Huq’s Pen: And so it begins

  • Despite not really being a true contender, Houston was among just a handful of teams whose season didn’t really matter.  All they would be judged upon would be their postseason play.  And now we’re here.  After an 82-game rollercoaster, the boys in red will be opening up at home this weekend against the Portland TrailBlazers.  
  • The topic merits more than just a paragraph, but you can divide Houston’s 2013-2014 campaign roughly into four parts.  They opened up awkwardly, struggling to find their identity and struggling to find a suitable power forward – it cost them in the standings.  Upon the insertion of Terrence Jones into the starting lineup, the team took off but at the cost of Omer Asik.  Then, they got Asik back, roles were defined, and for a certain stretch, looked like the best team in the entire league.  After that, nothing mattered but getting to the postseason healthy, leading to the fourth segment when they lost Beverley and Howard and skittered to the finish line.  Despite the joy of last night’s victory, we still don’t really know who this team is.  Are they the defiant group that stomped the Pacers and Heat or are they the lazy cast that got steamrolled by the Bulls and tormented successively by Oklahoma City and the Clippers?
  • You have to really be grateful because the scheme by which things fell into place is the one that outlines Houston’s highest likelihood of a Western Conference Finals berth.  The stage is set for the Rockets to face the two teams in the West against whom they matchup best.  Despite the series sweep of the Spurs, I don’t think necessarily that Houston should be favored to topple their cross-state rivals.  But if given the choice between facing the Spurs, Clippers, and Thunder, the answer there is pretty clear.
  • The interesting thing about the Spurs is that they are the one “good” West team that simply cannot handle Howard and Jones.  As I said last night during the game, it almost feels like it did back in the 90′s when an aging Olajuwon, Drexler, and Elie simply could not keep pace with Payton, Kemp, and the Sonics.

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How realistic is a Houston Rockets championship?

There are many reasons to believe the Rockets might have a legitimate shot at this year’s title. They went 4-0 against the team with the best record in the league. They have two of the top 10 players. They have one of the best records in the league since January. They are recovering from a host of injuries. They have a favorable draw. They have Patrick Beverley, who will eat you for an afternoon snack.

But what are their chances really? How do they compare to teams like the Spurs, Heat, Thunder, Clippers, or Pacers? To find out, I looked at the projections from three reputable sources: Vegas Futures, Hollinger Playoff Odds, and Sports Club Stats.

According to these sources, only 4-6 teams are more likely to win the 2014 NBA Title than the Rockets. That’s the good news. The bad? The Rockets’ actual chances are about 4-6%.

Put another way, the Rockets are about as likely to win this year’s championship as Dwight Howard is to sink a half-court shot. That’s the plain and painful truth.

The chart below shows the estimated championship probabilities from the three aforementioned sources (Vegas Futures, Hollinger Playoff Odds, and Sports Club Stats). As you can see, the championship is very likely to be awarded to one of five teams: San Antonio, Miami, Oklahoma City, LA Clippers, or Indiana. The Rockets are next in line, but effectively out of reach.

The bottom line: The Rockets have a very good team, good enough to challenge the best teams in the league, but in all likelihood not good enough to win 4 out of 7 games in four straight series.

2014 NBA championship odds

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Houston Rockets 104, San Antonio Spurs 98 – That’ll do it

It took a while to get there, but the Rockets finally clinched home court advantage in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The San Antonio Spurs happened to be the team in the way of it, and they also happened to get swept by the Rockets. The Spurs might have been resting starters late, they may have let many key players sit the whole game, and they may have rallied back with their deep bench, but in the end a win is a win. The Rockets will bring the playoffs back to Houston for game one… right after one game in New Orleans.

If you squint just a little bit, that was a great showing from the Rockets. Sure, much of it came against Cory Joseph and Jeff Ayres, but that’s not as big of an asterisk as it may seem. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is one of the best ever because his system is the team MVP. There’s a reason the Spurs won 60 games despite suffering injury after injury. To beat the Spurs’ bench is still to beat the Spurs’ system, something teams like the Miami Heat have learned well. The Rockets also seemed to face well against the starters for San Antonio, only stuttering when the Spurs bench stepped in. This has been a common malady lately, and one that likely stems from effort and urgency as much as anything else. Don’t let anyone tell you this wasn’t a good win.

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The simplest way to measure individual offensive efficiency

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Click for a full-sized, interactive version

UPDATE: I received a request to change points attempted per game to points attempted per 36 minutes. That made a lot of sense, so I did. The biggest difference resulting from this change is that I think this chart now very concisely captures the criticism levied against Russell Westbrook. He is 2nd in the league in points attempted per 36 minutes with a whopping 53, just barely behind his 1st place teammate Kevin Durant, who has 53.61. The difference, of course, is that Durant converts on  55.83% of his attempts whereas Westbrook converts on 48.43% of his attempts, or right at the league average. Even infamous chucker Carmelo Anthony attempts to score less, and scores more efficiently, than Westbrook, and he doesn’t have Kevin Durant to pass to. 

Sometimes, probably most of the time, the simplest solution is the best. Admittedly I haven’t always been good at keeping things simple, but I’m going to rectify the situation with this post.

There are quite a few indicators available to measure offensive efficiency. Some combination of usage, effective field goal %, true shooting %, and points per possession is usually thrown around in the name of efficiency. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Efficiency is just about two components–number of times something is attempted and number of times those attempts are successful.

In the case of basketball, we’re talking about trying to score and actually scoring. The above chart plots the number of points players tried to score per game against the percentage of their attempts that were converted (points scored / points attempted). For the record, the chart considers all attempted and scored 3pt-fgs, 2pt-fgs, and free throws. Only players who played at least 45 games and at least 22 minutes per game were included.

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The Rockets Daily – April 14, 2014

Rooting Interest - Last night in Portland, the Blazers beat the Golden State Warriors in overtime, 117-119.  And be sure, this game is absolutely deserving of discussion on a Houston Rockets forum.  It was perhaps the first time all season that I openly rooted for the Warriors, always afraid Steph Curry would end up in a first round matchup with the Rockets.  But with just two games remaining on Houston’s schedule and one for Portland, the Rockets are in a position where if the Blazers win their final game at home against the nothing-to-play-for Clippers, and the Rockets can’t beat either San Antonio or New Orleans, Portland will end up hosting the first-round and not Houston.

It would be devastating from psychological standpoint, if not a strategical one, for the Rockets to play so much of the season in the upper-tier of the Western Conference, only to falter at the end and find themselves on the road for Game 1.  And the Rockets aren’t exactly going into the playoffs under ideal conditions.  The team peaked a month ago, losing only two games in February, while going 15-2 at one point.  But since April arrived they have been a mediocre .500 club.  Now, on the precipice of the playoffs, the Rockets find themselves injured (Howard, Parsons and Beverley have all missed games) and tired (Houston is the only team with two players, Harden and Parsons, in the top-ten in minutes played).  And with the Blazers victory last night, there will be no rest for the weary.  Read More »

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