I started writing this series back five years ago when there was actually something to discern. Now, with Morey’s star having risen to uncharted heights (has there ever been a general manager more famous on the internet?), most people who care to know already know what he’s trying to do and how he’s trying to do it. To that end, this series has just morphed into a chronicle of events. When you’ve been doing something for five years, you kind of have no choice but to see it through. (Think of it like staying in a marriage just for the kids. Or something like that). So until either Morey gets fired or leaves, or I shut down this blog, this is what we have.
A preliminary matter
Initially, I’d note that one mischaracterization about Morey is his contribution to the sport. While he’s widely recognized as the face of the basketball analytics movement, I’d argue that his most innovative tendency has been his manipulation of the league’s collective bargaining agreement. The Rockets, in Morey’s tenure, have been in the business of creating what I’d call ‘salary cap instruments’, or in other words, financial tools with artificial, constructed value. The team made waves by signing Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin to what were deemed as ‘poison pill contracts’, but a lot of their equally innovative maneuvers have been less heralded. The draft pick they are owed from the New Orleans Pelicans has reverse protection in that it will only be transferred if falling between a certain range. (Conventional pick protection had always entailed protection at the top.) That pick is the same asset garnered in return for Kyle Lowry, and used in the James Harden trade. Kostas Papanikolaou is earning $4.8million this year, an eye-popping figure for an unproven rookie import. But look closer: next season, the team carries a team option on his deal, making him essentially an expiring contract, and one large enough to fit the purposes of a bigger trade. The thinking would go, if you are going to have to spend the money anyway, it’s better to overpay on short term obligations that carry liquidity. This is not unlike Houston’s practice in the past–like with Luis Scola’s deal–where the last year on the deal would be non-guaranteed or partially guaranteed.
James Harden’s shooting has taken a very troubling nosedive here of late, settling in at 39.5% overall (31% on 3’s) at present date. Looking a bit closer, on catch and shoot’s, he’s shooting 33.3%, while on pullups, he’s shooting 30.5%. Not much of a split there, really. Interestingly, 49.6% of his shots are pullups, with just 15% as catch and shoots. (The other 34.5% are from less than 10 feet). To put it in other terms, Harden is averaging 2.6 catch and shoot attempts per game, but 8.4 pullup attempts. (5.9 of his attempts are from less than 10 feet.)
Other things that stand out from the data: Harden’s highest field goal percentage is when he has a defender within 0-2 feet of his body. His lowest percentages come when his defender is greater than 6 feet away.
And last of all, Harden is taking 7.7 shots per game on possessions where he has held the ball for longer than 6 seconds. He is taking just 3.7 field goals a game on possessions where he has held the ball for less than two seconds.
All of this really just confirms that we haven’t gotten Harden off the ball at all, so far this year. Judging by the splits, I’m not even sure if having someone else create for him would help much anyway either, aside from giving him a rest. It’s still early, but is definitely something worth keeping an eye on.
There was a surprising moment at halftime Saturday night as the teams headed to the lockerrooms. Houston assistant coach J.B. Bickerstaff, expressing appreciation of his team, stated something along the lines of, “this is the best group we’ve ever had” and what I recall as “they listen to what we say.” A reader clarified that he had said “they have bought in to what we want to do.” I wish I had been recording at the time, but unfortunately I was not.
In any event, the statement perhaps was not so surprising in light of what we’ve seen so far this year, but certainly eye-opening with regards to what we thought we knew of the team last season. Recall that previously, conventional wisdom considered Chandler Parsons the team’s “glue guy.” I, myself, had written consistently that while I did not think Parsons was worth $10million, in a vacuum, he was worth that pricetag to the team in what he brought (I thought) in leadership and chemistry. I guess there was more going on behind the scenes than we knew about.
This all makes sense incentively. In a unit, if all men have been adequately compensated, there is no reason for jealousy or discord. But when two guys are making north of double-digit millions, another two are making $5million each, and another thinks he is as important as any of them, you can see how there would be problems, especially when the latter feels the only way to get paid is to play outside the unit’s interests.
Everyone on the current team is content, with Harden, Howard, and Ariza all having obtained the highest dollar figure they could each command. And the only guys still playing without security–guys like Beverley, Black, and Motiejunas–can only obtain that security by playing harder on defense. Chandler had to score to get the big bucks, and he got them.
In this week’s episode, Rahat and Forrest Walker discussed Isaiah Canaan’s ceiling, as well as the probability of a Paul Millsap trade.
courtesy of nba.com
The Rockets will get a chance to lick their wounds after Saturday night’s loss to the Warriors with games against some of the weaker teams in the league, traveling below the border to face a Wolves team in Mexico, coming home for Sam Hinkie’s 76ers, and traveling back up to Oklahoma City for a date with the Thunder next Sunday evening. Houston should be getting Dwight Howard back by Wednesday, one would think, but there is still no word on the status of Terrence Jones and Patrick Beverley. The two latter Rockets could miss more than a week, their loss exerting more strain on an already thin Houston bench.
What I’ll be looking for this week: I don’t mind the loss of Beverley during this stretch so much because the circumstances give Isaiah Canaan extra reps to further acclimate himself within the Houston offense. With Chandler Parsons gone, Houston will need Canaan to assert himself during critical stretches of the season, if they hope to maintain their current winning percentage. Fatigue will eventually take its toll upon James Harden and another perimeter playmaker will have to step up.
The other big story will be the Dwight Howard-Nerlens Noel rematch on Friday night at Toyota Center. While Howard seemed respectable in the box score, Noel did about as good a job I can remember anyone (not named Bargnani) doing on Howard, consistently denying the big man positioning at his favorite spots. I couldn’t get a conclusory grasp of whether the problem was more symptomatic of poor post positioning technique on the part of Howard or a systematic issue with Houston’s post entry efforts. Either way, Noel is an absolute beast who should anchor the Philadelphia defense for the next decade. Will the Rockets make the necessary adjustments to get Howard the ball in the post?
Last of all, you’ll have to wonder if Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins will still be continuing their freeze-out of Reggie Jackson by the time Sunday evening rolls around. The Rockets can only hope so.
The dangerous Memphis Grizzlies–maybe the worst matchup in the entire league for Houston–await the Rockets at the start of the next week.