Staying Put - The Rockets were all over the internet yesterday so there is quite a lot to get to. We start with Marc Stein’s weekly power rankings, where the Rockets remained at number four.
The rising Rockets have quietly posted the NBA’s best record since Jan. 1 (17-5). In even quieter fashion, Houston has nudged its way into the top 10 in defensive efficiency while Dwight Howard became the first player ever to play in three straight All-Star Games with three different teams.
Sounds like someone reads Red94 and saw the stat we posted last Friday that reader Sir Thursday provided. The Rockets have been in the top-ten defensively (according to Hollinger’s metric) all season, so I’m not sure which stat Stein is using for that declaration.
One-Man Press - Zach Lowe wrapped up the final questions from the trade deadline on Grantland. He finished the piece as he always does with his “10 things to like/not like” bit, and Patrick Beverley was a big ole like.
9. The Patrick Beverley Experience
Apologies to everyone in Oklahoma City, but watching this guy play lately has been electric. He’s a one-man press capable of pickpockets anywhere on the court, he’s maybe too confident in his ability to go chest-to-chest on defense without fouling, and he’s been knocking down his 3s over the last couple weeks.
That part of his game has been a bit of a disappointment. He’s shooting only 34.7 percent from 3-point range, slightly below the league’s average, and a very disappointing 32.9 percent on the easier corner 3s. But he’s hit at least half his 3s in six of his last 10 games. He won’t keep that up, but if he hones his 3-point shot into a slightly finer weapon, the Rockets have a very dangerous player.
We covered Bev pretty good yesterday so I don’t have much to add. It’s just nice to see a role player get a little national-love on a team with Howard and Harden. As far as the shooting woes, Beverley’s only month below 35% shooting from deep was in December, when he shot a paltry 26%. Since returning from his broken hand (14 games), he is shooting 37%. He’ll probably never be a dead-eye, but with the defense and rebounding he brings, all Beverley has to do is be average from deep and he’ll be invaluable to a team that generally lacks his strengths.
Bones Breakdown - Twitter is a funny thing. Only there could you find a man with the IQ of someone like Daryl Morey tweeting with the diction of a middle-school student. Damn you 140 characters.
— Daryl Morey (@dmorey) February 25, 2014
Could not imbed the video, but you can see it here.
In the first part, Brent Barry breaks down how the Rockets are using Dwight Howard around the rim. One thing I noticed during this portion of the video that you don’t always see in the games is Dwight actually hammering the on-ball defender in the screen-and-roll. Too often Howard just brushes the defender and then rolls to the rim looking to get his own. But when Dwight plants his feet and allows (we’ll call the ball-handler “Harden” just for the sake of this exercise) to come off the screen and penetrate, it forces Howard’s man to actually commit to the ball-handler and creates chaos behind him as the rest of the defense collapses to help. This frees up the corner shooters and allows Howard a little space at the rim, with nothing but a guard between him and another slam. When Howard just deflects Harden’s man, the defending big-man just has to flash at him and fall back to Howard as Harden’s man usually has no issue recovering. Crushing the on-ball defender is an Omer Asik specialty and is another reason why having him and Jeremy Lin both healthy could make for a very productive second-unit.
In part-two, Barry points out that Howard is on-pace to break his season high in assists and discusses how Howard’s passing frees up Houston’s shooters. It’s a lot of plays showing how the Rocket’s motion offense forces teams to collapse the paint and switch on many of the cuts and back-screens McHale uses to create chaos and free up shooters. Since the Rockets don’t run many plays, each unit must rely on chemistry and experience of knowing how guys like to move and what action is taking place. Howard is obviously getting more comfortable playing with his new teammates.
D-League Week - Grantland is spending the week examining “the innovators, also-rans, has-beens, and oddities of the NBA’s minor league”. They started their discussion with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. If you want to get and idea of Rockets GM Daryl Morey thinking and how he uses the D-League as a grand experiment, it is a must read. There is also a piece discussing four model D-League franchises that includes the Vipers, but most of the material is also covered in the “Amazing Pace” article.
His Vipers might just be the most running, gunning team pro basketball has ever seen. ESPN stat guru Kevin Pelton has described their style of play as “the most extreme professional basketball in America,” and their pace is historically fast: At 109 possessions per game, the Vipers play far faster than any NBA team in the past two decades, including Mike D’Antoni’s Seven Seconds or Less Suns, who averaged around 98 possessions per game. The NBA has sped up since then, with the league average now at 96.5, but even this year’s fastest team, the Philadelphia 76ers, at 102.6 possessions per game, are tortoises compared with RGV.
The Vipers also fire an unprecedented barrage of 3s, taking nearly half their shots from behind the line and averaging 45 3-point attempts per game. The Rockets, who lead the NBA in 3-point attempts, shoot only 26 per game, good for about a third of their shots.
When they aren’t bombing 3s, Smith’s Vipers shoot almost exclusively close to the rim: 41 percent of their field goal attempts come within five feet of the basket. That means, combined, 88.1 percent of the Vipers’ shots are 3s or short 2s. They’ve scored a whopping 3 percent of their points this year from midrange. When Smith’s players warm up, they don’t bother shooting inside the 3-point line, except for maybe a few bunnies in the paint. Just look at their shot chart:
The piece also examines Nevada Smith, the Vipers’ innovative young coach and his playing style that, despite his lack of numerical data, fit exactly what Morey wanted for the D-League team. All of it is pretty interesting and gives an inside view of where the Rockets might be headed.
Sweet, Sweet Knicks -
If the season ended today, the Knicks would owe the 38th pick of the draft to the Rockets. #38 is where Houston drafted Chandler Parsons.
— ClutchFans (@clutchfans) February 25, 2014