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What does a Chris Paul-James Harden backcourt in Houston mean for the rest of the Western Conference?
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David Aldridge:It means Houston is...slightly harder to guard?
Don't get me wrong: Paul is still an elite point guard at 32, able to create whatever shot he wants and/or find open teammates and remains a defensive pest. He will help James Harden immensely, taking pressure off of "The Beard" to make every decision with the ball. We all saw Harden on fumes mentally by the end of the San Antonio Spurs' series; his synapses fried after San Antonio took his best options away and made him shoot over size time and again. Regardless of whether Harden or Paul is the point guard, defenses will be on their heels as Paul curls or Harden cuts off the ball.
But the Rockets were so lethal last year with Harden running the show, surrounding him with three shooters and a pick-and-roll diver in center Clint Capela. Houston's spacing made it so difficult to get two defenders to Harden, giving him room to drive and create off the dribble. With Paul, the Rockets won't be easier to guard, but the floor will shrink a little. He and Harden are smart enough to figure it out, but Paul does pound the rock. It's hard to see him morphing into a catch-and-shoot two at this stage of his career (that won't be his only role, of course, but he will have to adjust to it on occasion). Equally hard (but funny): watching the Rocket Boosters who said every 18-footer was a bad one and that Daryl Morey's vision of 40-50 3-pointers per game was the only possible future of basketball explain why bringing in Paul -- the king of the midrange jumper -- is a good thing.
Bottom line: the Rockets got an All-Star without giving up a lot (though Houston will miss Patrick Beverley's orneriness on D). Obviously they still aren't on the Warriors' level. But I respect teams that are trying to do something to compete with Golden State rather than sitting in a corner, mewling about how unfair it is that the Warriors have all this talent.
Steve Aschburner: It means less competition, at the very least, with the Clippers dropping out of contention. But I’m not convinced it closes the gap between the Rockets and the Golden State Warriors. Having a reliable point guard and scorer on the floor at all times might address Houston’s drop-off when Harden sat down this season. And yet, this isn’t a combo that should strike fear into the hearts of the defending champs. More of an interesting experiment than a legitimate threat, though it’s possible the Rockets aren’t done maneuvering.
Fran Blinebury: It means that the mad scientist Mike D’Antoni has to go back into the laboratory and cook up another off-the-wall concoction for the league to swallow. Just one year after D’Antoni convinced the world that the best use of James Harden was with the ball in his hands as the Rockets’ point guard, now he’s got to blend with the best pure point guard in the game. In terms of raw talent, it's not a bad problem to have. But it's still one to work out before it makes them a real threat to the Warriors. They'll be a top three in the West again.
Scott Howard-Cooper: It means the Rockets are the new second-best team in the West. That’s just for the moment, of course, until the San Antonio Spurs make, or don’t make, their moves. But a Harden-Paul combo, in the Mike D’Antoni system that loves to put defenses in scramble mode, can be explosive. Yes, there will be an adjustment period for two players most effective with the ball in their hands. CP3 will do great playing off the ball, though, and may even welcome the chance to not have to carry the load as primary distributor any more.
Shaun Powell: I'm not sure what it means right now because we haven't seen it work, and I have somewhat serious reservations that it ever will. You're asking a pair of ball-dominant players to suddenly and drastically take turns playing off the ball, and doing it this late in their careers, and do it to win a title in one season since there's no guarantee Paul will be their next year. Sorry, but that's a lot to ask -- too much, really. Harden has never been a catch and shoot guard and seldom scores without dribbling at least 53 times. This "dream" backcourt sounds good in June. Let's keep it at that for now.
John Schuhmann: Three or four games of trying to game plan for two of the three best off-the-dribble playmakers in the league. The Rockets will be, somehow, tougher to guard than they were last season, when they ranked second in offensive efficiency. Paul will have the bigger adjustment in regard to playing off the ball, but will also be an upgrade for what was a league-average defense. They're still a clear step behind the champs, but given the Spurs' relative instability, the Rockets should be the favorites to be the No. 2 seed and the team that Golden State must get through to reach The Finals for the fourth straight time.
Sekou Smith: It means some sleepless nights for the poor assistant coach assigned the Rockets scout in the first few weeks and months of the season. And just as many headaches for the players who will have to deal with the Rockets' new two-headed point guard monster. The notion of two playmakers of this caliber on the same team instantly vaults Paul and Harden (or is it Harden and Paul?) into that short conversation of the best backcourts in the league. I cannot wait to see the Warriors and Rockets match up next season to see how the "Splash Brothers" and these guys go at each other or how the Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum rise to the challenge of dealing with these guys. It makes for more compelling matches within the games we'll see going forward. No one is happier, though, than Mike D'Antoni, who is very familiar with Paul and an absolute wizard designing a framework for a Hall of Fame point guard to operate within (check with Steve Nash).
Ian Thomsen:Depending upon other moves the Rockets make to fill out the roster -- even if it's only with role players -- they have become a contender to meet Golden State in the conference finals. More ominous could be their role in free agency next summer, if Chris Paul is intent on re-signing and acting as a recruiter for the Rockets. But for now second place looks to be their ceiling -- a high ceiling for sure, but not so high as they would like it to be.
Lang Whitaker: That perhaps the Warriors no longer have the best backcourt in the West? Teaming Paul and Harden doesn’t seem immediately logical -- each guy has historically needed the ball to be successful -- but if anyone deserves the benefit suspending our doubt until we see the product on the court, it’s newly crowned Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni, who gets to figure out how to assimilate a second point guard into one of the league’s most high-powered offenses. I think adding Paul makes an already very good Houston team into a great team. Does it make them better than Golden State or a healthy San Antonio? They’ve got to some work to do to make me believe that.