Roughly 99% of all the NBA’s players depend on beneficial situations to maximize their success. Unless we’re talking about LeBron James, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, or a healthy Dwight Howard, players need the “right” environment to hit their ceiling and reach their ultimate potential. That means either a beneficial scheme, set of teammates, or supportive locker room. Or a combination of all three.
The Houston Rockets are one of the smartest teams in the league because they recognize the importance of taking players that are relevant to their basketball philosophy, and putting them in situations to flourish. Carlos Delfino is a perfect example.
This is Delfino’s eighth year in the NBA, but it wasn’t until the Pistons traded him to the Raptors in 2007 (for draft picks that morphed into Jonas Jerebko and Kyle Singler) that his career began to have meaning.
And by “have meaning,” what I mean is he started to shoot (and make) lots of three-pointers. During the 2007-08 season, Delfino made 38.2% of the 5.9 three-pointers per 36 minutes he attempted (45.5% in the team’s 41 wins).
Unfortunately, that year the Raptors organization wasn’t exactly in love with the three-point shot. They were below average in total attempts despite the fact that by the end of the season they made more than 17 other teams, and had the second highest percentage in the league.
Delfino was 25 years old, playing 23 minutes a game, attempting nearly four out of every 10 three-point shot the Raptors took while he was on the court. He was really good, though, so it was OK.
What wasn’t OK was Delfino being placed in positions to attack the basket more often than he should, with over a quarter of his points coming in the paint, and less than half of his points coming on made three-pointers. As a result, he shot less than 40% for the season, taking more inefficient shots than he probably should have.
Here is Delfino’s shot chart from the entire 2007-08 season.
This season Delfino attempts about 36% of all Houston’s three-pointers when he’s on the court, which is a ton, considering how much we all know the Rockets love jacking shots from behind the arc. He’s averaging 8.6 attempts per 36 minutes, which is well beyond his career-best.
So basically, the Rockets have taken their above average three-point shooter and told him to only shoot three-pointers. What a novel idea! As opposed to that year in Toronto when 48.8% of points came on three-pointers, right now 71% of his baskets are coming that way. Which is how it should be.
Only 15.1% of his points are coming in the paint, and a tiny 3.1% are from free-throws. On New Year’s Eve Delfino went 6-8 from behind the three-point line in a Rockets victory over the Hawks. Five days later he went 6-7. Both were wins.
Here is Delfino’s shot chart through his tenure with the Rockets.
Only Ryan Anderson, Nicolas Batum, Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry, Carmelo Anthony, Damian Lillard, and Kyle Korver average more three-pointers per game. Of those listed players, Korver is the only to play less than 30 minutes per game (29.1). The Rockets have taken a player and placed him in a position to succeed.
It hasn’t always been pretty—the 3-11 performance against Minnesota on December 26th and the sheepish 2-10 against Dallas on December 8th stand out—but Houston’s ideology isn’t about certainty, it’s about playing the odds. And Carlos Delfino behind the three-point line is an efficient shot the Rockets have utilized more than any team he’s ever played for.