Mears: What the Rockets Will Look Like Without Chris Paul
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: James Harden and Eric Gordon
As I mentioned in this piece, according to whowins.com, NBA teams with home court leading 3-2 have historically gone 174-15 (92.1%) in the series. And yet the Rockets are growing dogs to win the Western Conference Finals thanks to Chris Paul’s injury that will at least keep him out of Game 6. As Locky mentioned here, Games 3 and 4 in Golden State closed at 8 and 7.5, which means CP3’s value to the spread is roughly 3-4 points. That feels about right, and his on-court impact so far in this series can’t be overstated.
Per nbawowy.com, with CP3 on the floor this season, the Rockets have scored a ridiculous 121.0 points per 100 possessions. For reference, the Warriors led the NBA with a mark of 112.3. Houston was right behind at 112.2. The all-time record is a tie between the 1986-87 Los Angeles Lakers and the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors, who both scored 115.6/100. That’s right: When Paul has been on the floor this year, the Rockets have literally been historically great on offense. Even in the playoffs, they’ve been great with him, scoring 118.0/100.
Of course, it’s hard to tease out exactly how the Rockets will look without him specifically against Golden State. In the regular season, the Rockets still scored 113.2/100 with him off the floor thanks to the likely MVP in James Harden. That difference is significant, but it’s not like the Rockets don’t have other weapons. That said, the CP3 weapon is one that is especially critical against the Warriors, both offensively and defensively. Of players with at least 100 isolation possessions this season, CP3 ranks second, scoring a stupid 1.10 points per possession. Most teams would die for that kind of efficiency on any possession, let alone an ISO one. And, of course, we all know by now that this series has turned into almost all isolation basketball.
Without Paul, the burden will fall to Harden, who has already looked gassed in the past few games, evidenced by him missing his last 20 three-pointers. Still, the game is there for Harden if he can muster the energy. Above I said CP3 ranked second in isolation efficiency this year. The guy who ranked first? Harden, and by a mile: He had 720 isolation possessions this season — 199 more than any other player — and still led that sample, scoring 1.22 points per possession. In addition, the data suggests Harden has been the more important player for the Rockets in this series: In 56 minutes without Paul, the Rockets have been outscored by 1.5 points/100. In 56 minutes without Harden, they’ve been outscored by 22.3 points/100.
The most-used lineup without Paul in this series has been one with Eric Gordon in his place, which will be the starting lineup in Game 6. In 14 minutes together, which is admittedly a shockingly small sample, the Rockets have outscored the Warriors by 85.3 points/100. That obviously won’t continue as that lineup faces the Hampton Five again, but the point remains: The Rockets aren’t completely dead in this game or series. Considering the style in which this series is being played, there’s not a player in the world other than LeBron with a game more equipped than Harden’s to lead his team and handle the offense. Fatigue is a factor, but your interest shouldn’t wane. Maybe the Rockets can shock the world.