First off, if you haven’t yet, check out Episode 72 of The Red94 Podcast where Richard Li and I delved into some of the data pertaining to the team. We looked at bench usage, crunch time effectiveness, and, of course, Dwight Howard postups.
Now, to turn your attention to the real topic of the moment:
One argument which is often trotted out against Moreyball is that a reliance on free throws will not work in the more physical postseason. Referees will call fewer fouls and thus it will be more important to hit that mid-range jump shot. But the reality is there is no evidence that the refs swallow their whistles more in the postseason. For example, the 2013-14 Rockets shot 31 free throws a game in the regular season. Against Portland, that dropped all the way to 30.
And as tonight showed, you don’t need to wait until the postseason for the referees to swallow their whistles. Zach Randolph hacked Harden on Houston’s final drive, Marc Gasol made a tough jumper over Terrence Jones, and the Rockets lost a chance to come within half a game of second place in the West. The game was not lost just by the fact that Houston grabbed only 5 free throw attempts tonight (the same amount as during that other badly-reffed game of the season against Chicago), but it did not help.
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In this week’s episode, Rahat and Richard Li dig into the numbers to assess the team’s bench usage, crunch time effectiveness, and Dwight Howard postups.
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Time to see how the Rockets bench usage and performance has changed since the additions of Smith, Brewer, et al. Usage has increased a little bit from 34% to 35% since mid-January. Effectiveness has increased a bit more, from a -0.8 net rating to a 1.8 net rating. While the usage is still 3rd to last, the Rockets are now ahead of seven other teams who are tied for 2nd to last and last place. The net rating now puts the Rockets above the NBA bench average.
Worth noting is the overall increase in bench usage across the NBA. In late 2013, when I first started keeping track of this data, the NBA average for bench usage was a shade above 35%. It is now barely below 38%. Given the emphasis on player health over the past two seasons, this shouldn’t be too surprising.
Also worth noting is how a team like the Golden State Warriors (I admit sometimes I reference them solely for the purpose of pissing off Rahat) has adjusted. In December 2013, they were dead last in the league with a 28% bench usage. Their bench’s net rating was -2.7. That season I wrote that they were so dependent on their starters that a single injury would spell disaster. Then Bogut got hurt and I felt vindicated. Fast forward to this season. The Warriors now play their bench 38% of the time, slightly above league average. Their bench is also the second most effective in the league with a net rating of 5.9. Clearly there are several other factors contributing to the Warriors’ recent success, but I think this is one of them. More importantly for them, it also predicts greater sustainability later in the season.
The Rockets have certainly improved in this regard, but can probably still do more given how deep the team has become. In last night’s game sans Harden and Howard, the Rockets only played eight men. Each starter played at least 32 minutes. Notably, KJ McDaniels didn’t play at all. It seemed like a pretty golden opportunity for him to stretch his legs and gain confidence against a quality opponent. Some old habits just seem to have a hard time dying.
Teams: Houston Rockets @ Memphis Grizzlies
Time: Wednesday, March 4. 7:00 p.m. CT
Venue: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
Television: Root Sports
Insider’s View – Q&A with Chip Crain of 3 Shades of Blue. Follow Chip on Twitter @chipc3 and @3ShadesofBlue.
For the other side of the conversation I had with Chip, check out 3sob.com.
MF – I honestly never understood it, but there were Rockets fans that were happy to see Courtney Lee shipped out to Boston a few years ago. Gasol is generally recognized as the best center in the NBA, Z-Bo and Tony Allen get plenty of grit-and-grind love, and Mike Conley makes just about every “most underrated” list. But how important is Lee to what the Grizzlies like to do? [read more…]