The Rockets Daily – March 7, 2014

The Great Wall of Asik – During the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference, Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry sat down with ESPN to discuss a few things NBA, mainly Goldsberry’s new study into how each pick-action should be valued during the course of a basketball game.  Goldsberry called picks “the most underrated events in basketball,” and added, “every basketball coach knows that it is the fundamental element of basketball”.  The trick, then, is finding a way to quantify the ways a good screen-setter can influence a game.

Well, thanks to 2.5 seasons of data collected by Vantage Sports, ESPN Insider Amin Elhassan was able to identify the most cost-effective pickers in the league.  He accredits Tiago Splitter, Kendrick Perkins and Daily-favorite Joakim Noah for being among the elite screeners in the Association, but due to their salary do not make the list.  Omer Asik, however, is the highest-paid player to make the cut.

Omer Asik | Houston Rockets

AAV: $8.4 million | Set Screens Per 100 Chances: 61.7
Solid Screen %: 72.9 | Set Screen Outcome Efficiency %: 34.7

Perhaps the hottest name on the trading block to go untraded, Asik’s role on offense has long been that of a guy who crashes the offensive glass and sets solid screens. We’ve been able to assess with reasonable accuracy his value to the former, but Vantage puts a number on the latter: Asik is one of the the most frequent screen setters in the game, ranking fifth in frequency among players with at least 1,000 samples. He makes contact or re-routes the defender almost 73 percent of the time, making him an effective screener. Asik’s 2014-15 balloon payment hurts, but in the right circumstance it might be a justifiable expense when taking into account his full impact on an offense.

I’ve said before that even Dwight Howard could learn a thing or two from watching Asik in the pick-and-roll.  Too often Howard will peel-off early, before the ball-handler even has time to use the screen, to attack the rim and try to get his own.  Asik, on the other hand, plants his feet and becomes a three-foot wide barricade in the middle of the court.  I even went as far as calling what he does an “Omer Asik specialty”.  He’s a tree-trunk of a man and knows how to use his size to affect the offense despite his lack of scoring ability.

This is why the sports analytics movement and the introduction of the camera-tracking technology is so great.  Such a small, historically insignificant play that happens countless times a game and could only really be measured by the eye-test, is finally getting its due.

But what it also means, is that despite the fact that there is information in existence that proves Omer Asik has the ability to lead the league in rebounding, anchor a top-ten defense and is one of the best screen-setters in the NBA, Daryl Morey was still unable to find a suitable trade partner at the deadline.  Funky contract or not, no wonder the turnover of NBA GMs is so high year-to-year.

Best in the West – Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney of the Point Forward batted-around a few questions about the top-tier teams in the Western Conference.  Topics ranged from who is most likely to win the one-seed, to who would have the best chance at beating the Heat and what is their dream WCF matchup.  One of them also chose a familiar face when answering who they thought (besides Russell Westbrook) is the biggest X-factor in the West-race, but we’ll get to that shortly.   

First, they were asked who they thought was the more realistic contender between the Rockets and Clippers.  They both chose LA, but neither was terribly confident about their pick.  Most of their decision stemmed from the benches of each team.  LA has battle-tested guys like Matt Barnes and Glen Davis, while the Rockets are expecting contributions from the likes of Jordan Hamilton and Donatas Motiejunas.  And they didn’t even mention the one-sidedness of the season series so far this year.

As for the X-factor:

Mahoney: Chandler Parsons. Houston is likely to face the Warriors, Clippers or Blazers in the first round, followed by a potential matchup against the Thunder or Spurs. Any of those series would demand a strong showing, but the most challenging matchups will also test the Rockets well beyond Harden and Howard.

That’s where Parsons comes in — as a spot shooter, an off-the-dribble threat and the best wing defender on the team by default. If opponents manage to hinder Harden and Howard while keeping Parsons under wraps, Houston would likely be in for a tough go and, potentially, an early out. But if Parsons can function as the release point that helps the Rockets create against staunch defensive pressure, a deeper playoff run could be in the cards.

Daryl Morey still maintains that he doesn’t have the third piece for a championship team.  Whether he really feels that way or is just posturing in advance of the first round of Parson’s contract extension-talk this summer, the Hair is that player for this year at least.  While Terrence Jones is the Rocket’ personal barometer (the Rockets are 26-3 when he scores 10 or more, per Paul Forrester), Parsons is far and away the third most important piece for Houston.  He’s the secondary ball-handler now that Beverley is a fixture in the starting-five and is also the lone-starter on the primary bench-unit.  Parsons’ streaky shooting lately is a concern, but his overall playmaking has been as sharp as ever.  In the last two games Parsons had 15 assists, his highest two-game total of the season.  Against the Heat, he repeatedly shot-faked his man behind the arc and penetrated, only to find an open shooter (usually Beverley) for three.  The Rockets can now legitimately run their offense through Parsons for chunks of the game, something that didn’t seem like a safe option even a few months ago.

Lastly, the guys were asked what their dream WCF matchup would be.  They both picked Thunder v. Spurs for the standard reasons, but Golliver had this to say:

My backup choice would be Thunder-Rockets, mostly for storyline reasons. There’s the continued fallout from the Harden trade, the Westbrook vs. Patrick Beverley animosity and the “Can Howard deliver on his free agency decision?” angle. There are also plenty of future implications, with Oklahoma City and Houston seemingly set up to be powerhouses for the next half-decade.

Imagine if the Rockets did reach the conference finals: What would that mean for their ability to land a third All-Star next summer? Who wouldn’t want to hop aboard such a fast-rising star?

As far as Houston is concerned, the Thunder option is definitely the most intriguing.  James Harden trying to keep pace with Kevin Durant; Dwight and Serge Ibaka swatting shots left and right; and lets not forget how electric the atmosphere would be in OKC for game one as Patrick Beverley stands across from Russell Westbrook once again.

But that last bit is the part I couldn’t get off my mind, and was even a subject in the latest BS Report with guest Zach Lowe.  Carmelo Anthony will be there to be had in free agency, and rumor has it (according to Lowe) that Chris Bosh might be the odd-man-out in Miami.  Bosh would be a very enticing move for Houston, as his skillset is perfect for the Rockets.  But his situation in Miami has worked out pretty well so far, so I don’t know how realistic a move out of Florida will be without seeing how the rest of the season plays out.

But as for Melo, Simmons even went as far as to claim that Houston is a real possibility for him.  “Dwight Howard redux,” he called it.  The tax break that Texas can offer over his current team would be enough to negate a large portion of the lost-money Melo would have to sacrifice to leave New York.  Despite lofty preseason expectations, the Knicks have become a laughingstock around the league and Anthony is clearly not having fun at work.  Doesn’t that sound all too familiar?  The parallels between the two situations are stunning.  Both Howard and Melo were/are stars for one of the marquee franchises in the Association, teams that rarely lose a player to a lesser market.  And, oddly enough, this is about the time when “Dwight to Houston” started really gaining steam last year.  It seems like there might be some traction, even if Chicago is probably still the favorite should Melo actually leave New York.

Some real success so early in their five-year plan would really improve the Rockets’ prestige going forward.

The Doberman – While I respect Kevin McHale and his right to call his players whatever moniker he sees fit, the man is a Boston Celtic at heart and certainly was in the early 90’s when the original Junkyard Dog was patrolling the Summit.  So excusing McHale for his unawareness, it just seems lazy to keep calling Patrick Beverley by Mario Elie’s nickname.  While it might fit Beverley and his playing style, it doesn’t work on the Houston Rockets.

So, what do we call him besides just Bev?  As Richard Li pointed out, besides McHale, Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe also chose a canine-theme for their Beverley nicknames in the before-mentioned podcast.  But “The Pitbull” and “The Rottweiler” just seem like low-hanging fruit.  So allow me to make my suggestion: The Doberman.

Is it just me, or are all the guard dogs in movies, especially in junkyard scenes, dobermans?  They’re almost always the bad guy’s protection/intimidators.  And although they are originally from Germany, what Eastern European mob-boss doesn’t have a pack of them waiting to set loose on the hero in the movies?  Seeing as Beverley has strong-ties to that part of the world, it just fits.  Plus, dobermans are much sleeker and more point guard-like than beefy pitbulls and rottweilers.  But most importantly, it’s not stealing from the former-Rocket, responsible for maybe the most iconic play in Houston-sports history.

Going back to the Richard Li piece on Beverley, there were a few things I thought worth pointing out.  First off, the top of the chart depicting the guards with the highest fouls per 36 minutes is made up of mostly above-average to very good perimeter defenders.  Guys like Mario Chalmers, Tony Allen and Avery Bradley have never been criticized for their foul rate.  And, I would speculate that Beverley is afforded more leeway in regards to his fouling because he plays the same position as the Rockets’ sixth man.  His partnership with Jeremy Lin means that he’ll never be responsible for carrying the point guard minutes the same way that Harden or Parsons must.  This allows him to keep the pedal to the floor at all times with little regard for his foul situation.  And I agree with Simmons from the same podcast that the Rockets desperately need Beverley’s toughness (and the fouls that comes with that).  He believes Beverley is one of the more unique players in the league. (There was a lot of Rockets-talk in this one.  Worth a listen)

Also, point guard is the toughest position in the NBA to cover night-to-night.  Nearly every team in the league, especially in the West, has a point guard as one of their best 2-3 players, with the Rockets being one of the few exceptions.  So while some guys might be able to put up numbers on Beverley, the ability to make tough shots (ahem, Steph Curry) doesn’t mean Beverley’s defense was ineffective.  And as reader JohnnyGold pointed out in the forum, his aggression could very well have a “Dwight Effect” on his man.  Who’s to say that Curry, in the example-game Li provided, wouldn’t have had one of his token barrages without Beverley there to stymie him?

But it’s not just that he is preventing shots from being taken; he’s disrupting the entire flow of the opposing offense.  Every second Beverley keeps his man fighting his way across halfcourt is another second that Dwight Howard has to get setup on defense, or James Harden to catch some air.  Starting the offense with 14 seconds left on the shot clock is much more limiting to an offense than one with 18 seconds remaining.  Not to mention, all the passes that come late and penetrations that never happen because Beverley just doesn’t leave room to operate.

If the playoffs started today, for the Rockets to make the Finals, Beverley would have to guard Steph Curry in round one, Tony Parker or Goran Dragic in round two, and Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul or Damian Lillard in the Western Conference Finals.  Metrics be damned; the Rockets won’t make it to June without Patrick Beverley.


#WhatCouldaBeen  #ShouldHaveTakenEvanFournier  #BeWell


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