A Kobe/CP3 Duo Wouldn’t Have Been as Good as Harden/CP3

The early success of Chris Paul in Houston has reinvigorated the still-annoying debate on how a  Kobe/CP3 tandem would’ve faired had David Stern not infamously vetoed the deal that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers.

Spoiler: not as well as the Harden/CP3 tandem has.

First of all, let’s get something straight: James Harden and Chris Paul aren’t a “match made in heaven” as some people like to think. Their games aren’t as compatible as say, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade’s games are. Wade (in his prime) was a slasher. He found pockets of space and backdoor channels to operate in. LeBron, being the generational passer that he is, frequently found Wade on backdoor cuts and in the pockets of space where Wade had favorable matchups.

LeBron and Wade were, in fact, a “match made in heaven” in Miami.

Harden and CP3 aren’t like that. Both players, for the most part, need the ball in their hands to be effective on offense. Occasionally one will find the other for a catch and shoot, but those instances are few and far between.

They’ve essentially acted as tag team partners. When one sits, the other goes to work. For as lethal a duo as they are, they’re barely on the court with one another, at least compared to other duos:

Player and teammate

% of minutes played together

James Harden and Chris Paul


DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry


LeBron James and Kevin Love


Kevin Durant and Steph Curry


NOTE: stats from NBAwowy.

And even when the two are on the court together, it’s still a tag-team effort. Whoever has the hot hand is allowed to run the show. If Paul consistently gets good looks running the pick-n-roll with Clint Capela (which he has consistently) then he’ll get to run the offense. If Harden is having success driving and kicking to Trevor Ariza (which he has consistently) then he’ll get to run the offense.

Harden and Paul themselves put it best when they said that the duo is working because they want it to. And that right there is why a Kobe/CP3 duo never would’ve been as effective as the Harden/CP3 duo. Kobe thinks of himself as the alpha, and would never allow somebody else to take control of the offense for parts of the game. Don’t believe me? The proof is in the pudding.

Paul’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER) has stayed exactly the same from last season, clocking in at 26.2, good for 7th in the league. When players join Bryant, their PER–which I see as the all-encompassing stat–tends to diminish. Take a look:

The reason Kobe/CP3 wouldn’t have worked as well as Harden/CP3 has is simple. Kobe wouldn’t have wanted it to work as well. I don’t mean that Kobe didn’t want to win. That’s just a silly notion to consider. I mean that Kobe wouldn’t be willing to defer at points in the game the way Harden has. And that’s why I think that Houston has the tools to beat Golden State in a potential 7-game series.

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