• Dalton Pence

Chris Paul’s Early Season Struggles: A Deeper Look

Photo courtesy of AP

The Houston Rockets have been surprising the league, but not in a good way. The top Western Conference regular season team from a year ago has stumbled out to a 14-14 record. It seemed that they had turned it around after winning five straight games to put them at 11-11. A recent three-game skid had Coach D’Antoni and company with more questions than answers.

Fighting back to .500 in the past calendar week has relieved some tension, but the problems are still glaring. What has gone wrong? Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer as it is a mixture of a handful of things. With that being said, a couple of the problems heavily involve future hall-of-famer Chris Paul.

The Rockets’ system is built around the play of their two guards, Chris Paul and James Harden. Although not exempt from blame, Harden is averaging 30.9 PPG and 8.3 APG through 28 games. Paul, on the other hand, is struggling all across the board in terms of nightly production, severely limiting the ceiling for this Houston team.

One thing that Houston was banking on when they signed Paul to a 4 year/$160 million in the offseason, was his health. He has missed five games due to injury and suspension, but even when he is on the court, it is not always pretty.

The 33-year-old guard is averaging 16.0 PPG on 41.2% shooting, which are both career-lows. Paul may not be scoring in volumes due to the usage of Harden, Clint Capela, and Eric Gordon, but his shooting efficiency is discouraging. He also possesses a 34.8% clip from deep, which is his lowest since 2012-13. For the Rockets offense to outweigh their glaring defensive struggles, they desperately need their point guard to score more efficiently.

To make it worse, Paul’s 79.5% career-low FT shooting has people scratching their heads. Last season, he had an offensive rating of 126.3, which was the third-highest in the league. His 112.3 rating in 2018 is only the seventh-best on the Rockets.

Statistically, he is rebounding the ball well, dishing out assists at a normal rate, and recording a fair amount of steals per usual. However, Paul’s attempts to find the open man have come with a price in the early season. The Wake Forest product has only averaged over three turnovers per game one other time in his career and that was during Paul’s best statistical season in 2008-09. Averaging a career-high 3.0 turnovers per contest in 2018-19 shows that he is not only struggling to score efficiently, but also to take care of the ball well.

Some of these statistics are not terrible outliers (turnovers and 3P%), but that should not matter. What should matter is Houston’s need for Chris Paul to be great. Not all of their problems fall on him because the whole roster has shown lack of interest and effort, but his role in this franchise is immense. Space City took a big risk strapping themselves down financially by signing the aging-point guard to an eye-opening four year contract. Therefore, even if he may not be struggling drastically, that should not matter; with his role and situation, Paul has to pick up the slack.

Stats accurate as of 12/17/18

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