The Daily Blast – March 29, 2013

Always Bet On Black Hops – Kevin Hetrick’s ongoing analysis of the draft combine at Hardwood Paroxysm examined power forward defense this week, and his results show that NBA GM’s (and the rest of us) are pretty stupid:

First, when considering height, this is a player trait typically held in high regard.  Certainly, how tall a player is gains pub from media and fans alike; Player X doesn’t have ideal size, he won’t be able to defend the opposition, etc.  Viewing actual draft-day decision making, a similar preference emerges; correlating draft position with height provides positive values for all positions and age groups, peaking at 0.37 for underclassmen centers.  This is ironic if you recall Part 6, featuring graphical representation of the  strong negative correlation between underclassmen center height and offensive performance. . . Moving into today’s focus, the power forwards, barefoot height offered no inclination of future defensive aptitude.

Hetrick provides very strong data showing that of all the draft combine measurements, leaping has the highest correlation with good defense.

In this case, Josh Smith, the overwhelmingly dominant player of the group, stood 6′ – 7″ at draft time.  Other “short” power forwards with decent defensive results include Paul Millsap, Thad Young and Ty Thomas; “tall” player with lesser outcomes are Jason Smith, Troy Murphy and Charlie Villanueva.  Similar to Centers, an over-valuing of height is at-play; for power forwards, correlations between draft position and height proved highest, at 0.30 for underclassmen and 0.26 for the elder group.

Allow me to apply this to the Rockets after the break:

This data applies to Houston with two words: Thomas Robinson. His draft height was a little over 6’7″, but his max vertical was 35.5 inches, which puts him in rarefied company (that’s the exact same number as Dwight Howard, although Superman has about 5 more inches on his standing reach). As I examined at length in a previous post, athleticism sows seeds of uncertainty in the offensive player’s mind in ways that height and good positioning can’t.

Crafty – Chris Palmer (NBA Insider) breaks down the top transition threats in the league, and (surprise!) James Harden is on the list, with craftiness listed as his signature strength:

The Rockets guard doesn’t wow with above-the-rim theatrics or otherworldly athletic ability but instead with efficiency and misdirection. About 25 percent of his points come on the break, the highest percent of any player in the top 25 in scoring. Harden takes the most direct route to the basket and won’t change course unless absolutely necessary, often at the last moment. Harden will often slow down when he gets near the basket and utilize his Euro step, which has become one of the NBA’s most confounding moves to stop. He’s adept at doing it in both directions and thanks to his proficiency in finishing with either hand it’s all but impossible for a defender to draw a charge.

How to stop him: Make him give it up. Because he makes such good decisions and is deceptively quick, it’s tough to get proper defensive position. The best bet is to force him to give it up to a much less reliable finisher.

That last bit is just another way of saying, “the Rockets need to use their cap room wisely this summer to get him some help.”

Same Same – Thursday morning after the loss to Indiana, I wrote this:

One observation from last night’s defensive clinic: the Pacers are masters of the pick-and-roll jersey tug. It’s a move the Warriors have already used with tremendous success against Houston (Steph Curry’s nickname could be Sticky Fingers). Just as the ball handler comes around the pick, they give a little grab to slow him down. It throws Harden and Lin both off balance, it only gets called about once for every five times it happens, and it’s sure to happen on every play in the playoffs, so they should probably adjust instead of looking for a whistle to bail them out.

At yesterday afternoon’s practice, Kevin McHale said this:

“They just came out, held and grabbed, played the way they play, which is more physical than we are and we struggled with that.”

After a reporter asked him more about it, he added,

“I think when teams do that we don’t have the either the experience, the wherewithal, the whatever it is to get people off you, make harder setup cuts, grab, hold, push first. . .”

“We spent half the night looking at the referee for a bailout, and it didn’t happen.”

Either Coach Mac is reading The Daily Blast with his morning coffee (highly unlikely), or the scouting report on the Rockets is out and it’s very simple: get a little physical and Houston’s offense falls apart.

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