Loweball – The latest article from Grantland’s Zach Lowe has already created a stir in the forums. It’s a classic Lowe breakdown Houston’s start to the season, but what is interesting about it is how much Lowe vacillates back and forth on Houston’s defense. The second paragraph kind of sums it up:
Even their defense, maligned across the Internet after a couple of embarrassing performances, ranks 13th in points allowed per possession and has held opponents to just 41.7 percent shooting overall — the third-lowest mark in the league. “It’s way too early to panic,” says Kelvin Sampson, the team’s top assistant coach. “There are a lot of things we are doing better than people might think.”
Lowe later spends several paragraphs breaking down the ways in which Houston’s defense occasionally breaks down, but for ever negative there is a positive. Parson’s isn’t an elite athlete but he’s “smart as hell.” The team has a hard time defending side pick-and-rolls, but “Houston’s difficulties with this have been a little overblown.” Kelvin Sampson describes Harden’s defense as “He’s either really good or he’s not there.” It creates the impression that Houston’s defensive issues amount to death by 1,000 paper cuts.
What Lowe isn’t ambivalent about at all is Howard’s post game:
Howard has shot 20-of-60, or 33 percent, on post-up attempts this season, per Synergy Sports. That would have ranked 88th out of 92 players who recorded at least 75 post-up plays last season.
From there he goes on an extended defense of Howard’s post prowess back in his Orlando years, noting that injuries may have robbed him of the athleticism that made his post moves possible, but he also speculates that some of it is mental, which offers some hope.
In short, the article is a detailed analysis of why Houston is good but not great. It was also written before the Rockets held down the Celtics while Terrence Jones stole their lunch money, so there’s that.
Hollinger – The stats-based Hollinger power rankings are out on ESPN.com. As I write this, Houston is at no. 13, but the Boston blowout hasn’t been factored in to the team’s margin of victory, so I expect that number to improve quite a bit.
The Pacifier – David Vertsberger at Hickory High examines the cost of player appeasement, using Dwight Howard’s situation in Houston as one of several examples:
Just 8.7% of Dwight’s offense has come as a pick-and-roll man this season compared to 11.4% in 2013. Subsequently, his post ups make up a 47.7% chunk of his offense, up from 45.2% last year. The problem is that Howard’s a much bigger help to his team’s offense as a screener, scoring .57 points per possession down low this season to 1.18 PPP as a pick man. The huge gap is partially due to how ineffective Howard’s post-ups are with Omer Asik on the floor with him – which has been commonplace – but a similar image appears in the prior season’s statistics
It’s an interesting take, and certainly there is evidence that giving Howard post touches helps keep him happy. However, as Zach Lowe pointed out in his article, Howard was once an extremely effective post player. Attempting to reignite that skill and integrate it into the offense gives Houston another offensive weapon to throw at opponents in the playoffs.
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