Rocketscience: Dragic, Budinger, T-Will Evaluations

A lot of people have asked for my opinion on the Rockets’ moves last week.  My answer was that while the moves were good for the team long-term, we have more or less given up on the season.  That sounds dramatic, and I’m sure anyone affiliated with the Rockets would vehemently disagree, but a 10th seed team trading away an aging starter and sixth man for a promising rotation player, draft picks, and a “project” big man screams “win-later,” long-term thinking.  The Rockets replaced assets with declining value with assets that should appreciate.

ESPN’s John Hollinger already made somewhat accurate trade grades (insider only) – though I believe he underrated Brooks’ upside – so I’ll avoid any type of “grading” here with a “stats-light” rundown of the deals last week:

Brooks Trade

Aaron Brooks will recover from this injury (the Suns have an excellent training staff), and when he does, Pheonix will be very happy with this trade.   Much like the Battier trade, the Rockets exchanged a rental for future assets.  We weren’t willing to pay Brooks and probably aren’t going to make the playoffs, so it makes sense to get something in return that will carry into next season.

As for Dragic, he’s the type of player that will impact the game one way or another.  Much like Lowry, he pushes the tempo and has both a high assist ratio (32.25% this season) and high turnover ratio (20.68%).   As he matures, the hope is that he will sharpen his decision making and cut down the turnovers.  My biggest concern, however, is that he has been largely more successful the past two seasons as a shooting guard.   Here are a few notes:

1.       Last season (considered by some as his mini-breakout year), while shooting a 52.7 eFG%, he was assisted on 39.6% of his shots.  That is a high number for typical point guards, which means that others were creating a lot of his shots (ie. Nash).  This season, his shooting has dropped to a 46.8 eFG%, and only 28.6% of his made shots are assisted.

2.       His net PER* this season is -3.7 at point guard, and +2.0 as a shooting guard.

3.       His most effective 5-man unit** this year had Nash at point guard.  However, it was his 9th most common combination (by minutes played) in Phoenix, and the only unit in the top 10 most common with Nash playing beside him.

Battier Trade

We did not follow through with the Battier trade so that we could snag an underperforming Hasheem Thabeet and somehow turn him into a respectable player.  It was possibly for the pick, but a late first-rounder several years from now doesn’t have much value now.  The other day Clyde Drexler fittingly said this trade was addition by subtraction.  By allowing Budinger to start and Terrence Williams to enter the rotation, the Rockets will start getting more out of its prospects.

In his two games as a starter, Budinger is averaging 17.5 points per game, but expect that number to fall a little bit.  He’s shooting 58% from the field and 50% on 3-pointers which, while encouraging, is more likely due to a boost in confidence than something to rely upon moving forward.  His per-48 minute scoring has increased since becoming a starter (27.5 vs. 21.6), but his attempts per-48 minutes have actually decreased (15.0 vs. 19.1).   That can be explained by his new role as a starter, as he now has to find his shots after Scola, Martin, and Lowry.  Moving forward, expect him to put up modest, but efficient scoring numbers.

Conventional wisdom says that adding Budinger and subtracting Battier will hurt the Rockets defensively.  Against my better judgment, there are indications that Budinger has actually been more effective defensively than Battier this season.  According to, Battier has allowed opponent small forwards to shoot 52.1 eFG% and 16.0 PER, while Budinger has held opponent small forwards to 45.4 eFG% and 12.9 PER.   A similar metric is the On-court, Off-court opponent eFG% (a team stat instead of individual).  Opponents have shot 48.2 eFG% with Budinger on the court this season, and 51.1% when off.  When Battier was on the court, opponents shot 51.0%, and 48.6% when off.  Battier is getting older.  Since 2005-2006, Battier has never had a negative on-court/off-court net opponent eFG% for a season until this year.

As for Terrence Williams, I am not overly optimistic.  Despite the constant comparisons to T-Mac (which I still do not understand), the other T will never be a star (see what I did there?).  Here are a few reasons:

1.        No stats:  He’s finally getting playing time.  What has he done so far in just over 17 total minutes?  He’s made 4 of 12 shots, turned the ball over twice, gotten blocked once, and committed two fouls – all of which can be summarized with a -13 plus/minus, which he managed in two Rockets wins.

2.       Body language:  He doesn’t put his hands up when playing on-ball defense.  He pouts when things don’t go his way.  He doesn’t always hustle, especially after making a bad play.

3.       Defense:  I’ve seen him miss two rotations badly in the past two games (one of which almost got Brad Miller posterized).  He’s also not very consistent on the ball or in boxing out.

Here’s a simple, but perfectly appropriate quote from former NBA Finals MVP Chauncey Billups on Sunday, “Most of defense is just effort and being willing to do it.”  By the time a player gets to the NBA (with a few exceptions), defense is no longer x’s and o’s, but merely a confrontation between human nature and willpower.  T-Will knows what he’s supposed to do, but he doesn’t do it.  He’s the kind of guy that thinks everything is just happening to him, while throwing up his hands and making excuses.  For the sake of the Rockets, I hope he decides to start taking ownership and becomes the player he thinks he already is.

* own PER minus opponent counterpart PER, courtesy of

**1.49 Off vs. .74 Def with a plus 19 +/-,

Written by Ben Heller, ‘Rocketscience’ is a column devoted to basketball analytics.  Ben Heller can be contacted at

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  • zen

    Could the Battier vs. Budinger defensive difference be attributed to Shane guarding star players and Chase guarding bench players for most of the year?

  • Anonymous

    Agreed on Williams and the attitude issues but what about his passing? McGrady had the same effort issues and shooting woes but managed a positive impact through his playmaking.

  • Anonymous

    Good piece. I think with the Battier/Bud conundrum, it boils down to Bud having been mentored by Battier for two years now can’t help but show improvement defensively. Of course it will take a couple years of implementation for Bud to hone his skills, but the main difference between the two is one guy in physical decline versus another at his peak. This speaks volumes for Bud’s potential and Morey made the right move by pushing him to the front lines. It was inevitable, and I’m glad we have the luxury in a tanked season to witness his potential as a starter for the Rockets instead of somewhere else leaving us with an aging Battier. These last games of the season it is nice to test the unknowns on our team so in the offseason we can plan to keep or dump them based on their on court performances now (i.e., T-will, Thabeet).

  • Curlyblur

    I watched how Twill entered the NBA and was drafted by the Nets. I am a Louisville fan and was interested on how he would do in the NBA. Wow was the Nets a absolute cluster &*#@.

    I think Twill is just “that guy” who needs minutes to show his game. Let’s go back to last year the Nets against the Bulls and the Bulls are playoff bound if they win. Twill had a triple double and single handly dominated the game. 27 points 13 rebounds and 10 assist. How many NBA players had a triple double last year? He rebounds like he’s 6’10” always has. He just needs minutes. I don’t see any comparison to tmac and I don’t get it at all. The game is about confidence and trust when he gets that watch out.

  • Billy

    maybe the T-Mac comparisons are because of the effort issues… And I agree with zen, saying Budinger is a better defender than Battier based on those stats is a bit of a stretch since they were guarding different players by design. Battier would be assigned to guard every other teams best wing player (because Kevin Martin sure as heck aint gonna get it done) while Budinger would not only guard a bench player but also Courtney Lee would probably be assigned to the better scorer on the wing. and the On/Off stats arent helpful when comparing a starter and a backup. The On/Off stat is most useful when comparing starters on different teams where their results are independent of each other. The situations of Battier and Budinger are too mutually dependent for this stat to be useful.

  • Anonymous

    I’m one of those whose made the McGrady comparison and what I mean is not a similarity in their game or skillset but rather methods of efficacy: McGrady was highly effective in 2008 as a very poor, inefficient shooter and lazy defender, but made a + impact on his team’s production through passing and playmaking. So the question for me is, can Williams make a similar impact with that same gift?

  • Stephen

    Conspiracy theory #1.
    The Rockets are seeing if Bud can be a consistent,fairly efficient scorer so they can safely trade Martin in off-season.
    Conspiracy theory #2.
    The Rockets are trying to showcase Bud so they can package him w/a First or two and move up in Draft. If another team’s fans think Bud is a very good player on acheap contract,it’s an easier PR sell.

    Me,I believe the Rockets have given up on season and are trying to assess what they really have. If Bud shows he can be a fairly consistent contributor,and not get abused on D,Rocket options improve.(Note that is was Lee on floor in 4Q against NO,not Bud.)
    If Williams shows he can run the offense,provide athleticism,make an effort on D and work on his outside shooting,he’ll get significant minutes. He’s shown he can get into the lane at will,but has no plan for what he’s doing once in there. If he learns to play under control and commits to team basketball,Houston has a steal. One of McGrady’s redeeming qualities is he loved/loves to set up big men. If Williams can learn to do that…(But I lean towards it not happening.)
    Let’s just say I have my doubts as to Dragic.
    By all accounts Thabeet has bad hands. That is a killer weakness for a big man,that will always limit them to a very low ceiling. And no big w/a reputation for having bad hands ever lost that rep.
    I will be very surprised if Thabeet is on the roster starting 2013.

  • Stephen

    If the Rockets do play their way into Playoffs,let’s look at likely First Rd match-ups.
    LA Lakers,Kobe and Artest. Yeah,I can see Bud or Martin trying to defend Artest in low post a half-dozen times or so. Let’s not even think of who’s defending Kobe.
    Spurs,Ginobili and Jefferson. Good luck defending Ginobili and keeping Jefferson off the glass.
    OKC,Durant and Sefalosha. Well one gets a break,but the other is going to get killed trying to run thru all the screens OKC sets.

  • Anonymous

    While in pursuit of that ever-elusive star, no roster spot is protected. Until that prospect is in sight it’s hard to speculate who’s to be replaced. Battier and Brooks were the only sure-fire victims of subtraction by addition all season long had that star not been presented (which it wasn’t). At this point we will witness Rick, under management directive, showcase our entire roster in hopes that another team will pursue one of them, combined with hopes that their talents will lure someone in to want to play for us. Before this season is over, everyone here will know what our entire roster is or is not capable of. I tired of so much trade talk leading up to the deadline, now there should be very little trade speculation until summer.. it’s pointless basically. Now’s the time and the season for hardcore player evaluations.

  • Bob Schmidt

    Stats can always be made to say what anyone wants them to say in my opinion… My evalluation would be based on work ethic and mental discipline combined with athletic skills.

    Dragic has good tools and size. He plays defense and has good size, plus he seems to have good attitude. I’m glad to have him on the team and am happy that he has different characteristics to his game than Lowry…. Bud also has great tools and decent size. His work ethic is praised by everyone, and he has the potential to be a long-term starter with good numbers. Plus, he is not lazy with his defense and will get better with more experience.

    As to T-will, one triple double does not make an NBA career. If he doesn’t overcome his attitude problems, his career will be severely limited. He has great skills, but has yet to show any mental discipline to follow his coaching. If he shapes up mentally, he could be very special. Otherwise, a total waste of time…

  • Chris

    Superb analysis, Rahat.

    When can we expect the forum to be up and running?

    Much appreciated.

  • Anonymous

    this article was actually written by ben heller.

    as far as the forum, i’ve stopped giving updates because i hate being that guy that says “it’s coming, it’s coming!” and then delaying it endlessly. but yes, it’s coming, we’re getting really close.

  • Easy

    I am more optimistic about Dragic’s potential than T-will’s. Sure T-Will probably has more innate talent. But his attitude just screams red flag. He comes across like someone who thinks he is better than he really is. His demeanor reminds me of Mike James.

    That said, I really hope that he pans out. I agree with rahat’s T-Mac comparison in that he has that uncanny court vision. That kind of court vision cannot be taught, and he clearly has it. And it is what separate a special player from an ordinary player. Let’s just hope that he can get his head straight.

  • Highflight20

    Have you ever checked out his d-league stats? They are off the charts. He easily averages a triple double including over 25 ppg. I think that once he embraces the role as Bud’s backup, he can become one of the better bench players by adding instance offense and defense. The only thing that can stop this from happening is his attitude.

  • Highflight20

    Oh no, not Mike

  • Anonymous

    I have to say I’m not a fan at all of 82games’s opponent PER stat. Generally speaking, it’s a horrible barometer for defenders. Kevin Martin, who by all accounts is a bad defender, has a counterpart PER at the 2 guard of 13.1. Some will say that he’s underrated defensively, but to say he’s above average is a joke. That puts him in the range of Dwight Howard (opponent PER 13), better than Rajon Rondo, and much better than Chris Paul (opponent PER of 16.6). 82games has some great stats, but opponent PER is not one of them. Al Horford, a tremendously gifted defender, has an opponent PER of 15.5.

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