Gonna take a brief pause here to talk a little basketball.
The Houston Rockets just had a brilliant 2016 season that I found rather comparable to the Art Briles, Baylor offense. They embraced the extremes of spacing and spread concepts with a pick’n’roll offense geared around James Harden surrounded by shooters and typically either a pick’n’pop partner in Ryan Anderson or a rim runner in Clint Capela. They wanted every shot to be either an open three or a lay-up and eschewed the mid-range jumper whenever possible.
It was devastating…right up till they reached the playoffs and met the Spurs. San Antonio handled that approach by conceding the mid-range from Harden off the screen. They’d have his defender fight over the pick to take away the Harden three-pointer off the high screen while having the screener’s man (often Pau Gasol) back-pedal to the rim to deny the lay-up with his arms. Houston’s only counter was to play five-out with Ryan Anderson at the 5, punishing this defense pick’n’pop three pointers. But on the other end the Spurs just punished Anderson with their own pick’n’rolls and the Rockets were getting beat in the exchange.
The Los Angeles Clippers have been floundering for years with a their “big 3” of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan. In my estimation, one of the main problems has been that Paul and Griffin are both point players, or playmakers, that need the ball in their hands to be maximally effective. Neither are excellent off the ball but they were using up cap space that needed to be spent acquiring better role players.
For the last several years the Clippers have typically been pretty bad at the 5th spot in their starting lineup and worse on the bench. That’s also partly because Doc Rivers has been a terrible GM but it’s never made much sense to have so much money tied up in both Chris Paul AND Blake Griffin when their skill sets don’t compliment each other. Jordan actually works well with both, serving as a great pick’n’roll rim runner for Paul and also a guy that can make up for Griffin’s inability to protect the rim on defense. He’s probably one of the more undervalued players in the NBA, if he could make a freaking free throw he’d be an undeniably outstanding player.
The CP3 trade as a solution
My man Jonathan Tjarks recently penned an awesome piece on why Blake Griffin should become a point-forward, much like the role that LeBron often plays in Cleveland. Now he’s no LeBron overall, but he is a great player and a worthy facilitator working off his face-up game or high screens with the ball in his hands.
The benefits of having someone other than your traditional point guard facilitate the offense is that you can now play combo guards or extra wings in your starting lineup and make your defense stronger or your bench deeper with the savings.
The Clippers will now be able to do exactly that after acquiring 6th man/combo guard Lou Williams, forward/wing Sam Dekker, combo guard/tenacious on ball defender Patrick Beverly, and a protected 2018 first round pick from Houston.
THEY STILL HAVE TO RESIGN BLAKE GRIFFIN! But if they do, this can be his team with Lou Williams shoring up their typically atrocious 2nd team unit. I think Chris Paul is one of the better players in the NBA, top 10 for sure, but giving Griffin greater leeway (if he stays healthy, of course) and surrounding him with complimentary players could allow the Clippers to remain very competitive and perhaps even improve.
On the Houston side of things, they may not miss Beverly’s defense too much because Chris Paul is a fantastic on-ball defender in his own right. Meanwhile, they can now continue to run spread pick’n’roll for all 48 minutes of the game and always feature one of the best point guards in the entire game running the action.
For the Rockets this trade depends on Harden being willing to play off the ball more when sharing the court with Paul and then running the show with the 2nd team unit much like Ginobili did for the Spurs back in the day. It seems that this role is actually more in keeping with Harden’s preferred path and personality.
So now the Rockets can work high screens with Paul and Capela or Anderson with Harden waiting on the wings to fire off a catch and shoot three OR attack a closeout and serve as a secondary facilitator. That’s pretty brutal for a defense to try and adjust and handle Harden as the third option in a given set. His numbers will surely go down some, but his already insane offensive efficiency numbers could actually improve.
I’m not sure how much of a difference this makes in the playoffs for the Rockets but on paper it seems like it helps keep both guys healthy, makes their offense that much more difficult to defend, doesn’t really hurt their defense, and doesn’t really hurt their depth that much since D’Antoni can stagger their minutes and still has Eric Gordon.
Lots of people are hammering this trade for leaving the Clippers without a point guard, but I’ve felt for a few years now that they already had one waiting in the wings in Blake Griffin. Others are unsure if this really helps Houston but Harden’s skill set can actually work off Chris Paul’s in a way that Griffin’s never could because Harden is more effective off the ball as a shooter.
If the Rockets are next able to sign Paul George they’ll have a sort of modern facsimile of the San Antonio Spurs big 3: Excellent offensive point (TP, CP3), two-guard that can play off the ball or run a dominant 2nd team unit (Manu Ginobili, James Harden), and then a two-way forward (Tim Duncan, Paul George).