Why the Clippers Won the Chris Paul Trade

By Matthew Reese
Published on June 29, 2017
chris-paul-houston-rockets

Finally, it looks like a team other than the Cleveland Cavaliers might be capable of giving the Golden State Warriors a run for the NBA championship.

The Association’s landscape was significantly altered Wednesday with the breaking news that the Houston Rockets have reached an agreement with the Los Angeles Clippers that would result in perennial All-Star point guard Chris Paul teaming up with 2016-17 MVP runner-up James Harden next season.

The trade, reported first by legendary NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski, will see the Rockets ship role players Patrick Beverley, Sam Dekker, Lou Williams and a 2018 first-round pick to LA. Paul opted back into the final year of his contract before the trade so the Clippers could at least get something for him, rather than see him walk away for nothing.

Oddsmakers have been quick to react, and the news is not good at all for fans of the Clips. With its core of Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, LA was listed as a +3300 darkhorse at BetOnline to win the 2018 NBA title, but at least it wasn’t a total pipe dream. Now that their inspirational leader and floor general is gone, however, the Clippers’ odds have plummeted to Brooklyn territory, with some reports suggesting they may be +10000.

Houston, meanwhile, has seen its 2018 NBA Futures shoot up dramatically. The Rockets were +2600 at BetOnline before the deal was announced, but improved to +1600 afterwards. Once the public starts pounding what still looks like a tempting price on Houston, those odds will probably get even shorter.

Let’s take a closer look at the blockbuster deal and assess how both teams will be affected not only next season but in the longterm as well.

How Did The Rockets Get Better?

Before acquiring Paul, Houston could already score the ball with the best of them. In fact, the Rockets ranked right behind Golden State in points per game last year, thanks to playing at a frenetic pace of 102.5 possessions per game – even faster than the Warriors go.

The acquisition of Paul will change that immediately. He’s the classic, old-school point guard who absolutely loves to slow things down to a crawl and look to exploit matchup advantages wherever he can. He’s precise and efficient, looking to make the most out of every single possession, rather than recklessly pushing the ball up the court and turning the ball over.

That’s good news for a Houston offense that was the second-worst among all playoff teams this season when it came to turnover ratio. The Rockets saw 13.3% of their possessions end with a turnover, better than only Atlanta when it came to squads that qualified for postseason play and the sixth-worst ratio in the league overall.

Another thing the acquiring of Paul does for the Rockets is lessen the burden on Harden. The Beard was ridden like an absolute donkey last year, posting the fourth-highest usage rating in the entire NBA among players who averaged more than 10 minutes per game. Even worse, he played the third-most minutes in the league, nearly cracking the 3,000 plateau.

If you don’t think that wore Harden down, you must not have been paying attention. Harden was ripped left and right by a mysteriously horrific performance in the Rockets’ final playoff game of 2017, a 39-point loss at home to the Spurs, but it really should be no mystery at all. He looked like an exhausted man, both physically and emotionally, after leading Houston in points (29.1), rebounds (8.1) and assists (11.2) while finishing second in steals (1.5) during the regular season.

With Paul running the point, Harden can now A) play off the ball and B) get some rest. There will still be times when Harden will be called on to lead the attack, especially if Paul is off the floor, but he’ll be much fresher when his number is called. Most importantly, he’ll be fresher in the second season, when things matter most.

One other area where the Rockets should get a lot better from the Paul trade is on defense. Don’t just be blinded by Paul’s offensive numbers (18.7 points and 9.8 assists per game during his 6 years in LA) when measuring his value. He’s also been named to the NBA’s all-defensive team 5 times in the last 6 years.

This past season, Paul ranked fourth among guards and 10th overall in the NBA when it came to defensive win shares. Harden, partly because he’s not a great defender and partly because he was still sucking wind from running the offense, was a distant 40th among guards and 89th overall in that same statistic.

How Did the Clippers Get Better?

This is a much tougher sell, but only because we’re usually so focused on the short-term impact. The Clippers may look like the losers here because they blew up a team that has teased us for years with its potential, but the reality is that this core group always underachieved in the playoffs (never got past the second round, and was a first-round loser the last 2 springs).

LA wasn’t going to get anything for Paul if he hit the open market as a free agent, and Paul had already expressed interest in going to Houston to team up with Harden. So the fact that the Clippers got anything for Paul has to be looked at as a pretty huge win.

In Beverley, the Clippers get a younger point guard who wasn’t able to play his natural position in Houston, utilized more as a spot-up shooter. Still, he shot better than 38% from 3-point range last season, and his efforts on defense were recognized this week when he became the first-ever recipient of the NBA Hustle Award.

Dekker was a bit of a disappointment in his rookie season as he dealt with back issues, but he bounced back last year to average close to 7 points and 4 rebounds per game in limited minutes off the bench. He’s a big (6-foot-9) who can play small, and you can’t forget how good he was for Wisconsin in their run to the 2015 NCAA championship game. Dekker could turn into a very nice acquisition for the Clippers.

Though Williams is a 30-year-old journeyman and not really a building block for the future, I actually like that about this trade. The Clippers shouldn’t be teased or tempted into believing that they’re still a contender in 2018 (the odds already tell us that), and that should actually motivate them into going into a full rebuild.

Trying to acquire even more assets for Blake Griffin, J.J. Redick and even DeAndre Jordan (who as a big man with a very limited offensive game is actually becoming a bit of a dinosaur in the modern NBA) should be what the Clippers’ focus is right now, with the knowledge that they weren’t going to get past the Warriors with the old group anyway.

Who Won The Trade?

All the talking heads are going to rave about what Houston’s done here by picking up Paul. The Rockets were already a 55-win team with an MVP candidate in Harden and the coach of the year in Mike D’Antoni, and they look like they should only be better next season as a result.

In my opinion, though, the Clippers are the biggest winner in this deal. It’s going to take a few years for that to show, but the Paul era in LA had to come to an end in order for the Clips to take the next step.

Don’t get me wrong, Paul was great for the Clippers. They were a laughingstock before he arrived, and they turned into one of the best teams to watch in the Association for several years, even becoming one of the perennially strong teams in the West.

But they couldn’t get over the hump in the playoffs, and Paul does have to take some responsibility for that. He’s still personally never made it past the second round, a pretty damning thing to have on the resume of a sure-fire future Hall of Famer, and he’s not getting any younger, either.

If the Clippers weren’t going to get the job done with CP3, at least they were able to salvage a couple of pieces for the future (we didn’t even address the first rounder in 2018) on his way out the door. And with Paul simply opting into the final year of his contract, don’t forget there’s always the possibility that he could always end up back in LA again next season, this time with a new cast to work with.

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