Welcome to Court Vision, a weekly video-breakdown column on emerging trends around the NBA you might have missed.
CP3 is in decline
Everyone is at fault for Houston's struggles: Daryl Morey didn't replenish the roster with playoff-caliber pieces, Mike D'Antoni is living up to his reputation on defense, Eric Gordon might be the most erratic player in the league, and the hustle players aren't hustling hard enough.
The biggest issue is that the Rockets run an isolation system entirely dependent on their stars, and Chris Paul isn't carrying his weight. He hasn't been this bad since his rookie season and isn't even close to being a top-five point guard at the moment.
Paul just can't get to the rim anymore. Only 10 percent of his shots are coming from the restricted area, and he's finishing at a 55 percent clip after hovering between 60 and 70 percent over the last decade. He lacks burst and is unable to get downhill and juke defenders with his handle. As a result, his playmaking has suffered. He throws more bailout passes than ever, which is why he's averaging a career high in turnovers.
Paul still has his trusty pull-up, but teams are starting to press higher to deny the jumper and play him to drive. That's when Paul really gets in trouble - there isn't anyone else on the floor aside from James Harden who can create a shot, so he's stuck having to force it.
The shot above used to be automatic for Paul. He would lull the big man to sleep, then suddenly sell the threat of a drive before leaning back and draining the jumper. Now he's getting swatted by a third-string center in Ekpe Udoh.
You can apply the caveat of injuries. Paul dealt with elbow tendinitis early in the season and missed three games recently due to a bad hamstring. But these issues will only get worse for the 33-year-old who has played over 75 games just once in the last seven years. He's never at 100 percent.
The bigger-picture concern is Paul's contract. He's in the first year of a four-year max that will pay him over $44 million when he's 38. If he's already starting to decline, that deal quickly becomes one of the most toxic in the league. And if the Rockets continue to hover around .500 for most of the season, then it might be wise to get that contract off the books before things get even worse. Short guards aren't exactly known for aging gracefully.
Spurs have a math problem
It's commendable the Spurs tried to buck the trend when the entire league was rushing to embrace small ball, but it's just not working.
San Antonio doubled down on a methodical offense built on premium mid-range shots and locked players into their traditional spots rather than aspiring toward positionless basketball. The Spurs didn't have the personnel to play the modern game, and so they stayed retro with the hopes that Gregg Popovich would work his magic and set a new trend of his own.
It's early, but the Spurs hold the sixth-worst point differential in the league while sitting 14th in the West. Trading threes for twos isn't creative, it's just stubborn. Fielding an inflexible roster doesn't achieve anything other than yielding mismatches and unbalanced lineups. They're not bucking trends - they're just behind the times.
San Antonio has lost by 20 or more points in five games, and it's been outscored by 183 points from the 3-point line in those five blowouts. No wonder Popovich hates threes.
The play above is a microcosm of what ails the Spurs. DeMar DeRozan tries to post up for a difficult long two against a bigger and stronger player, and he ends up turning it over. Houston then runs the other way with Gerald Green pulling up for three. That's not just bad luck - it's indicative of how the Spurs are outdated.
Sexton is an enigma
This is what the Cavaliers' veterans meant when they complained that rookie guard Collin Sexton doesn't know how to run an NBA offense:
Sexton does this about once per quarter. His idea of running point is to come around a high screen so he can pull up from 20 feet. Passing is a secondary concern as he averages the same number of assists as Larry Nance. Sexton has actually been a better shooter than advertised, but hoisting a long two instead of running the team is not a winning play.
Most rookies would be benched for this, but Sexton is second in minutes played. His bad habits are being enabled because there are no other options on the roster. The alternative would be to give those minutes to Jordan Clarkson, who has the same shot selection without the upside.
Sexton's assists should improve once Kevin Love returns from injury. For now, he's running the majority of his pick-and-rolls with a one-dimensional finisher in Thompson, and is almost forced to jack up jumpers to create spacing.
Jokic is a magician
This column could be filled every week with Nikola Jokic assists. This left-handed, wraparound, cross-court pass right on the money to a cutting Jamal Murray in Monday's win over the Raptors was his best feed of the week.
Noah Vonleh is thriving
It's always difficult to take numbers at face value from players on tanking teams, but Vonleh is quietly enjoying a nice year with the Knicks.
Admittedly, the bar was low. Vonleh never lived up to his potential as a lottery pick, and he bounced from Charlotte to Portland and had a cup of coffee in Chicago before signing for the minimum in New York. He was an enigma on the verge of washing out of the league.
But now he looks like a decent contributor. He's a tenacious rebounder, he sets wide screens, he's knocking down the occasional outside jumper, and he's finishing with force around the basket. Vonleh moves his feet against guards on switches - he did a decent job against Giannis Antetokounmpo over the weekend - and he's even developed a mean two-man game with Emmanuel Mudiay.