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.

10 QUESTIONS FOR TILMAN FERTITTA

Tilman Fertitta wants you to shut up and listen with new book

Photo by J. Thomas Ford

This article originally appeared on CultureMap.

Tilman Fertitta can't lose. Sitting in his palatial office nestled in the towering Post Oak Hotel in Uptown, the sole owner of Fertitta Entertainment, the restaurant giant Landry's, the Golden Nugget Casinos and Hotels, and the NBA's Houston Rockets — not to mention the star of the TV reality show Billion Dollar Buyer — is taking a quick moment to bask in his success.

And why not? On top of being the world's richest restauranteur and Houston's most recognizable billionaire, Fertitta currently boasts a best seller with his new business book, Shut Up and Listen! As CultureMap reported, he just acquired Del Frisco's luxury steakhouse chain, adding to his impressive and extensive restaurant empire. And speaking of acquisitions: Soon, his Houston Rockets will unleash the powerhouse duo of James Harden and new teammate Russell Westbrook, who came to Houston in a massive trade with Oklahoma City.

Fertitta has just made the national media rounds promoting Shut Up and Listen! and looked quite comfortable doing so. "A lot of owners don't talk to the media and they don't know how to do it," he tells CultureMap, "but I've been doing it for 30 years and it just doesn't phase me."Shut Up and Listen! is a Tilman tell-all. But rather than a life story, the book is a how-to for the business-minded. No-nonsense nuggets such as the "Tilmanisms" teach principles such as the 95/5 rule (focus on the 5 percent of the operation that isn't perfect and fix it) and offer hardcore reminders such as "when things are bad, eat the weak and grow your business." Doubters, take note: Shut Up has landed on the Publishers Weekly's and USA Today's Best Sellers lists.

CultureMap sat down with Fertitta during a rare break to talk books, business, and his beloved Bayou City.

CultureMap: You’re a Texan titan of industry, a major local benefactor, you own one of the most buzzworthy teams in all of pro sports, and you’re the star of your own reality TV show. Can we now say — in Houston — that you’re way bigger than Mark Cuban?

Tilman Fertitta: [Laughs] Oh, I don't know about that. Mark is a special guy and we're lucky to have him in Texas.

CM: You’ve been actively involved with the Rockets and the University of Houston sports programs. Using your 95/5 rule, can you share any of the 5 percent of what you found wrong with the Rockets and UH?

TF: At UH, the 5 percent was we wanted to have good coaches and we wanted to improve our facilities. That's the 5 percent we realized that if we wanted to compete at the highest level of basketball and football, that's what we'd have to do.

For the Rockets, we're gonna make sure we can put the basketball team we can on the court with the best coaches every single year. I'm not a sit-on-my-hands guy — it's let's keep getting better.

CM: Why is giving back to your hometown important to you?

TF: This is where I grew up and Houston's been very good to me. I've been around a long time and I've watched people come and go in the '80s, the '90s, the 2000s, and the 2010s. It's fun to have lasted this long and been a player through so many decades.

CM: There’s an old adage that says, ‘Do one thing and do it well.’ But you’re doing a lot of things well. When do you know, as a business owner, to diversify?

TF: Systems and operations are very important. Everybody wants to do more deals. If you understand the Big Box Theory, you make more out of a bigger box. In the beginning, I knew I always wanted to be successful. Today, I know what I know and I know — and what I don't know.

Continue on CultureMap to learn which books inspired Tilman Fertitta, and much more.

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