“What do you think is the best publicly available defensive metric?”
That was one of Daryl Morey’s responses on a Reddit chat that he conducted this September. (Yes, really. It’s quite fascinating.) In interviews he has repeatedly stressed the importance of defense and stated that to make the Conference Finals, much less the Finals and the ultimate crown, without a top 10 defense is basically impossible. Much of the search for a big man post-Yao has focused more on the big man like Tyson Chandler who can defend, rebound, and sometimes score putbacks.
Houston has played extremely well on defense throughout this season. No one on the current starting lineup is a negative on the defensive end, and Asik has clearly showcased himself as one of the great defensive players in the league. The Rockets, to some degree, have managed to restore their legacy as a defensive team which Hakeem and later Yao Ming established.
This dynamic is important to appreciate when we look back on this defeat. Houston held the Grizzlies to a night where they shot less than 40%. Punctuated by Asik, Marc Gasol and Rudy Gay were well and truly neutralized tonight. A look at the boxscore would even indicate that Zach Randolph and Conley had poor games, though any analysis must admit that this was not the case. However, I simply cannot praise Asik enough. He defends every part of basketball, from the pick and roll to watching the cutter to the pure post, with a skill that any true basketball savant can genuinely appreciate. He allows the Rockets to get away with gambles or mistakes that were ever possible under Hayes or Dalembert.
So if our defense played so well, why did Houston lose? I’d like to observe a simple stat.
TOV% is an advanced stat which states what percentage of Rockets offensive plays end in a turnover. From 2004 to 2012, Houston had one season, 2006, where the turnover percentage was over 14%. The current Rockets are at 16.8%. If the Rockets were to maintain this rate of turnover, it would easily be the highest in at least 15 years, and possibly longer if I bothered to check any further. Houston has had one game this season where we had less than 20 turnovers, and that was 18. Tonight, the team gave up another 20, whether it was through sloppy passes by every Rocket who handled the ball, fumbled passes by Asik, or charges created by erratic drives. While we must consider the factor that this is a young team, the current percentages are not remotely acceptable through the entire season even for this developing team. Memphis took advantage of repeated turnovers to force the ball up and draw easy buckets, a process which was especially egregious during the traditional Houston siesta during the 3rd quarter.
In addition, while there are not enough words to praise Asik’s defense, he cannot be expected to guard against Mr. Gasol and Randolph by himself and grab the rebound every time. However, Patterson has never been a reliable defensive rebounder, and Morris lacks the size to contend with them on the glass. And while I do not share this concern to the extent that I know other Rockets fans do, the unwillingness of McHale to play even Terrence Jones after his stellar preseason and summer league is both peculiar and more than a bit unnerving. The inability of the 4′s to rebound and the Rockets to pass accurately culminated in a Grizzlies outburst in the later 4th quarter where a 75-76 game transformed into a 75-87 lead that proved to be too much to overcome in the final few minutes.
At any rate, Houston has managed to remain competitive in every game and everyone can see that the team has plenty of avenues. These ups and downs are just going to be part of this season.
- While it was clear from the beginning that Harden is not going to average 40 points a game, successive games against Tony Allen and Andre Iguodala have taken a significant hit to his efficiency. What was particularly concerning is that James Harden’s jumper completely disappeared tonight, as all of his made shots were at the rim with the exception of one 3-pointer. One criticism of Harden’s game upon joining the Rockets was his lack of a mid-range jumper, and while that shot is the least efficient in basketball, it serves value in keeping defenses honest.
- Kevin McHale, it appears, has finally grown tired of playing Toney Douglas, which should absolutely make this game a cause of celebration despite the result. Instead, McHale played Harden as the point guard while Lin rested and staggered the duo’s minutes to make sure that there was one ball handler on the floor at all times, and played Daequan Cook at the shooting guard during those moments. While Harden so far has constantly attempted to force passes which shouldn’t happen, a major factor in Houston’s high turnover rate, he is not Toney Douglas, and that is all that matters.
- Throughout this entire offseason, I was particularly concerned with the expectations which other Rockets fans were placing on Chandler Parsons. While Parsons of course was a major bright spot last season, he was a 4-year rookie who played hard but had a suspect shot. My only hopes for Parsons this season have been that he avoids the sophomore slump and fix a free throw rate that while terrible at the beginning of the 2011-12 season, significantly improved at the end. Tonight, Parsons easily surpassed those expectations with a 19 point game where he seemed like the only Rocket out on the court in the 3rd quarter, where he had 12 points. Parsons has not played exceptionally well to start out the season, but a game like tonight show his work and his excellent all-around game.