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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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Total comments: 5
  • Sir Thursday says 1 YEAR ago

    thejohnnygold, on 17 November 2012 - 18:59 PM said:


    I live in Austin with no way to see Houston play so take my analysis with a grain of salt. That being said, a quick glance at ESPN's team stats shows Houston's offense ranks 8th in scoring right now. Of the top 10 teams our shooting % is the lowest (.423). Also, our turnover rate is a little high (17.2/game). Our free throw % is fine and our rebounding looks solid. I feel that a small shift in both shooting % and TO rate will help a lot and those are the two things that time will bring as the players adjust and settle into the season. Asik and Harden are both guilty of too many turnovers. In short, I am optimistic and pleased thus far. We are top 10 with lots of room for improvement.


    Houston is only in the top 10 in points per game because of the fast pace they play (and because they've played in two overtime games). You should always use points per 100 possession metrics in preference to points per game as they give a much clearer picture of how good an offence actually is. By that metric Houston are 15th in the league, which is a better reflection of where we're at right now. The offense is still basic and prone to shutting down late in games.

    Even with that, it's still not worth reading too much into stats like this at this early stage in the season. Strength of schedule and a hot shooting night here or there can seriously distort the data. It's only when teams have played about 20 games that there's enough averaging for the numbers to become statistically significant.

    Agree with you about the turnovers - there was an epidemic at the start of the season that was probably due in part to the players' lack of familiarity with each other. Seems to have settled down a bit over the last few games though, and hopefully that trend will continue as the season progresses. You're not going to eliminate Asik's turnovers - he is always going to be a little bit clumsy and these things happen. But Harden should see improvement.

    ST
  • thejohnnygold says 1 YEAR ago I live in Austin with no way to see Houston play so take my analysis with a grain of salt. That being said, a quick glance at ESPN's team stats shows Houston's offense ranks 8th in scoring right now. Of the top 10 teams our shooting % is the lowest (.423). Also, our turnover rate is a little high (17.2/game). Our free throw % is fine and our rebounding looks solid. I feel that a small shift in both shooting % and TO rate will help a lot and those are the two things that time will bring as the players adjust and settle into the season. Asik and Harden are both guilty of too many turnovers. In short, I am optimistic and pleased thus far. We are top 10 with lots of room for improvement.
  • Sir Thursday says 1 YEAR ago The key thing I took from this post is that for all that Harden could do no wrong in the first two games, his struggles from beyond the three point line have been hurting the Rockets a bit since then. Here are his three point shooting numbers from the last 6 games:

    vs Portland: 1-6
    vs Denver: 0-5
    @ Memphis: 1-6
    vs Detroit: 2-6
    vs Miami: 1-6
    vs New Orleans: 1-7

    Which averages out at 1-6. So if he makes even one more 3 per game, I think we're comfortably in the top half in terms of offensive efficiency and probably would have had a couple more wins. Scoring that extra three per game would make it a bit easier for him to drive as well, which he has been doing OK although not quite with the ease of games 1 and 2.

    The second quarter against New Orleans shows what can happen when you get on a hot streak from range - a big part of scoring so many in that quarter was a function of Douglas and Morris burying their three pointers. I think that's the first time this season I remember seeing one of those, hopefully there will be a few more in later games. Once Harden comes out of his mini-slump (which I hope he will soon), it should happen more often.

    ST
  • NorEastern says 1 YEAR ago I do not see a problem with where the Rockets offense is going. Obviously there are missing pieces, but not even Morey can assemble a team in one off season. And there is that max contract in his back pocket. The offensive spacing could be improved. Ideally you want the double on Harden to come from the player on Lin, a play maker and a drive to the basket guard. Also, when the double comes from the wing, the forward running the baseline and Harden have to be more in-sync. That will come with time. The shooting may be atrocious right now, but as the players learn each others tendencies and preferences shooting will improve. It is all a work in progress.
  • Johnny Rocket says 1 YEAR ago Nice post. A large part of the Rocket's problem on offense revolves around Asik. He's a great defender and great rebounder, but he turns the ball over at an alarming rate and has a very low true shooting percentage. Moreover, his usage rate is fairly high (the Rockets like to use him to set high screens), so this might be a problem until he settles down in his new role. The Miami game was promising--let's hope he continues to improve. The Rockets also need Parsons and Morris to become legitimate scoring threats that can create their own shots. They have been inconsistent so far, but show flashes of real talent.

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