Inherent within the decision over whether to re-sign Dwight Howard is the comparison to Clint Capela, Howard’s younger, cheaper likely successor.  Capela came of age during the playoffs of his rookie season, landing a surprise spot in the rotation and impressing.  I thought he’d be a major key to Houston’s season–and he very much was early on–before fizzling later in the year.  I thought it would benefit us to take a look at the numbers of each player this past season.

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We talked in Part 5 about the apparent paradox of the Rockets’ offense: despite our most prominent recollections, the Rockets were a consistently good offensive team in 2016 in all of the circumstances in which we possessed measurable data.  I just couldn’t help myself though.  After watching the team lose what seemed like countless games by missing open 3 after open 3, after hearing commentators repeatedly say that the roster didn’t fit the scheme, and even after quipping myself that “the Rockets [were] a team of bad 3 point shooters playing in a system designed to shoot 3’s,” I had to keep digging.

I compiled the table below via NBA.com’s opponent splits.  Simply put, the stats you see below are how the team fared against each opponent.  ‘3p% against’ is the percentage at which the Rockets shot 3’s against each particular opponent and OffRtg against is the Rockets’ offensive rating against each particular opponent.  Understand that as far as analytics go, this is as rudimentary as it gets – in a data set with just two or three items, one random hot shooting night could completely skew the end result.  But I’m an attorney, not a statistician.  While I’m literate, this is as far as my data manipulation abilities go.

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James Harden spoke of the desire to get more efficient this season, even mentioning the possibility of playing off the ball.  Thus far, all of the attention has been on Harden’s defense, a topic already so thoroughly dissected that I’ll steer clear.  I know he was bad on that end, so I’m not going to waste my time quantifying it.  What I’m curious about is how his offense fared in comparison to a year in which he came runner-up in the MVP voting.

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Rahat: So as you all hopefully are aware, I’ve been writing a ‘what went wrong’ series on the Houston Rockets’ 2016 season, trying to dig into the numbers surrounding their catastrophic fall from grace. You don’t have to look too hard to figure out the source of the problem: the Rockets were abysmal on defense. That was obvious and plain to see. But what I’ve found perplexing is the paradox of the team’s offense. My recollection is of a mash unit playing pick up ball, with four guys watching James Harden dribble the air out of the ball. But by the numbers, the Houston offense was very good – 7th best in the league to be exact. Last year, the team’s offense was 12th in the league. The surprise wasn’t so much that the offense had improved from last season as it was that it ranked so relatively high among its peers this year.

The only publicly accessible numbers I had at my disposal are NBA.com’s crunch time statistics which measure a team’s performance in close and late scenarios. Those numbers reveal the Rockets shot 40.4% overall in crunch time, good for 17th in the league, and 30.8% on 3’s, good for 14th. The team’s overall efficiency in crunch time was 12th – a decline, but still not as bad as what I was expecting.

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In 2014-2015, Donatas Motiejunas appeared in 71 games for the Rockets, averaging 28.7 minutes per night.  He scored 12 points per game on 50% shooting, and was 37% on 3’s.  This past season, Motiejunas only played in 37 games, averaging 14.8 minutes, averaging 6.2 points on 43.9% shooting, and just 28% on 3’s.

Motiejunas was a very big part of the team in 2015.  He was a member of all of Houston’s top-4 quintets in overall minutes played together, appearing either next to Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones, or Josh Smith.  And he was a member of three of Houston’s top five quintets in net rating, with the best of those being the lineup that featured Brewer/Harden/Motiejunas/Smith/Terry, a group that was a +28.2 in 50 minutes shared.  (Houston’s best quintet last season was Ariza/Brewer/Howard/Prigioni/Smith, a group which was a +40 in 41 minutes played).

This year, Motiejunas, much to my surprise, was a member of Houston’s most used lineup, one which featured Ariza/Beverley/Harden/Howard/Motiejunas.  That lineup shared the court together for 295 minutes and was a +11, another surprise, as I noted in an earlier installment.  Oddly though, Motiejunas does not appear in any of Houston’s remaining top 20 most used quintets from this season.  Motiejunas also was not a part of any of Houston’s top five lineups in net rating this season.

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