SLAM Top 50: Chris Paul, No. 18

On June 28, Chris Paul took to Instagram to thank Clipper Nation for the last six years he had spent in L.A. When the news of the trade to Houston hit NBA Twitter, four words floated around timelines to describe the situation between the Paul-Harden pairing:

“There’s only one ball.”

Prior to last season, Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni did, what some at the time deemed unthinkable, and moved All-Star shooting guard James Harden to the point guard position. Again, NBA Twitter went crazy.

Harden at the point raised concerns and many questioned if it was the right move. And on October 26, Harden dropped 17 dimes to go with his 34 points as the Rockets defeated the Lakers. The Beard led the League in assists (11.3) and D’Antoni was praised for the move, making it one of the many reasons he earned Coach of the Year honors.

Immediately after Paul’s Instagram post, he and Harden wasted no time getting to work to build that camaraderie to prepare them for this upcoming season. During the summer, they spent their days working out and playing pickup ball at UCLA, Lifetime in New York and Paul even made his Drew League debut, joining Harden’s LAUNFD squad that had social media buzzing with highlights and a glimpse of what’s to come in 2017-18.

Bringing in Paul, a ball-dominant point guard himself, continues to raise concerns whether the Paul-Harden backcourt could actually work with Harden coming off one of his best seasons in eight years.

Is Harden going to be OK going back to playing off the ball? Will/can CP3 play off the ball? Can this actually work if they’re both interchangeable? Knowing how Paul’s an emotional leader, will they eventually clash?

Eye Test vs. Analytics Twitter have ongoing debates about Paul—whether he’s in the Top 10 discussion or not—but despite the numbers and his playoff track record, he’s still a valuable asset, especially to a team like the Rockets.

Before Paul’s arrival, Houston had a 55-win season, shot 35.7 percent from deep and tallied 1,181 threes to lead the League in 3-pointers made. They also ranked top five in points per game (115.3), assists per game (25.2), fast break points per game (16.7) and catch-and-shoot points per game (30.2).

With CP3 in Houston, the Rockets will have another stellar playmaker on the floor. Paul last averaged double digits in assists in 2015-16, but he’ll have many options and opportunities on the floor now to once again average 10-plus dimes a game in H-Town.

In pick-and-roll situations, where Chris Paul excels, Clint Capela is going to feast as he did with Harden last season.

On the perimeter, he has two lethal shooters in Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson (along with Harden). Anderson (40 percent) and Gordon (37 percent) can wreak havoc when they get it going from beyond the arc. We can expect to see both of them along with Harden get more looks on the perimeter with Paul on the floor.

When he’s not picking apart defenses in the PNR or whipping across passes to Harden, Anderson or Gordon, Paul can call his own number as he did with the Clippers. A mid-range maestro, Paul shot 51 percent from mid-range and ranked second in pull-up points per game (10.3). On a nightly basis, he’ll defend other PGs and bring that tenacity on the defensive side as he’s developed a reputation around the L for being a hard-nosed defender.

All eyes will be on the Rockets with Training Camp starting this week as Paul gets ready to accomplish something he couldn’t do in New Orleans or Los Angeles: win an NBA Championship.

Previous Rankings:
2016: No. 11
2015: No. 7
2014: No. 3
2013: No. 3

Rankings are based on expected contribution in 2017-18—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.

No. 50 – Dion Waiters
No. 49 – Ben Simmons 
No. 48 – Brook Lopez
No. 47 — Harrison Barnes
No. 46 — Jrue Holiday
No. 45 — Lonzo Ball
No. 44 — Myles Turner
No. 43 — Goran Dragic
No. 42 — Andre Drummond
No. 41 — Al Horford
No. 40 — LaMarcus Aldridge
No. 39 — Kevin Love
No. 38 — Paul Millsap
No. 37 — Hassan Whiteside
No. 36 — Andrew Wiggins
No. 35 — Marc Gasol
No. 34 – DeAndre Jordan
No. 33 — Bradley Beal
No. 32 — Kemba Walker
No. 31 — CJ McCollum
No. 30 — Devin Booker
No. 29 — Nikola Jokic
No. 28 — Joel Embiid
No. 27 — Mike Conley 
No. 26 — Kyle Lowry
No. 25 — Rudy Gobert

No. 24 — Gordon Hayward
No. 23 — Kristaps Porzingis
No. 22 — Carmelo Anthony
No. 21 — DeMar DeRozan
No. 20 — Blake Griffin
No. 19 — Draymond Green