Chris Paul has been a premier point guard in the NBA virtually since he came into the league. To this day some still say he is the most “true” point guard in the league nowadays; considering that many guards like Russell Westbrook and Stephen Curry seem to be more focused on scoring than anything else. But how does a true point guard, (one that handles the ball, calls the plays, leads the team) fit in with the ever evolving game of a guard like James Harden?
James Harden has been evolving into different players his entire career. When he began with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he was thought of as a role player and a sixth man spark similar to Lou Williams or Jamal Crawford. Once Harden was given the opportunity to expand his game with the Houston Rockets, he became an extremely dominant scorer as a starting shooting guard. Most recently Harden has been paired with the uptempo system of Mike Dantoni and that has only further expanded his game. Last season Harden had a historically efficient season…as a point guard.
Let’s look at the stats:
When Harden left the Thunder he was averaging 16.1ppg, 4.1rpg, 3.7apg in 31.4mpg.
After 2 seasons with the Rockets he was averaging 25.4ppg, 4.7rpg, 6.1apg in 38mpg.
Last season as a point guard Harden was averaging 29.1ppg, 8.1rpg, 11.2apg in 36.4mpg.
As you can see, Harden has gotten substantially more effective as his career progresses and seems to keep improving. In this past season, when Harden was utilized as a point guard instead of a shooting guard, he nearly doubled his assist and rebounding numbers while scoring just under 30 points per game. He managed to average a career high in all major statistical categories, while playing less minutes.
It seems as if Coach Mike Dantoni has unlocked Harden’s plethora of skills through his uptempo offense and high usage rate. But what does this have to do with Chris Paul?
Adding Chris Paul seems great on paper… add a 9x all star who can shoot, defend, handle it and lead a team. But adding Chris Paul is surely to take away from James Harden’s efficiency.
Chris Paul is a ball handling play maker who needs the ball in his hands to make a play; at least that is what he has shown throughout his career so far. He likes to use a lot of ball screens and “run the offense”. Similarly, Harden needs the ball in his hands to be effective and likes to play uptempo.
Is there enough ball to go around?
There might be. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum provide a perfect example of two ball dominant guards playing together. You could argue that they have succeeded in coexisting, but since they do not seem to be even close to contending for the Western Conference Finals, let alone Championship contenders, I am going to say that they have a lot of work to do.
Quite frankly, Harden seems to be getting better and more efficient every season, while Chris Paul is 32 years old and clearly his best years are behind him.
By adding Chris Paul, all the Rockets are doing is taking away from James Harden. Every time Chris Paul is methodically running the offense, James Harden could have taken the ball coast to coast for a pull up three.
Chris Paul’s style that has made him so effective in the league is completely contrary to Mike Dantoni’s system and the way James Harden likes to play. Paul will have to speed up his game and quickly change up the style of play he has worked his entire career to perfect.
The Rockets would have been much better off getting a player who doesn’t always require the ball in his hands to be effective and can easily coexist alongside Harden, someone like Paul George.
Either way, the Rockets got what they wanted. They got their “big name” player and now have to make it work. But even if it does work out… will ball handling 50% by James Harden and 50% by Chris Paul be better than 100% ball handling by James Harden? In today’s NBA, I think not.