Why James Harden and Chris Paul have worked so well together

Photo by Nathaniel Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Nathaniel Butler/NBAE via Getty Images /

Many basketball analysts weren’t too optimistic about James Harden and Chris Paul teaming up in Houston, but the duo has been very successful so far. Here’s why.

When Chris Paul forced his way out of L.A. to join James Harden and the Rockets, many basketball analysts and TV personalities weren’t to fond of the back court pairing.

There were a lot of legitimate questions that continually rose to the surface. Who’s the leader of the team? How can two ball dominant point guards co-exist? Who takes the final shot? Who will defer more to the other? How will they deal with seeing a dip in their numbers? Can Harden and Paul have a big effect on the game without having the ball in their hands 24/7?

Halfway into the season, James Harden and Chris Paul have answered all of those questions. When they’re both on the floor together, Paul usually takes a back seat to Harden. Although, Paul seems to look for his shot more often in the second half.

A dip in their numbers? James Harden is averaging more points, field goal attempts and less turnovers than he did a season ago. CP3 is also jacking up more shots and thus averaging more points this season, and his assists numbers are barely below last year’s.

And who handles the ball in the clutch? Usually the rock goes to whoever is in rhythm. Houston’s only game-winning buzzer beater this year came against the Sixers back on Oct 25. Although, Eric Gordon made that shot, as he led the team in scoring that night.

At 34-12, the Rockets have the second best record in the NBA, second only to the guys in the Bay Area. James Harden and Chris Paul have experienced so much success thus far because winning is all that matters. It doesn’t matter how many points an individual scores or who scores the most points as long as the Rockets out score their opponents each and every night.

Chris Paul and Griffin didn’t have the most cozy relationship in Los Angeles. Likewise, Harden and Dwight Howard weren’t always on the same page in Houston. Paul and Harden understand the importance of genuine camaraderie among superstar teammates, because they’ve seen how frayed relationships at the top can infect an entire locker room.

In the NBA, everyone just wants to win. So if an individual calls out a teammate for lackluster play, he has to understand that it’s not personal. Chris Paul explained the importance of having off of the court relationships with teammates to Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated.

“If a guy is having real conversations with you, and then he comes at you during a game, you know it’s not personal. You know, if he goes nuts, it’s just because he’s trying to win.”

Harden, Paul and additional teammates from the team started building relationships over the summer. They did everything from playing pickup games together to going to Astros games during the World Series. When the season started, the team planned college football watch parties, and they even celebrated New Years together.

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Over the course of a long 82 game season, issues within the locker room are bound to arise. But since the team has gone through the grunt work of building deeper relationships, such problems won’t divide the entire locker room.

The best way to deal with issues between teammates is to squash them before it turns into something deeper, more personal. Paul might have experienced this in L.A. and Harden probably did with Howard. Paul is determined to keep issues from getting out of hand with the Rockets, as he told Lee Jenkins, “I’ve talked to James about all this. We can’t do it.”

Of course, the Rockets are only mid-way through the season, so there will be more adversity down the road. But Houston has responded well to trying times so far. They bounced back from a five game losing streak in December by winning seven of their last eight games here in January.

The only loss in the past eight games came against Paul’s former team, the Clippers. After the game, there was an incident in the Clippers locker room involving players from both teams. The original story casted Paul as some sort of mastermind that deliberated a planned attack on his old team. Of course, much of the article was full of falsehoods and over-exaggerations.

But what started a lot of the beef during the game was Chris Paul going after Blake Griffin for appearing to deliberately bump into Mike D’Antoni. Then, Trevor Ariza started to jaw at Griffin throughout the game to have Paul’s back, before they were both ejected.

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The moral of the story is that this team is on the same page, and everyone in that locker room is fighting for the next guy. There isn’t any finger-pointing during losing streaks or over inflated egos when the W’s are stacking up. This team’s only concern is winning, and they’ll do whatever is necessary to make it to The Finals.