Living and Dying by the Three

As it turns out, the Houston Rockets rely on three point shooting. With 28.7 threes attempted per game, the Rockets shoot more from downtown than any team in the league except the New York Knicks (29 per game). The Rockets score 29.8% of their points from behind the arc. They even tied the NBA record for most three pointers made in a game (23, against Golden State on Feb. 5th, 2013). We know how much they live by the three, but how much do they die by the three?

Despite shooting a 2nd highest number of threes, the Rockets only rank 9th in accuracy, 36.8%. This isn’t a bad number by any means, but not nearly as good as the top three teams, Oklahoma City, Miami and Golden State, all of whom are shooting 39% or better. The Rockets, however, have put on some truly amazing shows of three point shooting the last couple of months, including not only the 23 against Golden State, but the drubbing of Utah and the recent win in Brooklyn. Given that Houston has hit above 40% regularly, it’s curious that their season average would be only 36.8%.

The short answer is that the Rockets have gone through some very rough patches, especially in the early part of the season, and then again during the infamous 7-game losing streak. In fact, looking at the table below we can see that the Rockets’ shooting has improved as the season has gone on.

3 point
shooting %
first 29 games 36.3
Wins 40.2 last 29 games 37.5
Losses 33.0 Since 1.21.13
(16 games)

Additionally, we can see that the Rockets shoot better in wins than in losses. This comes as little surprise, but the difference in shooting percentage (a whopping 6.8%!) suggests that threes are particularly important to the Rockets. On the plus side, the Rockets have not just improved slightly in the last half of the season, but have improved starkly since the 7-game losing streak. 39.6% would be league-leading number were it to cover the entire season. It’s also no surprise that the Rockets have boosted their win margin lately, using their high percentage shooting to bury teams by double digits.

The Rockets are trending towards better shooting, and they’re winning games when they shoot well. It may be easy to predict the Rockets to continue winning more and shooting better (not to mention a favorable schedule from this point onwards), but of course it’s not that simple. It’s still not clear what the Thomas Robinson trade (and the associated Marcus Morris trade) will do to the Rockets and their system. Thus far, it’s resulted in three extremely high-shooting games: 45.5%, 53.3% and 41.3%. This is likely a result of more minutes for Delfino, a three point specialist, and none for Morris and Patrick Patterson, who both shoot adequately but not notably from the arc.

It’s possible that the Rockets regress from downtown, but it would be bucking the course the team has followed all season. With no training camp for James Harden, Houston’s new superstar, the shaky first part of the season seems to have served that purpose. With the Rockets, including Lin and Harden, polishing their three point shot, Houston’s volume shooting from three looks justified indeed.

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