The Rockets decided to play Fantasy Basketball on Wednesday, trading for Clippers All-Star point guard Chris Paul in exchange for point guard Patrick Beverly, shooting guard Lou Williams, small forward Sam Dekker and a first-round pick in next year’s draft. On paper, it looks good, yet this next step toward Houston becoming another “super team” leaves the Fantasy value of both Harden and Paul in limbo.
This is a one-year deal for Paul, who averaged 18.1 points, five rebounds and 9.2 assists last season while also recording a sixth straight campaign of at least 25 PER. Putting him in a high-octane offense like the Rockets, who were second in scoring at 115.3 points per night, means he joins a backcourt with MVP runner-up James Harden that should be the most explosive in the game.
“Should” is the operative word here. While the thought of Paul and Harden will make for fun once NBA2K18 hits the shelves in September, the question about how the pair shares the ball makes for a certain level of contention. In an intriguing piece by ESPN’s Kevin Pelton on Monday, the pairing – based on win shares – would make the Rockets extremely reliant on the duo when it comes to Win Shares. Offensively, Paul and Harden would combine for a projected 8.7 Win Shares next season. Problem is, the rest of the roster would produce -2.6 offensive WS, and this was projected with Williams (2.2) and Dekker (0.6) on the Rockets. That means Houston would (and likely will) make another move to bolster the offense, be it another sign-and-trade or the mythical expectation of Carmelo Anthony arriving in town to play with a coach (Mike D’Antoni) he didn’t jell with when the two were in New York.
Defensively? The Rockets gain some addition by subtraction with the departures of Williams (-1.8 defensive WS) and Dekker (-1.1). The presence of Paul, who remains one of the game’s best defensive stoppers in the backcourt, would give Houston a projected 2.1 defensive WS. With the improving Clint Capela up front and whatever additions the Rockets generate in the next few weeks, this could be a unit that should be able to at least maintain the level of defensive proficiency they had this past season.
As it currently stands, the Rockets would need bigger offensive contributions from Capela and shooting guard Eric Gordon. Both are reasonable options, yet looking at this team provides a certain level of uneasiness in both Fantasy and reality.
Adding Paul gives Harden more freedom to shoot and could likely push “The Beard” toward 30 points per game. His assist totals will take a significant hit from his 11.2 dimes last season, yet he should still stay in the 5-7 range. I also think that Harden will feel some sense of relief from not having to be “The Man” and will play in a more loosely aggressive manner that should help him remain as a Top 3 selection come draft time in September and October.
Even at 32, Paul has shown no signs of slipping, and the change of scenery will assure (at least for next season) he will be one of the first guards off the board. He fits in well with D’Antoni’s “I’ve never met a shot less than 25 feet” mentality. Paul shot 41.1 percent from beyond the arc last season, his best percentage since his time with the Pelicans in 2009-10. Even if he tails off to around 39 percent, Paul is a lock to score 19-22 points per game, a number that could rise if he attacks the basket and draws a whistle. He shot 89 percent from the line this past season and is a career 86.6 percent shooter from the freebie line.
Fun facts, via ESPN: Paul shot 49.3 percent on catch-and-shoot triples. Both he and Harden ranked in the Top 10 in time of possession, with Harden leading the Association with 8.9 minutes per game and Paul finishing seventh with 7.2 minutes per game. That sharing the ball thing is going to be real interesting in H-Town.
Again, expect the Rockets to make additional moves (no, the DeAndre Liggins acquisition from the Mavericks on Wednesday doesn’t count), but as it stands, the pairing of Paul and Harden makes this a winner for Fantasy players. While I don’t like the reality of this trade (it doesn’t bring them too much closer to the Warriors and perhaps puts them on par with the Spurs. Honestly, this is a textbook case of name chasing in the belief of building a “super team.”), the prospect of getting high-level production from pairing two of the game’s elite guards running and gunning in an offensive-minded scheme makes grabbing either Paul or Harden a good fit. Going into the start of free agency, I’d rather have Harden than Paul to build my team around in a standard format, but if you’re sitting in the start of the second round, adding Paul is a good foundation for your roster.
As for what the Clippers get out of this, I think Williams is the obvious winner when it comes to Fantasy value. With what is beginning to look like a retooling process, Williams has a good chance to stay within the career-best 21.74 PER he established last season. Depending on how much of a rebuilding job the Clippers plan to make this (I was told a possible Blake Griffin sign-and-trade to the Celtics might be in play), Williams could become no worse than the second scoring option behind center DeAndre Jordan, whose scoring numbers could rise if coach Doc Rivers chooses to make him the focal point of the offense.
Dekker is an intriguing offensive-minded player who could have some value in deeper leagues and is a good speculation buy in keeper/dynasty formats. I’ll be intrigued to see how he fits into the Clips’ rotation. Beverley could have some value if he gets a crack at becoming the starting point. He’s an above-average defender who averaged 1.5 steals per game while also shooting 38 percent last season. He’s not a great overall shooter, yet he could be in for a career year if he beats out Austin Rivers for the starting role.
Before we go: I’ve flirted with the rankings and sorts, but this is what my Top 12 would look like heading into the official start of free agency (and the official start of a new iPhone 7-Plus. Hooray for upgrades):
1. Russell Westbrook, PG, Thunder
2. Giannis Antetokoumnpo, wherever he chooses to play, Bucks
3. Karl-Anthony Towns, C, Timberwolves
4. James Harden, PG/SG, Rockets (actually had him first before this deal)
5. Anthony Davis, PF/C, Pelicans
6. Kevin Durant, SF, Warriors
7. Kawhi Leonard, SF, Spurs
8. John Wall, PG, Wizards
9. Steph Curry, PG, Warriors
10. LeBron James, SF, Cavaliers
11. Nikola Jokic, C, Nuggets
12. Rudy Gobert, C, Jazz
We can all correctly assume I’ll be back with another column or two as the landscape changes. There’s also a Top 100 to unveil at some point next month, so there’s something to look forward to.