As they continue to fall short of expectations, the start of the 2019 season has not been kind to the Houston Rockets, especially to their star point guard, Chris Paul. Yes, a minor leg injury and a suspension have played a factor into his slow start, but there is something deeper when analyzing Paul’s struggles so far this season.
Without a doubt, Paul has had a few great performances so far this year. Despite a 116-111 overtime loss to the Detroit Pistons, Paul played exceptionally well. He registered 20 points on 7-for-16 shooting, to go along with nine assists and five rebounds in the Motor City. And who can forget his epic performance of 32 points on 13-for-27 shooting from the field, 42 percent shooting from behind the arc, and 11 assists in a 119-111 victory over the Brooklyn Nets?
There’s also a 26-point night versus the Indiana Pacers and a 24-and-9 outing against the Sacramento Kings, but Paul’s high production on the court is starting to become far-and-in between at this stage of his career. Furthermore, at 33-years of age, it is only fit to question, are we starting to see a decline in Chris Paul?
While averaging 16.6 points, 8.1 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game, one can start to see a slip in Paul’s play by his stats alone. Although his numbers drop may not seem alarming to the casual fan, it tells a story that Paul may longer be the player we became accustomed to over the years.
Through the first 18 games, the nine-time all-star is currently averaging his lowest points per game total since the 2011 season, when he was still a member of the then-New Orleans Hornets.
However, unlike his days playing in the Big Easy, Paul is no longer required to carry the scoring load, playing next to James Harden and Eric Gordon since his arrival in Houston. But his lack of ability to score the basketball is more so a result of his poor shooting performance than that of his teammates.
The Point God is currently shooting a career-low 42.2 percent from the field, and his most recent play indicates that there might not be an end in sight. While averaging 8.3 points over the last two games, Paul has shot 26.3 percent from the field, which includes going 1-for-8 in the Rockets’ 103-91 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves Monday night.
And despite a solid three-point shooting season in his first year with the Rockets (38.0 percent), Paul’s outside shot has regressed at the start of this year, shooting just 35.1 percent from behind the arc and a measly 21.4 percent the past two games.
Unfortunately for Paul, his early season struggles do not end with his lack of ability to score the basketball.
Arguably the best point guard of his generation, Paul has done an excellent job taking care of the ball, averaging just 2.4 turnovers for his career. The 2009 season marked the only other year in his career that he struggled with turnovers, as the future Hall-of-Famer averaged 3.0 per game.
However, similar to his shooting woes, Paul’s ability to take care of the ball is another element to pinpoint a potential decline. So far this season, Paul is currently averaging a career-high 3.2 turnovers per game, looking far from the player that made him one of the best point guards in league history.
In addition, while his assist totals are still high (8.1 per game), he has the lowest assist percentage right now of his entire career with 37.8 percent, the only other time since his rookie year that he’s been below 40 percent.
CP3 hasn’t been his usual self on the other side of the ball either. Despite continuing to rack up steals at an elite pace (currently 2.2 per game), Paul has been struggling overall somewhat on the defensive end. His current defensive plus-minus of -0.5 would be the lowest mark of his career and only the third time he’s ever been in the negatives.
Despite his sluggish start, there is still plenty of time for Chris Paul to turn his dreadful season around. And it deserves mentioning that the Rockets are 11-7 with him in their lineup this year and 0-5 without him. He’s still making a difference for Houston in the win-loss column, even if he hasn’t been himself in the box score for most of the year.
However, with a quarter of the year already in the books, one can only use the excuse of, “it’s still early in the season,” for so long before the reality of potential decline starts to settle in. If that happens, that’s when the reality of that 4-year, $160 million deal really starts to rear its head as well.