It was quite an ordinary play in the second quarter. Chris Paul was mid-court, dribbled the ball behind his back when Derrick Jones Jr. made a steal. No sudden change of direction or an all-out effort play, but Paul just grabbed his left hamstring and limped off the court straight into the locker room.
This is the worst possible news for the Rockets who are having an underwhelming season. The departure of Jeff Bizdelik soon before the season, the fight with the Lakers and the following suspension, Melo-drama that ended abruptly, the return of Jeff Bizdealik but the continuation of defensive struggles; all this seems in the past as the Rockets started penciling in W's and returning to outstanding offensive performances with NBA record 26 threes in a game. All signs were pointing to a slow and steady return to last year's form when this happened.
Just losing your second best guy has a significant impact on any team, but this injury has much more significant implications for the Rockets.
Those bloody hamstrings
Hamstring injuries take a long time to recover, rest is of the utmost importance and once you start having hamstring problems they follow you forever. They are one of those muscles you don't think about but are essential for everything you do. Let me put it this way, if you are having back problems, one of the first things a good doctor will do is check your hamstrings. So, not good.
The series was tied at 2 - 2, one minute to go, the Rockets up one. They played all season spectacularly and were built for that moment. The entire season was one big training camp to prepare them for the Warriors. Harden was having his MVP season, Paul's addition was welcomed with skepticism in the form of "only one ball," but it turned out they supplemented each other beautifully on the court. All the stars aligned for them to defeat one of the most dominant teams in history.
Paul was guarded by Quinn Cook, an obvious iso situation for him. He made his move, attacked the basket and when he landed grabbed his hamstring. Paul stayed in the game, but just limped off to the corner and watched. The Rockets won that game and took the 3 - 2 lead, but it was apparent CP3 was out for the series. To this day they feel if he were healthy, they would win the series and go to the Finals.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, this is Pauls's fifth hamstring injury. He is a point guard on the wrong side of thirty with an injury history that has to make everyone on the Rockets worried.
The moment Paul was traded to the Rockets, it was clear the plan was for the Rockets to extend him. As we mentioned in a previous article, one thing that was changed in the CBA was the “over 36” rule. The over-36 rule prevented teams from signing players to four- or five-year deals if they would turn 36 or older throughout the contract. The limit was increased to 38 years of age. This limit existed to protect teams from giving large contracts to older players with injury tendencies. Rings a bell?
This change made it possible for the Rockets to sign Paul to a max-extension, a 4-year $159.7 million contract. Here is the structure of the contract.
From the beginning it was clear Paul would be worth it in the first two or hopefully three years of the deal and then you bite the bullet in the last year. The hope is you win a championship one of those years, so the checks aren't so bitter. This latest hamstring raises the concern as it already seems these first few years of the contract are going to be very risky for the Rockets — a lot of cap space tied to a guard with 13 years in the league and significant injury history.
Small guards don't age well
As you age you move up a spot. You are not as fast; there is some weight gain, so 3s become 4s, 4s become 5s and 5s become veteran leaders in the locker-rooms. Shoutout to Kendrick Perkins.
Small guards don't get to do that, especially point guards. The wear on their body is excellent, speed and agility are important and the workload of handling the ball is significant. You can hear LeBron or KD talk how much it means to them not to be the one that has to take the ball from the basket to the half-court. Minutes and running into Steven Adams screens add up. In addition to that, you just don't have the height and reach to move up a spot.
The only superstar point guard that was highly efficient in his thirties was John Stockton. This was enabled by rigorous minute management. Jazz head coach Jerry Sloane subbed him no matter what the score was, always at the same time in the game to prolong his career.
At age 33 Stockon had almost no injury history, you could pencil him in for 82. Paul, on the other hand, played 80 or more games only three times. He already has more games missed due to injury than Stockton did in his entire career. It is safe to say the Rockets will not get the production from CP3 the way the Jazz did from Stockton. (Stockton played 82 games his last four seasons, averaging about 30 minutes a game. That was between ages 37 and 40!!)
Daryl Morey is an analytics guy. He knows he is playing the odds, and the probability for Chris Paul to live up to his contract is decreased with every injury, especially a hamstring, no matter how serious it is. His age, minutes, injury history and contract make him a dangerous combination for a team that wants to contend now.
The West is wild, and the Rockets need every win to make the playoffs and preferably not play the Warriors early. This means Harden will have to take on more minutes, just the thing CP3 was supposed to help with.
The odds are decreasing so expect Morey to make a move.
all stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference