To win big in today’s NBA landscape, general managers realize the need for a team full of All-NBA ballers. The Houston Rockets’ arranged hardwood marriage of Chris Paul and James Harden could be a high-risk, high-reward maneuver. However, the synergy between two players with overlapping strengths deserves scrutiny.
Harden and Paul both flourish as the top two pick-and-roll creators in basketball, which could create tenuous situations:
It’s the fourth quarter, 58 seconds left, and Houston trails by two in their regular season opener.
Out of timeouts, D’Antoni gives them the signal to initiate the offense with a pick and roll. CP3 and Harden lock eyes, nod at each other and simultaneously shout the same directions: “You set the screen, and I’ll handle the rock.” An argument ensues; the shot clock runs out. They continue their confrontation until they’re grappling with one another at midcourt and getting hauled into the tunnel toward the locker room shouting obscenities at one another.
That’s an extreme scenario, but not every hardwood partnership begins as smoothly as Durant’s integration into Golden State’s egalitarian system.
Playing the brand of basketball that makes them stars while remaining cognizant of encroaching on your teammate’s territory is a tricky balancing act. Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins failed to make up any ground in the Western Conference after the All-Star break. There’s only so much space on the floor and only one ball, which forces the other to play an unnatural role.
Harden and Paul should aspire to emulate the vintage Knicks Rolls Royce backcourt of Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and Clyde Frazier. After Monroe was traded by the Bullets to their rival Knicks, there were doubts about whether Monroe’s slick ball-dominant swagger could assimilate alongside Frazier. Those questions were answered promptly. Monroe’s scoring took a dive, but in their inaugural season, New York reached the NBA Finals. By year two, they were NBA champions.
harden and paul should aspire to emulate the vintage knicks backcourt of earl "the pearl" monroe and clyde frazier.
Analytics are cold and unemotional. They can’t take into account the crucial personality traits that can unite a team or divide it. What works on NBA 2k17 may immolate in reality.
Paul’s workplace relationships with Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Glen Davis, and various teammates were contaminated by his demand for perfection. Eventually, morale in Lob City plummeted and wasn’t righted until Jordan agreed to the framework of a four-year deal with the Mavs to escape Paul’s Chernobyl temper.
When you factor CP3’s Napoleon Complex (by NBA size standards) into a combustible locker room that includes stubborn mad scientist Mike D’Antoni and a mercurial two-time runner-up for MVP, the upcoming campaign has the potential to be a hand grenade wrapped inside a clenched fist.
D’Antoni prefers to run at a frenetic pace that keeps the opposing defense on its heels. He despised Carmelo for his ball-stopping tendencies and never saw eye to eye with Kobe. Alternatively, this would only be the second time in Paul’s career that he’s directed an offense ranked higher than 14th in pace. Paul’s instincts are to micromanage and bark orders until he identifies a lapse in the defense to exploit.
He’s also the NBA’s most prolific midrange scorer off the dribble. Considering Houston abandoned the analog midrange field goal to go all in on treys and paint buckets, Paul may have to undergo an intense deprogramming through the fall.
Similarly, Harden’s reaction to being relegated to the off-guard position will dictate the fate of this partnership. For half a decade, the Rockets’ offense has been an action thriller produced by James Harden, directed by James Harden, starring James Harden for James Harden Studios. Harden was assisted on only 18 percent of his field goals in the regular season and 12 percent in the playoffs. Harden is the headliner, but Paul is a scene-stealer. He’s not giving up ball handling duties.
Yet, there are a slew of basketball reasons this could be a mutually beneficial partnership.
For one, the beef between Paul and Jordan was slightly overblown. Jordan’s free agency saga came on the heels of a crushing seven-game elimination at the hands of Houston in a series they led 3-1. (Funny how that always happens; call it the 3-1 curse.) Since then, Paul and Jordan connected on a multitude of alley-oops and were amicable enough to work together as State Farm’s top comedic duo.
Second, it’ll take some of the offensive burden off Harden’s shoulders. Steve Nash was never expected to lead the Phoenix Suns in
last season harden wrestled away george mcginnis' 40-year grip on the single-season turnovers record.
scoring and assists, much less the entire league like Harden nearly did, during the Seven Seconds or Less era. Harden also wrestled away George McGinnis’ 40-year grip on the single-season turnovers record. Conversely, Paul’s assist-to-turnover ratio was the best among starters and third overall. Harden’s was 100th.
To the surprise of most, Paul actually ranks outside the top 40 in usage rate. He shot career-highs in 3-point field goal percentage and attempts. Harden and Paul will have their minutes staggered so that one will spend a significant amount of time operating the offense while the other charges like an iPhone on the bench. Harden will no longer be relied upon to play the NBA’s third most minutes.
There will be rough patches, but ultimately the Rockets should emerge with a more intimidating playoff posture. Most important, they finally have a legitimate path into the NBA’s upper echelon in their reach.