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How Has Houston’s Offense Fared So Far?

 Through seven games, the Rockets have not had much success on offense. Houston is scoring only 98 points per 100 possessions, putting them at 22nd in the NBA.[1] While this lack of offensive punch may be expected given the dearth of proven scorers on the roster, (Harden is the only Rocket with a career scoring average in the double digits) what is more surprising is the fact that the Rockets are creating and taking efficient shots but simply not converting them at an acceptable rate.

The Rockets as a team are distributing their shot selection in a very efficient manner. 38% of Houston’s shots are right at the rim and 35% are from 3 point range, percentages that place Houston 2nd in each category. The Rockets play at an above-average pace and attempt 32 shots per game at the rim (also 2nd in the league) and 29 threes per game, second behind only the trigger-happy Knicks. The Rockets only take 13 shots per game between 10-23 feet, by far the lowest in the league (in contrast, the Bulls take the most mid-range jumpers, at 34 a game). In short, the vast majority of Houston’s shots are from the two most efficient ranges on the floor.

The problem, however, is that Houston isn’t making these shots. The Rockets are converting only 60% of their attempts at the rim, ranked 24th in the league.[2] Of the three Rockets who attempt the most shots at the rim, Harden is attacking the rim with his usual success (8 shots per game at 67%), while Lin is converting at a below average rate (4 shots per game at 61%) and Asik is shooting an abysmal 52% on 7 attempts per game. Furthermore, although the Rockets attempt a similar number of threes to the scorching Knicks, Houston is shooting an appalling 30% on threes compared with a league average of 35% and an unsustainable 44% for New York. Harden, Parsons and Delfino each take 6 threes per game and are shooting 26%, 36% and 34% respectively from long range. Lin takes 4 threes per game and makes only 31% of his shots while Morris takes 3 per game and makes a mere 30%. As a consequence, the Rockets rank 29th in the league in offensive ratio, the ratio of effective field goal percentage (taking into account threes) over expected effective field goal percentage (which assumes league average shooting).

Is this simply an early season trend that will reverse itself and allow the Rockets to reap the benefits of their efficient shot selection? Although it may be reasonable to expect some regression towards league average shooting, the limitations of the Rockets’ personnel will ultimately prevent Houston from achieving its offensive ceiling (at least in the short-term). Despite occasional flashes of offensive competency and improved free throw shooting, Asik is simply a below-average offensive big-man. His embarrassing 52% shooting at the rim is identical to last season’s numbers. Asik’s lack of comfort on offense has translated to 14% of his shots getting blocked, double the league-average rate of 7%.

Harden aside, the Rockets’ primary three-point shooters are all converting around their career averages. Parsons has become a league-average three-point shooter and Delfino has been one his entire career. Lin and Morris, however, must improve their long-range shooting if the Rockets want to make defenders pay for leaving them open. Harden has experienced the biggest drop-off in three-point shooting, from a career average of 37% to 26% this year. Some of this is undoubtedly a result of increased ball-handling responsibilities and a correspondingly lower frequency of open spot-up opportunities courtesy of Westbrook and Durant. Harden is being assisted on only 64% of his threes this season, compared with 86% last season. While Harden’s long-range shooting should improve as the season progresses, a below-average season from long-range is not out of the question.

The beauty of having a young roster, however, is the possibility of improvement. While Asik might never be mistaken for Al Jefferson, there is no reason why he can’t improve his scoring around the rim (perhaps an offseason with Hakeem is in the cards?) and add a few serviceable post moves to his arsenal. And shooting is one of the easiest areas for young players to improve in (Lin in particular needs to find a way to fix his jump shot).

The larger issue is the lack of a credible individual scoring threat outside of Harden and the occasional Patterson post-up to suck in extra defenders and create easy offense. 63% of Houston’s field goals come via an assist, the 9th highest rate in the league. Out of the main rotation players, only Lin and Harden have fewer than 50% of their made field goals assisted on. Per synergysports.com, 26% of the Rockets’ plays have resulted in spot-up opportunities, which they have converted at a clip of 33% for a PPP[3] of 0.86, 22nd in the league. Until either a second offensive star is acquired to pair with Harden or one of the youngsters makes a significant leap (possible but unlikely), the Rockets will be hard-pressed to score as efficiently as they might otherwise be able to.


[1] Unless explicitly stated otherwise, all data are courtesy of Hoopdata.com

[2] The league average is 64%

[3] Points per possession

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