The Crux of the Problem: Point Guard Play?

A reader, Bob Schmidt, writes:

The Rockets have suffered an unexpected slow start to the current season, and examining the team as a whole reveals several interesting stats. By basketball-reference.com stats, the team offensive stats are a near duplication so far this season compared to last year, 107.5 points this year compared to 107.6 last year. Defensively, we have slipped slightly this year to 109.3 points allowed compared to 108.0 last year.

Thus, the Rockets are performing similarly to last year. So, why is this year’s record a dismal 3 wins and 8 losses? By statistics from basketball reference, we should be at 5 wins and 6 losses. The following stat may explain graphically what has changed so far this year, and is surprising.

Our stats for the C position are better this year than last using Yao and Miller as centers. Their offensive performance is up from last year’s 108 rate to 113. Defensively, they are allowing 108 which is up from 105 with Hayes. Overall, a positive differential of +3 points per game. No problem there.

Power forward position is a bright spot. Last year’s defensive stats are unchanged at 107, but offensive performance has improved from 108 to 118 using Scola’s stats for both years. That plus 10 is a significant number. PF is a positive aspect of this year’s team.

Small forward also shows a statistical dead-heat defensively for both years at 109. However, both Battier and Budinger are down from last year’s offensive production, down from 113 to 104. One more made 3 point shot between them per game would eliminate the offensive lack of production. Since Bud is shooting less than 20% from the 3 point line, this shortage will likely disappear as his shot starts dropping.

Shooting guard production has slipped slightly from last year’s team, from 111 to 113. However, the offensive production has improved from113 to 118, for a 5 point gain. Net result is a positive 3 points per game, which is good.

The point guard area is a statistical shocker. Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry have performed defensively to an approximate tie of allowing 110.5 points both last year and this year so far. However, their combined offensive production is down from last year’s 110 points to about 87 points per game. Brooks is averaging 19.9 points per 36 minutes this year, compared to 19.8 per 36 last year.

Lowry has dropped from averaging 13.5 points last year per 36 minutes to 6.8 points per 36 min. this year. Part of that decreased performance is found in his shooting fewer free throws, currently 3.8 compared to 5.7 per 36 min. last year. In addition, his success rate has diminished to scoring 2.4 free throws this year in 36 minutes compared to 4.7 last year. That loss of 2.3 points per 36 minutes via free throw is aggravated by committing an average of 1.1 fouls per game. Added to that, Lowry has gone from averaging 2.5 turnovers per 36 minutes last year to 4.3 this year.

Some of the statistical depreciation suffered by Lowry may be blamed on his back problems. That being said, it is easy to see how this season’s team has been losing games that might have been won last year. Try adding 6 points per game to Houston’s favor in the games that Lowry has played, and compare that record to our current one.

In a word, or perhaps far too many of them, this is in large part why Houston hasn’t been winning games that were there for the taking. Point guard performance has to be improved before success will replace failure, if stats don’t lie. And, in this case I don’t think that they do….

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