Heading into the 2017-18 season the Houston Rockets faced many questions about fit. Former Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey had just agreed to a trade with the LA Clippers for Chris Paul, leading many to wonder how Paul and former Rockets star James Harden would mesh on the court, as both players were accustomed to having the ball in their hands.
Harden was coming off of a season in which he had just led the league in total assists and was the runner-up to the MVP, behind only former Houston Rockets guard Russell Westbrook. Paul, on the other hand, had developed a knack for finding open teammates and putting players in position to easily get buckets, which was partly why he developed the moniker The Point God.
In fact, Paul had led the league in assists for the fourth time in 2014-15, just two years before arriving in the Space City. So how would the Harden and Paul duo work, under a coach in Mike D’Antoni, who was known to run a heavy isolation offense?
As it turns out, the concerns were overblown, as the Rockets set a franchise record for wins in a single season, posting a 65-17 record and finishing atop the Western Conference. In fact, at one point the Rockets were 50-5 with Paul, Harden, and Clint Capela, demonstrating the astounding success that they had that year.
Chris Paul explains the key to the Houston Rockets success in 2017-18
But according to Paul, the Rockets’ success that year had more to do with several of their role players and less to do with him and Harden, which he explained on NBA TV’s NBA PostGame following the Suns’ Game 2 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in the NBA Finals.
“Man when you know basketball you know how important people are to teams. I talk about this all the time.
Everybody wants to talk about me, James, [Eric Gordon] and all that. Tuck and Trevor Ariza was two of the biggest pieces on that team.”
The Rockets added P.J. Tucker prior to the season and he operated primarily as a reserve that year, but became a starter during the postseason. As we all know, Tucker became even more important to the Rockets’ success afterwards, as his defensive versatility allowed the Rockets to play small ball, with him operating as the team’s center.
Ariza had developed a reputation for being one of the league’s best wing defenders, which made lives miserable for opponents, as he and Tucker were too much to handle. Following the trade to the Milwaukee Bucks, Tucker has shown his value yet again, as he’s been inserted into the starting lineup and has manned the assignment of defending the opposing team’s best scoring threat, most notably in the Eastern Conference Finals, where he guarded Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant.
Unfortunately for Rockets fans, the 2017-18 team will always be a matter of “what-if”, as Paul got injured in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors and the Rockets were unable to dethrone the Dubs that year. At least for Paul, he and the Suns sit just two games away from winning the first title for both he and the franchise.