By: Rob Dover
Joey Dorsey has never really been appreciated as a member of the Houston Rockets this season. From the beginning of the year there were doubts that he could be a useful NBA player - he just about fought off Jeff Adrien to scrape the last roster spot behind Tarik Black. At various points it has seemed as though the only think keeping him on the team is his guaranteed salary. But he has played through all that and as the season has gone on has been put into a critical role for the Rockets team. With the injury to Dwight he has been thrust into the starting Centre spot as the only player on the team with the height and weight to match up with some of the league's biggest and is counted on for 12-15 minutes per night of solid defence. So like him or loathe him, you're stuck with him in the rotation for the foreseeable future. In this post I'll take a look at some of the things he does well and why despite his deficiencies there are reasons to like having him on the court.
This is possibly Dorsey's number one asset. He is very quick with his hands and can use it to surprise opponents who don't expect such speed. He uses this to great effect to get deflections and bother players who try to face him up. Doing a little Basketball Reference study reveals that he is #3 in the league in Steals per 100 possessions amongst players who are 6' 8" or higher. (Incidentally, the two players above him: Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer. This is a category where the Rockets are very well represented!). You could go as far as to say that forcing steals is his elite skill in the NBA.
Here are a couple of examples Dorsey getting good deflections by getting his hands in the passing lanes:
You can see he's got the basketball instincts to know where the ball is going. This is particularly noticeable in the first clip where he backs off from Cousins to cover the inevitable attempt to take advantage of Harden's man on the back cut. That lead to one of the more memorable highlights of the season with D-Mo passing the ball behind his back to Harden on the break.
Here are several examples of Dorsey surprising players with his quickness:
Whether it's point guards or big men, Dorsey is very quick to go after an opponent who is careless with the ball. He has the element of surprise on his side, and when he sees an opponent has picked up his dribble he knows it's his chance to be super-aggressive. It often leads to good results and is a very good fit with the Rockets' defensive scheme. Defensively the Rockets have been trapping on side pick-and-rolls a lot, usually when Motiejunas is the big man. Dorsey isn't quite as laterally mobile as D-Mo, but he's faster than a lot of people give him credit for and is still capable in that role.
Watch him bother Nowitzki into a very difficult shot here:
Dorsey is keenly aware of the lack of time remaining on the shot clock, so when Dirk catches the ball he knows that he can be more aggressive than usual as he doesn't have to worry about getting driven past. He gets close to Nowitzki and makes it difficult for him to get the space he needs for a good shot. You rarely see Nowitzki as bothered by opposing defenders as much as this.
In this example, Dorsey knows that with the shot clock running low he can leave his man to pursue Lowry. His bull rush forces Lowry back uncomfortably and the hounding defensive pressure forces him to throw up an airball.
The running theme in all of these clips is Joey's opportunistic streak on defence. He seems to have a really good grasp on when the man in front of him is in a disadvantageous position. Maybe it's that they've picked up their dribble, or that they're in a spot on the court where they aren't as comfortable with the ball. Maybe it's that the shot clock is draining them of their options. But whatever it is, he's able to hone in on that disadvantage and blow it up, causing turnovers and poor shots, and unlike a lot of players it very rarely feels like he's breaking from solid defensive positioning to do it.
Dorsey may not have a particularly polished offensive game (that's putting it generously), but one area where he helps out offensively is his tenacity on the boards. With his wide body he's able to carve out good space under the basket and makes like difficult for opposing big men. The team grabs 30.5% of all available offensive boards when he's on the floor - this is the highest percentage for anyone on the Rockets and is 15th in the NBA amongst players who've seen at least 100 minutes this season, according to Basketball Reference. Watch him steal a rebound despite having three Dallas players around him here:
When Dorsey is on the court, the Rockets don't ask him to do too much on offence. One of the things he has got pretty good at though is hanging around in the slot on the weakside baseline. When the defenders rotate to contain penetration, he is left alone and often get opportunities for dunks and putbacks. At the beginning of the year he was often hesitant and would not go up strong, but as he has recovered from the injury that slowed him down during training camp his tentativeness has melted away. Now he jams it. Hard.
Hopefully this article will help you think of Joey in a more positive light. Yes he can't always be counted on to make a layup, but he makes up for it in other ways and in certain facets of the game is actually one of the best at what he does. He's no Dwight Howard, but he's what the Rockets have got right now and we should learn to appreciate him.