Chris Paul doesn’t lose much these days.
Since changing his address and moving from Los Angeles to Houston, Paul actually hasn’t lost once.
He’s won a multitude of ways. He’s won by upgrading teammates. He’s won by shedding income tax. He’s won by shooting. He’s won by passing.
Paul has gone through his career up until this point as the man who gave it all on the court, and still couldn’t capture the ultimate prize. He couldn’t even get to a conference final series. While it remains to be seen if the all-time caliber point guard can finally grasp what’s alluded him his entire, it’s safe to say Paul is currently in the best position he has ever been in to accomplish that goal.
Which brings us back to Paul’s winning streak. As a Houston Rocket, Paul hasn’t walked off the court yet in defeat. Yes, the Rockets have lost this season. Their record is 25-4. Paul, however, has played in 15 games after dealing with an injury that caused him to miss several weeks. Fifteen games, 15 starts, 15 wins.
Now, Paul isn’t doing this solely on his own. He’s got the frontrunner for league MVP sharing a backcourt with him in James Harden. He’s got the reigning Sixth Man of the Year in Eric Gordon to pass to. He’s got a head coach in Mike D’Antoni, whose entire system is based around placing the ball in the hands of his guards and letting them run their opponents off of the floor.
When Paul was traded to the Rockets, skeptics questioned how the move would be beneficial for him, considering he’s had the ball in hands his entire career, and Harden was coming off of his first season and the team’s point guard while posting historic numbers doing so.
The dynamic backcourt duo starts each game together. They finish it together too. But throughout the game, D’Antoni staggers Harden and Paul’s playing time, often pitting one of them up against an opponent’s reserves. Which, for obvious reasons, is an advantage.
“You have two of the best playmakers ever on the floor at the same time and you have one of the best ever always, so we’re going to be pretty good,” D’Antoni told the Houston Chronicle. “There’s no reason we’re not very, very, very good offensively. It’s been proven. We have some individuals that are incredible.”
“Very, very, very good offensively” sounds about right. The Rockets have the league’s best offensive rating, coming in at 116.1. And with Paul, Houston is scoring 117 points per 100 possessions. For perspective, that figure stretched over an entire season would be the highest in the game’s history.
So much for Harden and Paul not being able to share the floor.
Pinpointing Paul’s achievements on the offensive end isn’t hard. Any basketball fan knows what he brings to the table as a floor general. But the culture Paul is bringing to Houston as a leader and on the defensive end is what makes the Rockets a legitimate threat to Golden State’s crown.
Houston’s defensive rating this season is 104.7, good for sixth in the NBA. Last year? The Rockets registered a 109 rating, which finished 18th. The jump in team defense this season has been astounding. Even Harden, often mocked for his lack of defensive prowess, is posting his best defensive rating in three years.
Throughout his career, Paul’s level of leadership and competitiveness have fallen second to none. At each of his stops, he’s demanded the best out of his teammates. While it didn’t always go over as smoothly as Paul may have liked, his demeanor has been constant. During his latest stop, where he doesn’t have to be responsible for carrying the team on a nightly basis, Paul has been able to instill some his personal virtues like defense throughout the rest of his teammates.
Even some of the games best are taking notice of the dynamic the two guards down in Houston have.
“Those are two of the best players in the league,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “You’re not going to find a better leader, a tougher competitor than Chris Paul. Nobody can guard James Harden. Mike (D’Antoni’s) philosophy works great with those guys. They’re having a great year. There’s a reason for it. It fits. They’re a monster, no doubt about it.”
As the season continues down in Houston, amid their current 14-game winning streak, the seeds Paul’s arrival had planted are beginning to fully blossom. Long gone are the days of critics questioning the fit of two ball-dominant guards. Now, questions shift to how dangerous can the Rockets be? Could they really beat the Warriors?
It would be a first for Paul if he did reach the Finals. But with the track record of winning he’s displayed since moving to Texas, it isn’t out of the question that this generation’s best point guard finally gets what he’s been chasing after since 2005.
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