Unarguably the most curious development of this young season had been, up to this point, the conspicuous absence of Houston’s heralded rookies from the lineup. After being featured heavily during the preseason, and after having turned in stellar summer camp performances, the trio of Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones, and Royce White hadn’t seen a single minute all year. Today, with assistant coach Kelvin Sampson acting in place of Kevin McHale (on leave of absence for the illness of his daughter), that changed.
Donatas Motiejunas saw five minutes of garbage time action, scoring three points and earning a trip to the line in that frame. Upon checking in, he immediately went to the post, attacking his man with a quick fake-and-go, drawing the foul. It’s a move we had seen him use a lot during the preseason. After the video you see above, off-camera, I asked D-Mo specifically about that move.
Tonight was an evening of good news and bad news. The good news was that the Rockets got me a great birthday present: their first blowout of the season. The bad news was that Coach McHale has taken an indefinite leave of absence due to the illness of his daughter. His departure will not only leave a hole at the top of the Rockets’ leadership, but more importantly is a trying and difficult time for him, his daughter and their family. There’s no doubt that the entire Rockets team, fanbase and community wishes her a swift return to health.
At least one piece of stress was lifted from McHale’s plate tonight: the Rockets won fairly convincingly tonight, for the first time in this season. The dark cloud at the edge of this sunrise is that the Pistons are proving to be among the worst teams this season in every metric. At this point, anything less than a blowout team would have been a bit of a black eye for the Rockets. The overarching narrative of youth mistakes tapered slightly, but was still present. The Rockets looked like a .500 team, and the Pistons looked like a 15th seed team. For once, this season, things made sense.
Tonight is a back-to-back game for both teams – the Rockets were in Memphis doing battle with the Grizzlies, while the Pistons roll into town after a tough game in OKC. The thing is, every game has been a tough game for the Pistons thus far – they’ve lost every one (including the season opener against us) to come in with a league-worst 0-6 record. It continues a trend of starting seasons badly for the Pistons, who began last year with a catastrophic 4-20 record and the year before 0-5.
“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.
Apart from “points off turnovers,” almost all of basketball’s statistics tend to separate offense and defense as two different systems geared towards the common goal of winning. However, unlike football or baseball—where the two groups are understandably divided—the relationship between offense and defense in basketball is much more fluid, and far more complex.
With a steal, turnover, or made basket, any five-man unit can go from offense to defense (and vice versa) in the blink of an eye. Possessions rarely go longer than 20 seconds, and one might think both sides of the ball would have a clearer statistical correlation. This doesn’t appear to be the case.
But in Houston, a direct alliance could exist this season between their offense and defense—particularly if Kevin McHale continues to deploy an up-tempo, free-throw/three-point heavy style—with one helping the other perform at a much higher level than we all thought possible. [read more…]