According to John Hollinger, the Rockets Are Really Good

As an internet troll, I have discovered that most mainstream basketball fans (read: non-nerds) tend to think of John Hollinger’s opinions and statistics as unadulterated malarkey. Of course, when asked why, most of these casual observers of the game will make ungrounded assertions about the statistician’s fandom and biases while arguing the obviousness of what can be seen on the court, all of which generally culminates with the kind of internet name calling that ends any worthwhile argument (or initiates the lightning round of a really fun internet word battle!).

Despite all of this, I’m pretty sure that followers of this blog have at least a passing interest in Hollinger’s beliefs, especially when said thoughts pertain to the Houston Rockets. Anyone who keeps up with his daily updated rankings housed on ESPN’s NBA pages likely has noticed the Rockets’ seemingly inexplicable placement at the eight spot (as of the time of this writing). For a team with a 13-15 record, this seems questionable or, at the very least, counter-intuitive. In an ESPN Insider article written Tuesday, Hollinger explained his formula’s measurement of the Rockets’ season to date:

As for the Rockets, their reemergence as a playoff factor is less surprising in light of the fact that they won 42 games a year ago. And while losing Yao for the season certainly removes some of the team’s upside, Houston’s real issue in the first few weeks was its wobbly point guard play. With Aaron Brooks sidelined and Kyle Lowry out of shape, the Rockets struggled to generate offense aside from Luis Scola’s post-up game. That’s all changed in recent weeks, as Lowry has put together several dominant games (including two savage dismantlings of the man he formerly backed up in Memphis, Mike Conley). For the month of December, he’s averaging 14.7 points, 8.4 assists and 2.7 steals and, most shockingly, he’s made more than half his 3-pointers. As an added plus, Brooks’ return over the weekend finally gives the Rockets the one-two punch they’d used so effectively a year ago at point guard. The main beneficiary has been shooting guard Kevin Martin, who has taken his usually high-efficiency output to another level. (…) Sum it all up, and chances are good that we’ll see both Houston and Philadelphia among the eight teams left standing in each conference when the regular season ends.

For those arguing the validity of sticking with this roster, Hollinger definitely makes a compelling case for this being the natural progression of a roster dealing with turnover and a chain of injuries. Still, I’ve always questioned Hollinger’s team-based rankings due to their obsessive connection to game-to-game point differential, a stat that makes the Rockets (a healthy +1.3 on the season) look quite sexy as an “underrated” pick; however, I simply think the sample size has been too small to derive such conclusions from a great deal of close losses (and there were a great deal of them) and some beatings laid upon some bad teams. Being excited about the mediocrity of a seven or eight seed also perturbs me, a strong advocate of the “championship or bust” philosophy. Regardless, this can’t be anything but promising for a team that just started to find its feet; hell, it might already be the eighth-best team in the L, right? The forums would have a field day with that one.

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