Some nuggets on the Rockets’ offense

I’ve started digging into the numbers again, now that we’ve reached the quarter mark and at least built up a moderately representative sample of how things should look the rest of the way.  I’ve been wanting to look into lineup data but Houston has shuffled so many different players in and out of their rotation due to injury that I don’t think any of those numbers will be probative on any front.

But with as much as has been made about Houston’s revamped defense, the team’s offense has changed quite significantly as well.  Rob Dover highlighted some instances in his latest piece this Monday.  The results have been different too.  This year, Houston is 20th in the league in offensive rating, and are 15th in pace.  Last year, they were fourth in offense, and fifth in pace.  They’re playing slower, to be sure, but I’d surmise a portion of that efficiency dip can be attributed to the ugly stretch they played against the likes of the Sixers.  They’ve also been adjusting on the fly to rapidly changing frontcourt rotations; last season, the team enjoyed relative stability.

Apologetics aside, despite the dip, I think the team’s offense this year is much better served for the long run.  Last year, while they put up tons of points, the system essentially amounted to, it seemed, run the ball up, jack up a ‘3’, or let Harden ISO.  Even Harden ISOs this year seem to all be coming at the end of the shot clock rather than the beginning.  The nature of their scheme was why, I’ve posited, they were so easy to load up on and stop in crunch time.  (The numbers back that up).  While they may not be scoring as much over the course of the game this year, they are also better equipped at the end of the game.

A few numbers that I don’t know what to make of: Houston is 14th in the league in passes per game.  The top four are the Jazz, Knicks, Spurs, and 76ers, so I’m not sure what that even means.  Houston is sandwiched in between the Warriors and Grizzlies, so they clearly are doing something right, I’d think.

The Warriors lead the league in secondary assists per game, with Houston coming in at 12th.  This means that the guy passing the ball to the guy who got the assist, for the Warriors, isn’t holding onto it much.  This is where I would like to see Houston’s offense become more advanced.  Rather than just penetrating and passing the ball out, instances like this involve complex sequences where the initial pass sets up the next.  My favorite example of something like this has been where, after receiving the ball off the roll on the pick and roll, Motiejunas has taken a few dribbles, and then hit a cutter coming baseline.  Unfortunately, he’s the only big on this team capable of making that play, whereas, practically everyone on the Warriors can pass.

in musings

Using’s player tracking tool, I wanted to find how Donatas Motiejunas was faring defensively in holding down the center position in Dwight Howard’s absence.  The Rockets, miraculously, have maintained their defensive efficiency, even without the former defensive player of the year.  To eliminate noise and guards who engage in few conflicts at the rim, I set the filters on the tool for a minimum of 25 minutes per game, and a minimum of five field goal shot attempts against per game.  The results show opponents are shooting 43.9% at the rim against Motiejunas, tied for #7 in the league with defensive phenom Serge Ibaka.  The top six are, in the following order: Andrew Bogut, Dwight Howard, Roy Hibbert, Tim Duncan, Omer Asik, and DeMarcus Cousins.  Impressive company.

I’ve been writing for some time now that Motiejunas’ defensive abilities have largely gone unnoticed for the past season by the basketball commentariat.  He’s strong against the post, and most importantly, makes quick and smart defensive rotations.  But even I hadn’t realized how valuable he’s been at protecting the rim.  It makes sense given the team’s overall success.  Upon Dwight Howard’s return, Houston will legitimately have four very good to elite defenders in its starting lineup.

in musings
  • Patrick Beverley is now shooting 49% from deep on the year, after another stellar performance in his return to action Saturday night.  That figure certainly won’t hold, but I’m curious to see how far his accuracy regresses.  Recall that since last summer, after a year in which Beverley shot 36% on 3’s, I penciled in Beverley’s magic number as 39%, saying if the point guard could just simply raise his percentage by that small margin, he’d be the ideal fit at the position next to James Harden, long term.  While many disagree, I think I still stand by that point.  Beverley knows his role, takes few risks and manages the game, is of course one of the best defenders in the league, and is perhaps the emotional leader of this team.  If he’s spreading the floor, what more could you ask for from that position?  Wouldn’t it be better to have someone who is happy expending 100% of his energy on defense rather than someone who possibly might not be happy with his number of touches?
  • It’s an important question going forward for the team with Beverley’s impending free agency this summer.  And don’t look now, but New Orleans is now 9-10, having fallen to last place in the southwest division.  Many, including myself, feared the Pelicans might make the playoffs this season after witnessing the frightening dominance of Anthony Davis in the season’s first week.  Those concerns are proving to have been premature as not only is New Orleans behind the current top 8 teams, but they are also playing catch up to the Oklahoma City Thunder.  Ultimately, that means the Rockets are pretty good odds to have a late lottery pick sent their way this summer.  And that matter ties in with the issue of Beverley.

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Rockets Roundup: 12/8/14

A quick and digestible look at the most top-of-mind Rockets news of the past few days.

CBS Sports. Ariza and Beverley lead Rockets over Suns 100-95.

“Trevor Ariza and Pat Beverley each scored 19 points to lead the Rockets to their fourth straight victory, 100-95 over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night. Houston improved to 16-4 by winning for the seventh time in the nine games Howard (knee strain) has been out.”

Houston Chronicle. Rockets’ coach McHale: Dwight not returning from injury ‘anytime soon’.

“McHale had previously said he hoped that Howard, who has been out since Nov. 19, might be ready to return in time to play on the Rockets’ road trip Wednesday and Thursday to play Golden State and Sacramento. Asked if he had a better feel for Howard’s timetable, he said again, ‘He won’t be back anytime soon.’ ”

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The Rockets have plays now


Since arriving in Houston, McHale and the coaching staff have implemented a ‘read-and-react’ style offence. The idea was that they wouldn’t run many plays, but would rely on players’ ability to find the open man, usually as a result of drive-and-kick style action. To start with, the offence was quite basic, but as time goes on more and more wrinkles have been added. As the motion gets more and more intricate, it becomes difficult to tell if the Rockets have kept to the principle of a play-light offence or are now running sets from the practice court. The first half of the Rockets’ overtime win over the Timberwolves seemed especially full of possessions that could well have been drawn up by the coaches. In this article I will take a look at a few that I found interesting.

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