Magic science: Chris Paul will give the Rockets new life

Jay Croucher Columnist

By , Jay Croucher is a Roar Expert

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    One day, the graphics in video games will be so life-like that we can hardly tell the difference. Until then, we have the Houston Rockets.

    The Rockets play basketball with the savvy impatience of a teenage gamer. They don’t wait around and let time bleed away, seconds wounded by the needless conventions of the way basketball ‘should’ be played and used to be played – they just ‘go’.

    There is no posting up Trevor Ariza because he has a point guard on him, no turning Clint Capela into a traditional hook-shot flinging big man – there is just a symphonic, team-wide happy trigger finger on the first open shot.

    Rockets games are track meets. Their recent national TV game against the sorry Suns did not feel like basketball. It felt like a beep test with a hoop.

    The lines that define individual possessions were blurred, replaced by an almost discomforting free-form expression of back-and-forth dribbling, passing and shooting. The idea that these Rockets play the same sport as Kevin Garnett’s Celtics teams or the Chauncey Billups Pistons is, naturally, unfathomable.

    And, despite the universal notion that high scoring, free-flowing movement in sport is always desirable, the Rockets really aren’t that fun to watch. They are so divorced from what we hold true about basketball – what is nostalgic, what is knowable – that they will never be entirely easy to love.

    The Warriors sometimes find themselves in the same track meets – often against the Rockets – but there is a mysticism and athletic devastation to their flow that makes them gloriously captivating – a captivation still so powerful that it overwhelms the deflating inevitability that surrounds them.

    That inevitability is making it harder, but the basketball romantics can still convince themselves the Warriors are the product of magic. The Rockets, on the other hand, are purely a product of science.

    The tropes are tired now. Threes. Free throws. Shots at the rim. This is what the math says, so this is what the Rockets do. And they’re as efficient as they can possibly be because their best player is the embodiment of this modern hoop science.

    Therein lies the absence of Houston’s romance: Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry splashing threes because God seemed to say so is one thing; Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson hitting from the corners because James Harden created a high percentage shot for them is another.

    Chris Paul passes

    (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

    Chris Paul is the wildcard here. He is the player who can challenge Golden State’s monopoly and Houston’s high-octane aesthetic blandness. Harden’s Rockets play like they learned basketball in a textbook – Paul plays like the kid who aced the exam without any study.

    He is a genius, and genius cannot be taught or planned for. Already, in his two games since returning from injury, he’s shown extended glimpses of what makes him so majestic and imposing. The unnatural passes that skip the ‘good’ obvious target for the hidden great one. The odd, disarming cadences to his dribbling. The supreme antagonism of his man-on-man defence. The pull-up mid-range jumper going right, which has never once looked like missing.

    Paul is Houston’s hope. The ripple effect of his talent – 48 minutes of Hall of Fame point guard play – makes the Rockets Golden State’s only real threat in the West.

    His presence can further weaponise Harden, already playing at an MVP level, as a scorer – he will make Harden more decisive in his movements. No more of this ‘size up the man off the dribble for 12 seconds’ crap. Instead, it will be ‘get ball, go kill’.

    Together, Paul, the best pure point guard of his generation, and Harden, the best shooting guard, can do something special. The Rockets already made supreme sense. Now they can make supreme magic.

    Jay Croucher
    Jay Croucher

    From MSG in New York to the MCG in Melbourne, Jay has spent his adult life travelling the world, indulging in sport and approaching it from the angle of history and pop culture. Follow him on Twitter @CroucherJD

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