Can the James Harden–Chris Paul coalition turn into the NBA’s best backcourt this season?
The Kyrie Irving–Isaiah Thomas trade has captured most of the NBA world’s attention as we embark on the beginning of training camp. But perhaps the Houston Rockets acquisition of Chris Paul was still the best move of the offseason.
Not only did ESPN rank the addition of Chris Paul as the best of the offseason, but they also placed him ahead of James Harden in their annual #NBArank.
Paul finished seventh on the list, placing one position higher than his new teammate, who got the eighth spot. This ranking will definitely raise some eyebrows, because the common sentiment is that the Rockets are James Harden’s team.
Last season, Harden led the league in assists and trailed only Russell Westbrook in points. The MVP runner-up also scored and assisted on 2,000 points, becoming the first player in NBA history to do so.
ESPN gave Paul the nod because of his elite defense, here is their full explanation.
“How Paul and James Harden jibe on the offensive end will be under the microscope all season, but it’s worth noting that Paul is the only point guard who’s a defensive upgrade over Patrick Beverley, who finished second among point guards in defensive RPM. The gap between Paul and Beverley is the same as the gap between Beverley and the 20th-ranked defensive point guard.”
Chris Paul led all point guards in both real plus-minus and defensive real plus-minus. Paul’s defensive RPM mark of 2.76 doubled Patrick Beverley’s 1.37, who finished second place in defensive RPM among point guards. CP3 sets a high mark in both traditional and advanced statistics, but I’d still give Harden the edge.
Do the Houston Rockets have the best backcourt?
Sports Illustrated also ranked Chris Paul and James Harden in the top ten, making them the only backcourt teammates to finish in the top ten on either list. So, that brings up one question: Do the Rocket’s have the league’s best backcourt?
The Rockets have the only two backcourt players that could be the best player on a great NBA team. Although the Clippers underperformed in the postseason year after year, they still won at least 50 games in five consecutive seasons. They failed to put together a deep playoff run in large part because of Paul and Blake Griffin‘s untimely injuries, not because of Paul’s inability to lead a team.
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I don’t think that either player in any other backcourt could lead a team near the top of the standings. John Wall and Bradley Beal are great, but could Beal lead a team to a top five NBA record? I doubt it.
We can say the same thing for Kyle Lowry, C.J. McCollum or Jeff Teague who joins Jimmy Butler in Minnesota. The same logic applies even with the defending champions’ backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Klay is certainly good enough to lead his own franchise, but I don’t think he’s talented enough to be the best player on a contending team.
Chris Paul and James Harden are certainly the most individually talented backcourt in the NBA. The only factor that could hold this dynamic duo back is chemistry. These superstars are at their best with the ball in their hands surrounded by spot up shooters.
But each player excels as a catch-and-shoot player too. Last season, Paul made 50.0 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3’s and Harden converted on 38.9 percent. They should be just fine chemistry wise, and that’s why James Harden and Chris Paul will turn into the NBA’s best backcourt.