ROCKET SCIENCE

Rockets: The case to keep Chris Paul

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Since it was signed in the summer of 2018, there's been a load uproar about the size and length of Rockets' guard Chris Paul's contract. A lot of it is justified; Paul will be earning $44.2 million as a 36-year-old point guard and history has not been particularly favorable to point guards of his size aging down the stretch of their career. Paul also took a noticeable step back last season after a fantastic 2017-18 campaign with the Rockets. His struggles really reared their ugly heads in the playoffs - where Paul has traditionally excelled.

Chris Paul 2017-18 season:

18.6 PPG, 7.9 APG, 5.4 RPG, and 1.7 STL / 60.4% True Shooting / 24.4 PER

Chris Paul 2018-19 season:

15.6 PPG, 8.2 APG, 4.6 RPG, and 2.0 STL / 56.0% True Shooting / 19.7 PER

However, the discourse surrounding Paul has become muddled. As the Rockets enter a complicated offseason in which all options are being evaluated, it seems as though all anyone wants to talk about is how Houston could possibly move Paul's contract or how leveraged the Rockets are because of Paul's contract. Paul is now talked about as exclusively a burden to the Rockets rather than a very good basketball player who happens to be on a less than ideal contract. In a rush to fantasy ship him out to any suitor who will take him, the question of "Will a Chris Paul trade improve Houston's championship odds?" is being completely ignored.

And the answer to that question? Probably not.

If the Rockets were to trade Paul tomorrow, it's unlikely they get the kind of return that would help their immediate title odds with a soon-to-be 30-year-old James Harden. We have probably arrived at the point where Paul's value to Houston is probably being undervalued by the general public. Paul may not be the same player he was four years ago, but that doesn't mean his contract has suddenly become so toxic the Rockets have to dump him.

To start, some of the best value Paul brings Houston that often gets neglected is on the defensive side of the ball. It may have gone under-the-radar this season with Houston tailing off defensively and the late push to get P.J. Tucker into an All-Defense team, but Paul, at age 34, had a sneaky case for All-Defense himself.

Houston Rockets Defensive RTG:

Chris Paul ON the floor: 103.2

Chris Paul OFF the floor: 111.2

Paul may not be as quick laterally as he once was, but his IQ and awareness as a defender off the ball is off the charts good. His ability to anticipate where a pass is going and when it's going to be made can only be matched by a handful of players, as evidenced by his two steals per game.

If you're even a slightly below average ball handler, Paul is just going to take the ball away from you.

Although the Rockets didn't switch as much last year as they did the year before, Paul's physicality made it harder for even bigger offensive players to gain an advantage.

For all the talk of Paul's offensive numbers taking a dip this year, Paul's defense hardly slipped. That being said, Paul still provided a ton of offensive value for Houston despite the slip in efficiency. Much like his defense, Paul's passing has yet to take a significant dip.

Paul's ability to find roll men at the basket, particularly in pick and roll, is really valuable for Houston when Harden is on the bench. The Rockets are already accustomed to running spread pick and roll when Harden is on the floor and Paul provides a clean outlet to keep that flow going.

His ability to find open shooters is even more impressive, particularly on the break. Contrary to what you might think, Paul is someone who likes to push the pace whenever possible while Harden would rather grind it down. Because of this, the transition offense is typically a lot crisper when orchestrated by Paul

Houston Rockets pace:

With Harden: 98.47

With Paul: 101.35

One of the bigger and more unusual drop-offs in Paul's game this season was his shooting. Paul has historically been an excellent three-point shooter (37.0% for his career), so it was quite bizarre to see his percentage drop down to 35.8% this season from 38.0% the prior season. The same was the case for his mid-range shooting, which fell to 47.6% from where it was a year ago (53.9%). Upon further analysis, it looks like a big reason for this decline ha been his drop-off as an isolation scorer as a whole from the previous year.

In 2017-18, Paul scored 1.10 points per possession in isolation (90.8 percentile) on a staggering 5.1 attempts per game. In 2018-19, that number dropped to 0.92 points per possession (63.3 percentile) on 4.7 attempts per game. Paul's off-the-dribble three-pointers just weren't sinking at the same rate they were a year ago.

2017-18 Chris Paul 3-PT shooting:

Catch and shoot: 41.1%

Pull-up: 38.1%

2018-19: Chris Paul 3-PT shooting:

Catch and shoot: 43.1%

Pull-up 34.5%

The easy conclusion for one to draw here is age-related decline. However, if you look back to the 2015-16 season, you'll find another random blip where Paul declined radically as a shooter.

Chris Paul pull-up 3-PT shooting:

2014-15: 37.7%

2015-16: 33.3%

Chris Paul mid-range shooting:

2014-15: 49.5%

2015-16: 45.7%

Paul also only 0.91 points per possession in isolation (71.8 percentile) in 2015-16. So, was it age-related regression then too when Paul was still only 30 years old? The better conclusion to draw might be that Paul had another career blip shooting season. That's not to say Paul didn't decline last season, but rather it's more likely Chris Paul gets back closer to where he was in 2017-18 as a shooter next season than he was last season.

Where you see Paul's decline most prevalent is his first step and finishing at the rim. In 2017-18, Paul drove to the basket 11.7 times per game and finished 49.4% of the time. In 2018-19, Paul finished 44.3% of the time on 12.1 drives per game. Paul isn't as explosive as he once was and this makes much more sense with what we know about aging as a basketball player compared to three-point percentage. As an older player, Paul's not going to be the same driver he once was, but that was expected when Daryl Morey offered him his contract in 2018.

Saying Chris Paul is not the same player he was a few years ago is a totally reasonable conclusion to draw. However, it's also reasonable to say that he's still a highly impactful basketball player and that his decline may have been greatly exaggerated by a poor career shooting year. It's true that Paul likely isn't going to provide Houston with All-NBA level play in the fourth year of his deal. It's also true that he has the capability to provide one or two more awesome years before it gets to that point.

Art by Jesus Rodriguez

Born with a comic book in one hand and a remote control in the other, Cory DLG is the talent of Conroe's very own Nerd Thug Radio and Sports. Check out the podcast replay of the FM radio show at www.nerdthugradio.com!

Hey Nerds!

It's Monday, I'm still here and we have lots to do!

GOOD DEED OF THE DAY

This week we're going to focus on the AICF and Mark Clayton Scholarship Golf Tournament it's a scholarship fund and a golf tournament, which are things that everyone knows and loves. Let's get together, have a good time and help people go to college. #NerdsUnite

THE BIG TRADE

So the LA Lakers finally landed Davis. First congrats to LA for going and being aggressive and getting the guy they targeted this whole time. Secondly, everyone is talking about the great haul New Orleans got, I honestly don't think there's very much value to all of these pieces. Consider New Orleans missed the playoffs this year with AD playing the first two thirds of the season and LA fell out of the playoffs once LeBron wasn't available to carry the team.

Everyone is talking about the haul of players and picks, here's the dirty little secret about NBA draft picks that people don't tell you, there's a rule in the NBA that first rounders can't be traded away every year. So for LA to give New Orleans 3 first rounders will be over six years, going every other year. LA will have their own first rounder next year, and again two years later.

The other thing negotiated were a few swaps, New Orleans can pick which pick they use between theirs and LA's (presumably whichever is lower) . I bet New Orleans picks will be lower by the time those swaps come into play because New Orleans has made one good roster move in four years and that was resigning Davis to a max back then. I honestly think this is a steal for the Lakers.

THE DEATH OF WHATABURGER?

Whataburger sold a controlling interest of itself to a Chicago based firm for an undisclosed amount of money. People are upset and wondering why they sold at all and why not to a Texas based company? There's one simple reason for that, MONEY. You don't start a franchise to make people feel warm and fuzzy and you don't take money for goods and think, yeah I am not in this for a profit. I know it's cute and warm and fuzzy feeling to think that Whataburger is here for Texas and is "one of us" but which of us doesn't dream of cashing out on our hard work?

CONGRATS TORONTO

This one may be a little sports heavy but it's cool right? So a couple of things, first of all, shout out to Toronto Raptors for gambling on themselves and making the moves to get a couple pieces like Gasol and Leonard and going all in this year. The thing people will be talking about for a while though are the terrible injuries that have closed the book on the Golden State Warriors.

The torn Achilles of Kevin Durant won't keep him from opting out, and the blown knee of Klay Thompson won't stop Golden State from offering him the max, which means this time of Curry, Green, Iguodala, Livingston, and Looney will have to begin the process of rebuilding a team that will be relevant but never threatening. With the expected departure of Cousins and Durant and the extended absence of Thompson means by the time this team is ready for another run, Livingston and Iguodala will also likely be gone, this makes the team Curry, Green and Thompson with a new cast of characters and I don't think it will be enough.

NOT THAT YOU ASKED

This Friday, Joey Savage and I are going to get back to our Nerd Thug roots and playing Heroclix at Adventure Begins on 1488, come hang out with us and lets have a grand old time. I really love the game and it's a great fun thing to play, it's like chess with superpowers and who doesn't love superpowers?

I'm going to jump out and wish you guys a great Monday and remind everyone to be kind to each other and try a little harder to have a great day! I'm coming back Tuesday and we'll be bringing more good times your way.

Feel free to check out my digital short story The Wilson House or buy a shirt from Side Hustle Ts where some proceeds help people struggling with cancer or listen to Nerd Thug Radio. Thoughts, complaints, events and comments can be sent to corydlg@gmail.com.

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