Even though James Harden is the best player on the team, the Rockets will only go as far as Chris Paul’s leadership takes them.
For years the Houston Rockets were always missing something. It wasn’t an All-Star to pair with James Harden because they had Dwight Howard, or was it an extra ball handler because they had Jeremy Lin and Ty Lawson. Finally, last summer, the Rockets acquired it: Chris Paul, the leader.
The nine-time All-Star and one of the best point guards ever to play basketball, helped guide the Rockets to a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference Finals. Unfortunately, his hamstring had other plans. The Rockets not only missed the player in Paul, they searched and couldn’t find the leader they desperately needed during the second half of games six and seven. In the series before, we saw Paul will the Rockets to victory after being down late in the third quarter during game five against the Utah Jazz. That was the leader in Paul putting the team on his back when the best player Harden, couldn’t get anything going.
Charles Barkley has several times called Paul the best leader in the league. Even Spurs coach Greg Popovich had high praises for Paul before they played the Rockets last December.
“You’re not going to find a better leader, tougher competitor than Chris Paul. Nobody can guard James Harden. That’s a good problem…..They’re (Rockets) a monster. No doubt about it.” – Coach Gregg Popovich on James Harden and Chris Paul pregame. #Rockets pic.twitter.com/uyFhibNyUV
— Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) December 16, 2017
Sometimes Paul’s competitive edge can cause him to be overly aggressive especially towards referees, having received 111 technical fouls in his career. But that fire will still bring the best out of his teammates as we saw Harden win MVP and the Rockets won a franchise best 65 wins this past season.
So with that, we should expect new Rocket Carmelo Anthony to play better from last season alongside Paul, given that Anthony has had success with leaders in Jason Kidd and Chauncey Billups. As the leader, Paul will put Anthony in situations on the floor where he will be comfortable and successful. Maybe we’ll see Olympic Melo? Who knows.
At the end of the day, Paul isn’t getting any younger and father time will eventually catch up especially with his injury history. But the Rockets are hopeful that with another year of Paul’s leadership, they will finally get through the Warriors.