The difference between winning and losing

While watching games, I’m simultaneously intrigued by and skeptical of stats that announce that player X does Y at Z effectiveness when his team wins, and not when his team loses. It’s a nice thought, that one player’s specific behavior might indicate, or even predict, his entire team’s outcome, but the choices of data are mostly arbitrary.

To make this exercise a little more robust and interesting, I decided to inject some statistical steroids into the traditional analysis. Below is a graph that shows the difference in five indicators (assist ratio, defensive rating, offensive rating, true shooting percentage, and usage percentage) between team wins and losses of all nine of the Houston Rockets regular rotational players (click for a full-sized interactive version).

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The Rockets Daily – December 27, 2013

The Best Things In Life Are Free – James Harden set a new record last night, and it’s the most James Harden-y record he could possibly set. According to ESPN Stats & Info, his 27 points were the most ever by a player who made two or fewer field goals. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and the Beard’s gotta shoot free throws.

Yeah, About That – Zach Randolf was a little unhappy about how that all went down. He was given a technical for barking at the refs over Harden’s trail to the line, and after the game, he said:

“It was the refs tonight. Eight against five. The game in the second half, a man was shooting free throws every time. We were out there playing hard, and they were dictating the game. It can’t be like that. We are out there playing, too.

As I wrote in a comment thread last night, I feel like Harden earned just about every free throw. Unlike some of his greatest foul-drawing predecessors–Kobe, Dirk, and even aging MJ–Harden seldom draws ticky-tack fouls on fadeaways, which are the ultimate “superstar” calls. He beats his man off the dribble and thrusts the ball forward as he gathers it. The result is usually that his man reaches for the ball from behind and grabs his arm, or the helper tries to slap the ball away and gets all arm. Basically, he begs defenders to abandon “verticality” and start swinging, and once that happens, whistles blow.

Occasionally, Harden gets the Kobe treatment: refs just wait to see if he missed the shot, then blow a whistle. Last night they made calls as soon as there was contact. Also, on a night when your opponent’s best player hits the bench halfway through the third quarter with five fouls, you might want to think twice before criticizing the officials, Z-Bo. [read more…]

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A new start for Donatas Motiejunas

After last night’s victory, Kevin McHale stated that he opted to keep Dwight Howard on the bench late in the game because his back had stiffened up.  I had been tweeting during the game’s closing minutes that it was a great coaching move on the part of McHale to stick with Motiejunas down the stretch.  It’s anyone’s guess whether McHale’s stated reason was true.  However, considering that he kept Terrence Jones–who had been beasting up until the fourth quarter–on the bench as well, closing out with Casspi and Motiejunas inside, I suspect McHale’s statement regarding Dwight was given to avoid controversy and that his true intentions were to reward Motiejunas.  If I’m right on that, I love it.  Either way, I love what happened.

As we are all too familiar, Motiejunas is a player who desperately needed something to go right for him this year.  After some nice flashes offensively last season, he’s been chained to the bench since after appearing at times like the worst interior defender in the entire league.  A game like last night is exactly what D-Mo needed to prove to himself that he is capable of playing defense in this league.  He battled Zach Randolph, one of the most physical power forwards in basketball, and survived.  It wasn’t pretty, Z-Bo had his way on a few occasions, and D-Mo took some shots (including an elbow to the throat), but his limbs are still in tact and he’s still alive and standing.  Experiences like that are what cause a player to reflect back and build confidence.  Hopefully Motiejunas now understands the level of physicality he must bring to earn playing time.  And now he knows he’s capable.  Had McHale just pulled him after the Dwight danger had passed (Howard was on the bench due to foul trouble), there wouldn’t have been much to draw upon.  But the former Celtic great left D-Mo in until the very end.  It was a risky move that could have cost the team the game.  But its the type of move that Gregg Poppovich would have made, sacrificing a bit in the present for the sake of the future.  Maybe its a sign that McHale is settling in?

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