alter their style of play. One of them has to make an adjustment where one can cater to the other. The big question is, who makes the adjustment? Harden was the runner-up in the 2017 MVP voting, just wrapped up arguably the best offensive season ever, and has been Houston’s franchise player since coming over from the Thunder in the summer of 2012.
How about the new guy Chris Paul, who has been ousted beforehand and stripped of a Western Conference Finals appearance. Meanwhile, Curry has been winning MVP awards and rings, and Westbrook has been on a historic triple double rampage. Thus making Chris Paul become forgotten among rankings of point guards.
Harden may be in a uncomfortable position, and the media and circle of basketball fans may not know about. Basically Harden led the league in assists and anchored the 2nd best offense all in his first year as a PG. Eventually he gets demoted and stripped from his PG duties due to Chris Paul joining.
Harden’s collapses like game six versus San Antonio are inevitable; so the solution is to bring in a player who’s been fairly criticized as a notorious playoff choker. Harden is supposedly and originally the point guard and had numerous successes with no problems running it.
Houston then has the gall to give Harden one of the highest paying contracts in history, sort of a present and make him feel better about a decreased basketball role. Harden went from being a franchise player, MVP runner-up, anchoring a tremendous offensive team, to another 3 point shooting cog in the offense.
Then aside from potential basketball conflicts, there could be personality conflicts. Harden’s collapse in game six versus Spurs or anything near it may not make Chris Paul happy. Harden shrinking when it matters most is inevitable and Paul is a perfectionist, he will drag everyone and push to the limit. Harden seems laid-back and cool-headed; Paul will snap if Harden loses his mental focus, this is an ugly pairing if that happens. A quintessential, serious and major gut check is needed.
Their supporting cast looks solid, including key shooters like Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon. Defenders like P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute, both of whom are not solid shooters bring their tough defense to the table. But Mike D’Antoni loves shooting 3’s and doesn’t even spell the word defense.
This may seem exciting on paper and highlights of Harden and Paul dominating the Drew League look fun to watch but this is the NBA. Ego checks and complex problem-solving issues need to be realistic for this combustible offensive pairing.