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@  JY86er : (11 June 2015 - 04:01 PM) Defense simply takes effort. I applaud them.
@  txtdo1411 : (10 June 2015 - 09:29 PM) They certainly stumbled onto an elite defensive lineup. They don't have Love or Irving's scoring ability, but they are all great defenders. Honestly they might have stumbled upon the secret to beating GS all along. You aren't going to outgun them, but if you can slow it down and muck it up just enough, you have a shot. I think w/ Love and Irving the Cavs could very well be in a worse spot than they are now.
@  jorgeaam : (10 June 2015 - 03:51 AM) Amazing what LeBron is doing, Dellavedova, Thompson,Shumpert and Mozgov is definitely not the kind of roster you'd expect in the finals
@  jorgeaam : (10 June 2015 - 03:50 AM) We all are, Mario
@  Mario Peña : (10 June 2015 - 03:38 AM) I am looking forward to the Warriors losing so much.
@  thenit : (10 June 2015 - 02:30 AM) not a knock on curry or harden but LBJ is at a different lvl. Look at what he is doing against GS with that roster
@  redfaithful : (08 June 2015 - 11:21 AM) Basketball axiom: a David Blatt team at the season's end will not let anyone score easily
@  SadLakerFan : (01 June 2015 - 04:26 AM) I want to go to Game 2 of the Finals, but prices are really high. There are 2700 tickets (out of a capacity of 19,500) up for resale - that's a ton. Hoping prices drop a bit.
@  kidnextdoor : (01 June 2015 - 02:58 AM) I read somewhere if Atlanta get a max free agent they will have to let Millsap go.
@  Losthief : (31 May 2015 - 03:53 PM) Paul millsap is a free agent, i'd want him more than Love, but would he leave atlanta?
@  JY86er : (30 May 2015 - 12:37 AM) I wouldnt want him. Not after a Jeff Spicoli looking sorry guy was able to pull his arm outta socket.
@  majik19 : (28 May 2015 - 08:05 PM) Offensively, I have no doubt that Love would be a great fit. Defensively... not so much. I think it's more important to upgrade the 1 than the 4 this offseason, assuming D-mo is healthy.
@  Mario Peña : (28 May 2015 - 07:08 PM) I can't make it but I thought I'd post that for the Houston guys.
@  Mario Peña : (28 May 2015 - 07:07 PM) From the Red Rowdies: Do you want to greet the Rockets today as they arrive back? Go to 8402 Nelms Houston, TX 77061 around 3:30 ‪#‎Support‬
@  Cooper : (28 May 2015 - 06:15 PM) would have to strip the roster to get him, let him lose in la with 40 yr old kobe and crazy rondo.
@  thenit : (28 May 2015 - 06:08 PM) Love interested in Lakers, Rockets and Celtics. Anyone here who wants him ?
@  majik19 : (28 May 2015 - 04:25 PM) It was a great year, and I think Harden will look at Game 2 and Game 5 and strive to be better. If he had gone out on a high note (say Game 4), there would probably be less motivation. But not with a game like that.
@  SadLakerFan : (28 May 2015 - 10:01 AM) Great season. Harden looked perplexed out there, almost like Lebron in 2010. He'll figure things out.
@  Johnny Rocket : (28 May 2015 - 08:31 AM) Thanks, Rox--great season!
@  RudyT1995 : (28 May 2015 - 05:43 AM) Wonder what he'll do this year to make Cuban look like a fool.


Member Since 25 Sep 2012
Offline Last Active Apr 28 2015 01:56 AM

#42398 The Red94 Podcast: On Parsons, Rondo

Posted by Red94 on 15 July 2014 - 02:53 AM

New post: The Red94 Podcast: On Parsons, Rondo
By: rahat huq

In today's episode, Forrest Walker and I break down the Parsons decision; the Rajon Rondo trade rumors are also heavily featured.

Download this episode (right click and save)

Subscribe to The Red94 Podcast on itunes.


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#42234 My worst nightmare realized: Trevor Ariza returns to the Houston Rockets

Posted by Red94 on 13 July 2014 - 03:37 PM

New post: My worst nightmare realized: Trevor Ariza returns to the Houston Rockets
By: rahat huq

The title is for grins, a running shtick with my loyal followers on Twitter who so kindly checked on my wellbeing upon news of this acquisition.  This was a very good signing.  Make no mistake about that.  If viewed from the prism of Bosh, it is difficult not to be incredibly underwhelmed.  In relation to the team's master-plan, coming away with Trevor Ariza instead of Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh, can only be described as a total disappointment.  I can assure you Daryl Morey and friends will not be going out for drinks upon completion of this deal.  But in vacuo of those considerations--as difficult it is to distance oneself from prior expectations--this was a good signing, especially at this cost.

When I first saw the news, I was firmly anticipating the numbers to come in at above $11 million per annum.  Trevor Ariza at 8 is very good value, undoubtedly better value than the money the team will be paying Chandler Parsons once they match his offer sheet later today.  Ariza hit 41% on 3's last season, the highest mark of his career, chipping in a shade over 14 points per game.  He instantly becomes the team's best shooter and arrives as its sole competent wing defender.  If they match on Parsons, the Rockets today are a better team than the one that closed out the regular season.  (I'm not going to go so far as to say they are better than the playoff version because Asik played a significant role in the playoffs, unlike the regular season, and it remains to be seen if added wing depth holds a greater impact than depth on the frontline).

I learned a lot about basketball from Trevor Ariza.  He was the first player whose game I ever closely looked into; he was the most frustrating player I've ever seen in a Houston Rockets uniform.  Watching him play made me understand the nature of ball-handling and 'creating' in the NBA, propositions which were only reaffirmed these past few years during my observations of Jeremy Lin.  Ariza has a functional, aesthetically above-par handle, and plus-level athleticism/quickness.  Upon his initial signing, fans with whom I interacted in those days (this was right before the launch of Red94)(and even the team's broadcasters), immediately assumed Ariza could be the new torch-bearer, sort of a McGrady-lite.  The thinking went that if you can kind of dribble and you can blow by your man, you were a "creator." These assumptions were categorically false.

A lot like Jeremy Lin, Ariza would blow past his initial defender but never know what to do against the second line of defense*.  He'd get caught in the lane, picking up his dribble and having to toss it back out to save the play.  You can't just always drive in.  This point was reaffirmed by the return of Tracy McGrady, as I wrote extensively, even as a complete shell of his former self.  Go to your local gym and watch a pickup game between amateurs.  Want to know the difference between the very best and guys that are just good?  By and large, most guys with quickness and a competent handle get tunnel vision when driving the lane.  They're just going straight in without a plan - their entire objective is to get past their own man.  The elite--the McGrady's, the Paul's--are playing chess.  They're not just trying to blow by and get to the basket.  They're thinking about the second defender, so they're slowing down their dribble, attacking at different speeds, squeezing off midrange shots, anticipating the help.  I think the most important skill for a perimeter player is to be able to attack at different speeds.

Due to the presence of James Harden, Ariza won't be given the opportunity to waste the team's possessions this time around.  He'll spot up from '3', where hopefully his touch from last year will be retained, he'll play defense, and he'll run the floors.  Again, at $8million, this is a good deal.

The team has other avenues to improve and some other options which they are still exploring.  While the last few days' chain of events no doubt comes as a disappointment, this signing in and of itself was a good one, and it helps the team.  We'll see what else they are able to do.

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#39517 The Houston Rockets are a conundrum wrapped in a contradiction

Posted by Red94 on 30 April 2014 - 01:34 AM

New post: The Houston Rockets are a conundrum wrapped in a contradiction
By: Richard Li

[caption id="attachment_14363" align="aligncenter" width="480"]Chart Three point shooting percentage[/caption]

At the beginning of this season, I was a little curious about how some seemingly contradictory pieces would fit together on the Houston Rockets. I want to talk about a few of these pieces and how might butt heads.

Modern GM versus old school coach

This one stood out to me the most. Daryl Morey is known as the most data-driven, experimental, and somewhat avant-garde GM in the league. He relies heavily on data to make personnel decisions and craft an offensive philosophy that emphasizes close shots, free throws, and three-pointers. His head coach is legendary Hall of Fame big man who loved the post game and attempted 20 three-pointers over the first nine years of his career. I think JR Smith attempted more than that in one game this year.

I can't help but think that, if McHale were a TNT announcer instead of the Rockets head coach, he would be leading the charge in criticizing analytics and waxing nostalgic about the dying post game and mid-range jump shot. Obviously I'm stereotyping McHale based on his pedigree and projecting based on a completely hypothetical scenario, but the match between him and Morey just seems like a bit of an odd couple.

Shooting threes with bad shooters

OK, we know Morey's offensive philosophy heavily emphasizes shooting three-pointers. We know that the Rockets shot more threes than any other team in the league. Most of us know that the Rockets aren't actually an excellent three-point shooting team. That seems kind of strange.

The above chart compares the Rockets most prolific three-point shooters against two league averages. The blue line is the overall NBA average, while the orange line is the average for "shooters," defined as players who shot at least 200 three-pointers, roughly 100 players including the Rockets' four.

Measured against the NBA average, Parsons and Harden are above average, Beverley is barely above average, and Lin is barely below average. Measured against players who are supposed to shoot the ball a lot, they're all below average. For all the talk about efficiency that Morey and company have engendered, the Rockets are probably the definition of high-volume but low-efficiency three-point shooting.

Efficient players but inefficient plays

On one hand, it seems like the Rockets acquired the two perfect superstars to fit this system in Harden and Howard. Harden crashes the rim, gets fouled a lot, and shoots threes. Howard finishes near the rim with great aplomb.

But the shot is just the last part of a long story. While the data might say take close shots and three-pointers, actually creating those shots is another story. The data can't help you there. This is important because despite their shot charts being very in sync with Morey's philosophy, how Harden and Howard get their shots is very much out of sync with the same philosophy.

Three-pointers are dependent upon movement, space, and pace. Unless your name is Stephen Curry, running to the three-point line and jacking up a shot with a hand in your face isn't a particularly good idea. For mortals, even mortals who shoot well, a much better strategy is moving the ball more quickly than the defense can rotate until an open three-pointer is found. Similarly, close shots are best taken without the opponent's big man protecting the rim. Occupying him with penetration or misdirecting him to open up a cutting lane are more efficient strategies.

This is where the contradiction comes in. Despite taking the shots that Morey likes, Harden acquires those shots very slowly. As I wrote about before, Harden is one of the league's leaders in stopping the ball.  He is also second to last in the league in terms of how much he moves per 48 minutes of game time. His 1-4 flat isolations have become quite nefarious. During these "plays," Harden is dribbling between his legs while everyone else is standing around. In of itself, isolation is probably the least efficient play in basketball. The Rockets, for all their emphasis on efficiency, are among the league leaders in their isolation frequency. While Harden is isolating, the other four players are just standing around waiting for the play to finish. Not exactly great movement to find an open shot (though one can arise, described below).

However, despite the criticism Harden receives for his isolations (my own included), it's not the worst play in the Rockets repertoire. He "only" isolates 24% of the time he possesses the ball.  His points per possession per isolation is 0.96, which is up from the mid-point of the season. In the event that he makes it into the paint, the defense can collapse around him, which can open up a shot for someone else. The worst play is...

Howard's post up. According to Synergy, over 52% of Dwight's offensive possessions were post ups. His points per possession on those plays is 0.76. That's just putrid. That's much worse than Harden's ppp on isolations. That's even worse than when he shoots free throws! And what happens when Dwight posts up? The other four players run to the other side of the court, saturating that side with eight players. Not exactly great spacing.

Again, the team that emphasizes efficiency the most runs the least efficient plays. Curious.

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#38744 The Houston Rockets against LaMarcus Aldridge

Posted by Red94 on 16 April 2014 - 12:46 PM

New post: The Houston Rockets against LaMarcus Aldridge
By: rahat huq

On the year, LaMarcus Aldridge 23.2 points and 11.1 boards while shooting 45.8% from the floor.  Against the Houston Rockets, in four games this year, Aldridge put up 26.8 points and pulled down 15.5 boards, shooting 44.7%.  He averaged 36.2 minutes per game against the entire league but played 39.1 minutes per contest against Houston.

Glancing at Aldridge's shot distribution, against the league, he really likes the midrange elbow area.  Spanning from just beyond the free throw line over left towards the corner, Aldridge hoisted about 33% of his overall attempts.  That far left spot is also his most lethal area - Aldridge hit on 48% of his attempts from that zone.

Aldridge against the league

Against Houston, Aldridge is putting up just 27% of his shots from that free throw line to corner area, but more interestingly, in his favorite zone, the dead elbow area, his attempts are down from 12% of total attempts against the entire league to 4% against the Rockets.  For whatever reason, Aldridge wasn't shooting as much from one of his pet spots against the Rockets this year.  When he did get a look from those areas, he was pretty lethal.  100% (4/4) from that same zone, and 46% from the zone just inside the 3 point line on the left.



In this series, Rockets fans will be grateful Daryl Morey didn't look ahead and sell off Omer Asik for some draft picks because Aldridge is going to be seeing a ton of the Turkish center.  While I expect Terrence Jones to start Game 1, there is no doubt in my mind that Kevin McHale will be quick with the hook to relieve Jones with Asik if Aldridge gets going early.

What makes Asik so effective against Aldridge?  Let's look at the tape:

Look at that shot.  Aldridge starts out trying to beat Asik off the dribble with the shot fake but Asik is too nimble.  He then turns his back, fakes, and has to fade again, forcing up a ridiculously difficult shot.  Due to his size and length, Asik is able to contest.

It's not clear how much of Asik we'll see because of his offensive limitations.  It might even be a better option to play James Harden at the '4' down the stretch.  But due to some of his defensive attributes, the minutes we do see Omer Asik this series will be pivotal given what he can bring to the table against LaMarcus Aldridge.

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#37804 Huq's Pen: I'm feeling a little Melo

Posted by Red94 on 20 March 2014 - 01:01 PM

New post: Huq's Pen: I'm feeling a little Melo
By: rahat huq

  • If you're reading this, you are no doubt aware of the rumors surrounding Carmelo Anthony's purported interest in the Houston Rockets.  Shockingly, I've seen some places where some who are inclined towards this team have expressed hesitation regarding such an acquisition.  I underscore 'shockingly' because such a maneuver should be considered a no-brainer.
  • To begin, as I quipped on Twitter very recently, the mere revelation of said interest, in concert with the reality of Dwight Howard's capitulation this summer, evokes the words of the esteemed philosopher Michael Jones who once famously said, "back then [they] didn't want me, now I'm hot [they] all on me."
  • 'Capitulation' because, as the Chronicle reported last season in a story which surprisingly gained little national steam, the impetus for Howard's infamous 'opt-in' was an agreement in principle between Orlando and the Rockets, at the deadline, to send the center to The Third Coast.  Howard wanted no part of such a move and killed talks with the contractual formality.  Of course this summer, he took $30million less to join us.  Because Houston is now a desirable destination.
  • And as you painfully might recall, the team spent what felt like (at the time) the better part of a decade wooing Anthony by dangling packages frontlined by Kevin Martin in trade talks.  Anthony's heart was set on New York and he forced his way there (forcing through new rules in the latest collective bargaining agreement in the process.)  Now, with the Knicks an absolute embarrassment to professional sports, the talented forward reportedly has wandering eyes.  Because Houston is now a desirable destination.
  • All that's left now are for Chris Bosh and Chris Paul (and whoever else we chased) to head over, Ipad in tow, with a cameo by Pau Gasol and we'll have come full circle.  Morey at this point is like the pimple-faced band geek who stumbles upon Crossfit (or whatever fitness innovation is in vogue at the time of reading) a semester before prom and finally snags the head cheerleader.  In the movies, the geek would then, filled with indignation, shun the cheerleader, rewarding some homely creature who saw worth in him before his newfound repute.  In real life, the geek gladly snags the cheerleader.
  • Which leads us to Morey: those watching last week's Jekyll and Hyde impromptu which saw this team drop three straight after topping three of the league's best teams in the previous three affairs, if viewing objectively, no doubt came away feeling a bit disturbed.  As I explained in the previous edition of this column, I've bought in to the fact that this is a 'very good team' sure, but 'true' contender they are not.  That should be painfully obvious to the impartial observer.

  • Something's missing and much of that "something" is born from the reality of Dwight Howard's mortality.  To wit, this is not intended to be taken as a slight on Howard.  He's been great, a true max player, and a force which has transformed this outfit into a 55+ win team.  But those of you who responded to my comments regarding Howard following the Oklahoma City loss saying that it was "just one game" are missing the point.  It wasn't just one game.  It was the latest in a disturbing pattern of disappearances by Howard against our prime competition.  As our own Forrest Walker so perfectly put it at the time, the fact that Howard could not best Steven Adams is absolutely "chilling." If I asked you today, in a Game 7 tomorrow against either the Thunder or Clippers, whether Howard would be more likely to total 30 and 20 or 10 and 5, 99% of you would choose the latter.  Chilling.
  • I'm reminded of an observation I made towards the tail end of the McGrady-Yao era that every season, the team begins the campaign appearing as if to boast an embarrassment of riches, and then every season they end the year looking like "McGrady and a bunch of scrubs."  Now, that's certainly a harsh comparison and this team certainly boasts a wealth of talent.  But at the end of close games, one can't help but feel James Harden is alone on an island.  Beverley and Parsons, for different reasons, are incapable of creating for themselves in tight situations.  Against the better teams, Terrence Jones becomes so inept that he can't even get on the court while Jeremy Lin might as well be wearing diapers.  And Howard, for all of his prowess, becomes neutered due to his turnover woes and free throw shooting inabilities.  The issue of "hero-ball" is a different one, but Harden is on an island.  The team needs something else.
  • And again, that last point is not meant as an indictment.  The team has been marvelous, right on schedule, maybe even exceeding any realistic expectations for this year.  But if we're being honest with ourselves, it's clear that they don't have enough to top the Thunder.  'Melo has his warts, yes, but opportunism is a tricky game.  You may prefer Kevin Love but at the cost of a) not getting him and b) losing yet another year of Howard/Harden?  Morey takes the bird in hand at that point.
  • I shouldn't need to speak of the merits of adding Anthony to this lineup.  It would transform this offense into unguardability, especially when coupled with the powers of the two existing superstars.  Look at Anthony's numbers off catch-and-shoots or his efficiency as a supporting star.  With Anthony at the '4', good luck to anyone guarding that cast.  Some might argue that he'd have to guard the man-sized 4's in the West; I'd retort that they'd have to guard him.  
  • And I also don't see Anthony as a downgrade from Terrence Jones defensively.
  • There are several necessary ingredients to a successful sign&trade: the player must want to come to the team, the current team must prefer the new team's assets to losing the player for nothing, and lastly, there must exist some viable threat of the player signing on some other team outright for the current team's acquiescence.  All of those ingredients would seem to exist but the problem here is that that "viable threat" (Chicago) in this case is so viable that it may actually be preferred, in Anthony's mind.
  • Chicago is the bigger market.  But if he's smart, Houston is the choice.  There are no "ifs" in Houston.  Joining Howard and Harden, the Rockets become the best lineup in the league.  With the Bulls, there is the looming uncertainty of Derrick Rose's future.  The problem is that I'm not sure winning is Anthony's sole objective.
  • What makes this situation so marvelously unique is that New York is literally the one team in the entire league that might realistically not balk at the prospect of taking back Jeremy Lin.  Anyone else would just want the cap space for a clean rebuild.  But the Knicks?  You could very realistically see them pocketing Terrence Jones, trading Omer Asik for a draft pick, and selling Linsanity to their fans in what would be a rebuilding year.  They'd then have him off the books the next year and could figure things out.  That doesn't apply anywhere else.  And that's what makes this whole thing so delicious.  This is very, very real, folks.  And what we learned last summer, from the Dwightmare, is that anything can happen.  If you're a fan of this team, you should want this to happen.

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#36395 Player Power Rankings: Week 16

Posted by Red94 on 14 February 2014 - 01:11 PM

New post: Player Power Rankings: Week 16
By: michael pina

Every Friday, I rank every active Rocket (who sees the floor) based on his performance from the previous week. If you missed the most recent installment, here you go.

11) Aaron Brooks (Last week: N/A)

There's a comfort in knowing Aaron Brooks is your third point guard. Is he the best backup to the backup point guard in the league? Is that even a compliment?

Brooks knows how to score, can stretch the floor, and is capable of a surprising jolt of athleticism from time to time, whether that be some insane offensive rebound, an unexpected block from the weak side, or staying in front of John Wall. (It feels like he's really old, but Brooks just turned 29 in January.)

He played 11 minutes this week, all coming against the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night. Even though Patrick Beverley is clearly the better player on both ends of the floor, seeing Brooks replace him isn't the worst thing in the world.

10) Omri Casspi (Last week: 8)

It's true. Omri Casspi failed to score a basket this week despite 20 minutes of action. If/when Houston strikes before the trade deadline, expect at least one trade they participate in to bring back a dependable bench player on a short-term deal. Casspi has moments of awesomeness, but it's unclear where he's consistent enough to be in Houston's rotation during the playoffs. (If the postseason started tomorrow, Donatas Motiejunas would probably get a chunk of Casspi's minutes.)

9) Omer Asik (Last week: N/A)

ASIK BACK! Sort of. We saw tiny blips of Asik's old self this week, but he (understandably) looked exhausted after the first three or four trips up the court. Against the Timberwolves he was tasked with covering Kevin Love for one stretch, and instead of sticking around the rim, Asik had to worry about covering the perimeter (not his forte). Love burned him. A dunk happened, though!

8) Francisco Garcia (Last week: N/A)

With 8.5 seconds remaining in the first half against Washington, John Wall tried to inbound the ball from his own baseline. He couldn't. Why? Francisco Garcia was hopping up and down in front of his face, waving his arms and being a general nuisance. There are other reasons why that five-second violation occurred, but noting them would distract you from Garcia's only accomplishment of the week.

7) Terrence Jones (Last week: 2)

Tough week for Terrence Jones. He couldn't guard Kevin Love (who can?) without fouling, and committed a few costly turnovers towards the end against Washington. Jones didn't have his typical impact on the glass, either, and on offense wasn't good for more than an occasional high-flying alley-oop. Have we reached the point where Jones should refrain from any more three-point attempts?

6) Donatas Motiejunas (Last week: 7)

Donatas Motiejunas was better than Terrence Jones this week. For Houston, that's better news than heading into the All-Star break on a seven-game win streak. Not that Jones struggling is a good thing, but for them to have two super cheap, young guys contribute and show week-to-week improvement is fantastic. Motiejunas was aggressive off the dribble (somehow he caught Jan Vesely in a torture rack out at the elbow), made quality defensive rotations, and, generally speaking, looked like a player who deserves legitimate minutes.

There was one play against Minnesota when Motiejunas sprinted up the floor, caught a pass over his shoulder while going full speed beneath the basket, and still managed to lay it in. This was marvelous. Also, Bill Worrell said "3-Mo for D-Mo" when Motiejunas made a wipe open three, and it made me laugh. Who isn't enjoying this season of Rockets basketball?

5) Jeremy Lin (Last week: 4)

Lin's defense was nothing short of great this week. He was up on his man time and time again—whether it be J.J. Barea, Ricky Rubio, Brandon Knight, whoever—thwarting drives to the hoop and sticking tight off the ball. This was good to see.

On the other end, Lin wasn't bad. He nearly shot 50% from the floor and 40% from the three-point line, but Houston scored 8.1 more points per 100 possessions with him on the bench.

4) Patrick Beverley (Last week: 6)

Beverley made seven threes out of his 13 attempts this week, most of them wide open. How many times did he turn it over? Zero. That's a good number, right?

For the second week in a row, Houston has played out of their minds when Beverley is on the court. He missed Wednesday night's game against the Wizards, but was fantastic in the other two, driving to the basket, creating shots for himself and others. The Rockets were 20.5 points per 100 possessions better than the Bucks and Timberwolves with Beverley on the floor this week. That number is monstrous, and firmly attests to Beverley's maniacal brand of complimentary basketball.

3) Chandler Parsons (Last week: 3)

Okay, so Parsons was awesome this week with the ball in his hands. It appears he's finally mastered the lob to Dwight Howard, and in all three games connected on several from different spots on the floor. Parsons was aggressive in traffic and shot 51.4%, too. I say this every week, but whatever, here goes again: he's SO GOOD ON OFFENSE. Okay, now onto a couple defensive mishaps.


That first screen shot came moments after Jeremy Lin made a three on the other end. It's not doctored, and I don't even know how to use photoshop. Why Parsons (or any of his teammates) didn't get back on defense on a routine play is beyond me.

The second screen shot came after Parsons poked the ball away from Nene and, thinking he had a steal, rushed out to the other end for a fast break opportunity. Instead the Wizards recovered the loose ball almost instantly, and Nene found a wide open Bradley Beal on the wing. Houston's defense is ranked in the top-10, but both these plays are symptomatic of a lingering issue that will probably prevent any true success in the playoffs.

2) James Harden (Last week: 5)

My weekly criticism of Harden's defense will commence shortly, but first: Does it really need to be said that Harden's positive impact on offense GREATLY outweighs his negative impact on the other end? I wrote something similar last week, but sometimes it feels like Harden and Dwight Howard are the two best players in the league who have their weaknesses talked about more than their strengths. I'm guilty of doing this, as you'll read later, but whenever I write something critical I just sort of assume people understand how great these guys are on a consistent basis, and how awful their team would be if they didn't play.

A freaking Euro-step with four seconds left to win the game? Are you kidding? Who does that? The timing and body control was breathtaking. The calmness of it all. Harden turned it over a bunch this week, but he also averaged 25.3 points per game and was automatic at the free-throw line. His strength on drives to the basket is incredible, as is his ability to stop on a dime (does anyone know the meaning behind that saying?) and float a lob pass to Howard or Terrence Jones. (He tried to toss one to Asik, but there was little chance he was jumping up for it.)

Anyway, Harden is really awesome and the Rockets wouldn't be in the playoff hunt without him, atrocious defense and all.

Speaking of atrocious defense...

...Trevor Ariza made 10 three-pointers during Wednesday's game, most coming with Harden as his defender. This was one.

1) Dwight Howard (Last week: 1) 

Howard was great this week. He made his free-throws (67.9%!), hoarded rebounds against two solid rebounding teams (and the Bucks without Larry Sanders, who played five minutes before breaking a bone in his face), and ate Vesely and Gorgui Dieng whole. But this week, Howard's most impressive plays were passes. His assists weren't simple kick-outs, either. When double teams came he repeatedly found an open shooter spotting up on the weak side. These passes crippled the Milwaukee Bucks, and usually ended up as three more points for the Rockets.

When Howard sat Houston's offense was beyond atrocious. Only 30 minutes, but still, 75.7 points per 100 possessions? That's "three Bud Lights deep before the opening tip in my rec game" bad.

Michael Pina has written for Red94, CelticsHub, The Classical, Bleacher Report, Sports On Earth, and Boston Magazine. Follow him here.

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#34989 Offense and defense ratings adjusted for position bias

Posted by Red94 on 27 January 2014 - 08:28 PM

New post: Offense and defense ratings adjusted for position bias
By: Richard Li

[caption id="attachment_13907" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Thumbnail Click for a full-sized interactive version[/caption]


A few weeks ago, I took a look at players' offensive and defensive ratings accounting for team performance as a whole. After doing so, I noticed that players' performance seemed to correlate greatly with their positions, particularly on defense. I didn't give this much thought at the time, but started thinking about it more in depth over the weekend.

Here are the questions I asked: What if some defensive and offensive ratings are biased towards certain positions? It would make sense that a big tall guy standing near the rim is more impactful on defense than a small guy on the perimeter. But does that necessarily mean he's a better defender, or just plays a more important defensive role? And, if the latter, how can we more effectively compare the defensive performance of two players at two different positions?

Preliminary analysis and measures of interest

I started by collecting the data of all players who have played at least 25 games and at least 22 minutes per game. Then I disaggregated the data by position. Here are the results:

Position Count Average DRtg Average ORtg Net
C 23 102.35 108.91 6.57
PF 37 104.30 107.84 3.54
PG 39 106.90 106.36 -0.54
SF 43 106.12 105.30 -0.81
SG 42 107.71 107.21 -0.50

These results are hugely important. Just by virtue of their position, centers automatically look amazing compared to other players. This is true not only defensively, but also offensively (possibly due to offensive rebounding presence?). In fact, the average center has a net rating of 6.57. Power forwards also receive a bump in their stats due to their position/role. The other three positions are actually a net negative.

These results beg us to ask, if a center or a power forward has a good looking rating, is he actually good, or just playing a position that the stats bias positively?? Conversely, if a guard/wing has a bad looking rating, is he actually bad, or just playing a position that the stats bias negatively? And how the heck can we compare players across positions given these biases?

My solution is to create two stats, adjusted defensive rating and adjusted offensive rating. These two stats are calculated by subtracting a player's individual rating by the average rating of the player's position. I do this in order to eliminate the position bias inherent within these stats. In effect, it creates a measure similar to baseball's WARP (wins above replacement player). Players' performance are measured relative to an average player at their positions.

Technical information

The above chart shows all players' adjusted defensive ratings on the x-axis and adjusted offensive ratings on the y-axis. Filters on the top left allow you to filter the chart by team and position. A tab on the upper left allows you to switch to a table view, where you can then sort all the players by their adjusted defensive and offensive ratings, and their adjusted net ratings (adjusted offense minus adjusted defense). Remember, for defense, negative numbers are better.


All data is unweighted. Number of games and minutes played are not considered in players' ratings or averages.


Oh man, where to even start. I guess let's begin with some boring but important things. First, centers are the most valuable position. In particular, centers who do "centery" things have the most valuable roles. Just having them on the floor, even if they're average at what they do, is a huge boon to team performance. The "stretch 5s" like Bargnani and Pau Gasol don't pass the measurement test. That the Houston Rockets have had injured big men the whole season might be even more important than initially thought.

Second, the range of offensive performance (-20 to +20) is twice that of defensive performance (-12 to +8). So a player can be good or bad on defense, but can be REALLY GOOD or REALLY BAD on offense.  For example, a team receives a 20 point defensive bump per 100 possessions by upgrading from Andrea Bargnani to Roy Hibbert, but a 40 point offensive bump by upgrading from Jeff Taylor to Kevin Durant.

The best defender in the league is now Paul George. The best offensive player in the league is still Kevin Durant. Durant is also the best net player in the league. Durant also might be a golden god.

[caption id="attachment_13910" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Here's the Houston Rockets Here's the Houston Rockets[/caption]

Dwight Howard suddenly looks much less impressive now that his performance has been adjusted. He's a little above average defensively (though still the best on the team) and is below average offensively. James Harden, on the other hand, is redeemed a bit. He's one of two players who are above average defensively and offensively, with Terrence Jones being the other. And, no matter how one slices and dices the data, Patrick Beverley's supposed defensive prowess still does not show up. I'm starting to think that the critics who claim that his defense is more showy than effective are correct. Unfortunately for the PG position, Jeremy Lin is just as bad.

In conclusion:

[caption id="attachment_13909" align="alignleft" width="216"]The Indian Pacers will crush you The Indiana Pacers will crush your face into a hot mess[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_13908" align="alignright" width="216"]The Milwaukee Bucks will not The Milwaukee Bucks will not[/caption]


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#34754 There have been 3,071 NBA players over the past 50 years. Guess how many had...

Posted by Red94 on 22 January 2014 - 02:34 PM

New post: There have been 3,071 NBA players over the past 50 years. Guess how many had a better start than James Harden.
By: Justin Wehr

Last week I made a statement that should give anyone pause: The first four years of James Harden’s career were on par with the best players in NBA history. And I wasn’t just referring to All Stars or hall of famers. I was referring to the top 20 players of the past 50 years. It’s reasonable to wonder whether I manipulated the data or analysis in some way to make Harden look better than he actually is. I wondered the same thing myself, so I spent hours digging into the data and came to an amazing conclusion: James Harden's first four years were better than that statement suggests.

To say that Harden’s first four years were on par with the greatest players in history isn’t necessarily impressive if a lot of other, non-superstar players had similarly good starts. 3,071 players have entered the league in the past 50 years, so even if only a small percentage of those players ended up having superstar careers, you’d still expect that hundreds of players would have at least started their career on par with the superstars. (Consider that hundreds of those 3,071 players went on to be All Stars and 61 have already been inducted into the Hall of Fame.) But when I looked at the data, here’s what I found: Of all players in the past 50 years, there are only 12-17 who started their career as well or better than James Harden. Namely, there are 12 players who played as well or better at ages 22 and 23: LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Tracy McGrady, Andrei Kirilenko, Chris Bosh, Kevin Love, and Bob McAdoo. And there are 17 players who played as well or better in their third and fourth season: LeBron James, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Paul, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dwight Howard, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Charles Barkley, Manu Ginobili, Larry Bird, Kevin Durant, Andrei Kirilenko, Kevin Love, and Bill Walton.

Now your brows should really be furrowed. Could it possibly be true that the start to Harden’s career was that good, this being a guy who was once the third best player on his team, who spent the first few years of his career playing behind Thabo Sefolosha? I’ll defend the finding in a minute, but first I’ll briefly explain how I arrived at it.

I have a database of all players in NBA history, which I painstakingly built using pages from Basketball Reference. I merged onto this database RAPM data (available from here), which a lot of people consider the best performance metric because, unlike most of its competitors, it includes a good measure of defense. I primarily used RAPM in my analysis, but RAPM data only go back to the 1990-91 season, so I included two other decent metrics: PER and WS/48. Both metrics are available from Basketball Reference and both have fairly convoluted calculations (you can read about WS/48’s calculation here), but essentially they aggregate traditional box score statistics into a single measure of performance. To normalize the metrics, I calculated how many standard deviations above or below average every player was for every season of their career. Then I averaged the normalized metrics, giving the most weight to RAPM. Finally, I limited the sample to players who entered the league since 1963 (so 50 years of data) and seasons in which they played at least 500 minutes, and counted how many players had a better start than Harden, and those are the results you see above.

It's reasonable to wonder whether some fishy statistical manipulation is producing these incredible results. Here’s the only way I know how to defend its validity: Look for yourself! Browse Basketball Reference and see if you can find other players who had a better start than Harden. You might be able to find a few who came close, but not many, and certainly not many non-superstars.

Of course past performance is no guarantee of future performance, and there is cause for concern with the way Harden’s performance has slipped this season, but what these results imply is that the Rockets could very well have one of the future all-time greats on their roster. (Actually two, if you count Howard, but I’m pessimistic that he will ever return to pre-back-surgery form, as explained here and here.) It cannot be understated how significant this is for the Rockets because history has shown that unless a team has at least one of the all-time greats playing in his prime, they are extremely unlikely to win a championship or even make the Finals. Luckily for the Rockets, Harden is still young and probably won’t start playing his best ball until the next year or two.

The bottom line: Given Harden's likely trajectory (and the Rockets' financial flexibility, whip smart GM, and excellent center), there are few, if any, teams that are likely to have more success than the Rockets over the next 5 years.

(P.S. – I am beginning to understand why Bill Simmons was and continues to be so emotional about the Harden trade [what he calls “the Harden Disaster”]. It’s frightening to imagine what that Oklahoma City team could have been.)

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#34463 The Rockets Daily – January 15, 2013

Posted by Red94 on 15 January 2014 - 04:05 PM

New post: The Rockets Daily – January 15, 2013
By: mitchell felker

Half Way There - Ultimate Rockets broke down the good and the bad of the Rockets now and moving forward as the Rockets approach the midpoint of the season.  First, some of the good.


3. Big ‘Three’: The Rockets might not have a Big Three that has marked many recent champions, but forward Chandler Parsons, playing the “three,” has emerged in his third season as the ideal third man in, ranking third among the Rockets in scoring, rebounding and assists, while bringing the ball movement and cutting to complement Howard and James Harden.

When other small forwards were having breakout performances last postseason (Kawhi Leonard and Harrison Barnes), it felt like Chandler Parsons was getting left out in the cold.  The Warriors were the bell of the ball due to beating a weak three seed (Denver) in the first round, and Leonard's performance in the Finals, while impressive, was just seven games.  I never saw "the future of the San Antonio Spurs" like so many countless pundits foresaw.  Meanwhile, against one of the NBA's toughest match-ups in Kevin Durant, the Hair saw nearly every one of his stat sheet numbers and percentages increase during the pressure of the playoffs.

Parsons' basketball acumen and overall skill-set could fit seamlessly on any roster in the league.  He's the perfect compliment to any number of systems, stars or coaches and it's time he got credit for something other than his team-friendly contract.

Of course, there were also negatives to point out.


1. Bottom feeder blues: The Rockets won’t face the Jazz, Kings or Sixers in the playoffs, but the Rockets’ repeated letdowns against weak competition could be enough to cost a spot or two in seeding in the tight Western Conference for homecourt advantage.

This has been the biggest bugaboo for me so far this season.  The Rockets have a tendency to play down (but not always up) to their competition.  Maybe it was that the first part of the schedule was so compact, or maybe just working out the kinks of a new roster, but losses to bottom feeders almost feel like double-losses in the standings for a team needing every bit of help it can get in the ultra-competitive West.  Just one of those losses (right now) is the difference between hosting game one against the Clippers in the first round and having to play in LA.

He also discusses the struggles of the second unit, hampered even more by the Patrick Beverley injury, but we'll get into that more in just a few lines.

Speaking of which - Yahoo Sports' M. De Moor is pondering about the summer of 2012, and what would have happened had the Rockets chosen Goran Dragic over Jeremy Lin as their point guard of the future.


At the time, I was of the belief that Dragic could have been Houston's long-term solution at point guard, which is something Morey is still searching for. Obviously, every situation doesn't translate perfectly, and you can't just compare Dragic's numbers to Lin's. But at this point I think it's clear that Dragic is a superior overall player. Dragic is a better ball-handler and floor general, while Lin's best attribute, his ability to slash and score, is only equal to Dragic's abilities as a scorer (although I'd argue that Dragic is a better scorer as well).

Where to start with this one? First off, I'd like to point out a few things.  Goran Dragic will be 28 years old by the time the playoffs start, whereas Jeremy Lin, who has shown improvement every year he's been in the Association, just turned 25 this August.  Also, I'd like to point out that while Dragic's numbers are impressive this year, he's played more minutes, taken many more shots and plays on a team where he is option 1a next to Eric Bledsoe's 1b.  And I would be remiss if I didn't point out that the Suns are 2-5 since Bledsoe hit the shelf.

Having said that, I won't argue that Dragic is the (slightly) better player just on the face of it.  He's a more complete as a point guard, and his shooting percentages are (again, only slightly) better than Lin's.  But as we all know, Morey-ball is built on three things: playing fast, shots in the restricted area and three pointers.  And as I noted in my very first Daily, very few players in the league can and do get to the rim like Jeremy Lin.  This not only creates efficient shots for Lin, but also frees up space for shooters behind the arc.

And yes, Dragic would be a superior choice over Lin as a sidekick for James Harden in the back court.  But with the continued emergence of Chandler Parsons as an offensive weapon, isn't a defensive ace that can shoot the preferred option in a league where point guard is the deepest position?  If Patrick Beverley can get healthy and return to the guy we remember from the OKC series last playoffs, starting point guard is not a concern for the Rockets.

I've always been a big believer in having a starting quality player come off the bench.  Someone who can get his own shot anytime he wants it, can get shots for other players and run an efficient offense when the starters sit.  One of the negative parts of the Rockets' season so far that Mr. Feigen pointed out from the previous piece was that the bench's shooting has gone in the dumps since Lin moved into the starting lineup.  As the Rockets' sixth-man, Lin's slash-and-kick style is ideal on a second unit with shooters like Francisco Garcia and Omri Casspi.  While I don't doubt that Dragic could run the Rocket's second unit, his fit next to Harden probably wouldn't require his doing so.  And that might seem silly, pointing out that Dragic would be too good to come off the bench for this team, while praising Lin's aptitude for running the second unit.  But that's just my point.  Lin provides all the things that Daryl Morey likes out of his (attacking) guards, and the fact that he happens to play on a team with James Harden is not his fault.

So yes, there is a very valid argument that Goran Dragic is the superior player to Jeremy Lin at the moment.  But with time on his side and Patrick Beverley's return imminent, Lin has a chance to move into his more natural role and make his own case.

Get Out and Vote - If you haven't done so already, be sure to cast your vote for all your favorite Rockets' players in this years' All Star game.

Currently, Jeremy Lin and James Harden sit fourth and fifth respectively in the backcourt, well behind Chris Paul at three.  But surprisingly, given the flack he takes for his image, Dwight Howard is second behind only Kevin Durant in the frontcourt voting.  Even more surprising is Omer Asik's inclusion at fourteen (14!!!), one spot behind (less-surprising) Chandler Parsons.  Both are just ahead of the Spurs' future, Kawhi Leonard.

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#34014 The Rockets Daily - January 6, 2013; Farewell John Eby, Welcome Mitchell Felker

Posted by Red94 on 06 January 2014 - 05:04 PM

New post: The Rockets Daily - January 6, 2013; Farewell John Eby, Welcome Mitchell Felker
By: mitchell felker

When I hatched the idea of a Rockets Daily (also briefly knows as Rockets Blast), I was skeptical.  A daily news gazette isn't anything unique in the sports blogosphere, but I wasn't sure I wanted such a thing on Red94 - some days there's just not enough news and the piece itself could appear as fluff.  That's why it's such a tough loss losing John Eby who, for the last year, wrote these Dailies filling in the pieces with his own editorial touch.  It's been pretty neat coming to my own site every morning to get filled in on the day's news and I'm fairly certain you, dear reader, have gotten the same utility out of Mr. Eby's writing.

A lot more goes in to running a blog of this scale than just what you see appear on your page.  In the early days, when it was just myself and Durvasa, I handled everything on my own.  Now, with a staff that has ballooned to 11 writers, in addition to four forum moderators, there's a lot of juggling that takes place behind the scenes.  In addition to the Dailies, Mr. Eby coordinated the schedules every week to ensure that a preview and recap went up each day in a timely manner in accordance with each writer's availability.  That was a task that I just could no longer handle on my own.

John, as you know, will be retiring from the Dailies due to the expected birth of a child.  He'll still be with us, penning his DwightLife series, however.  Taking his place, I'm excited to introduce Mitchell Felker who we were lucky to find after a very extensive candidate search process.  Mitchell is a native Houstonian and a former Army air traffic controller.  Below is his first Daily. - Rahat Huq

Until Death Do Us Part - Ken Berger of CBS Sports has heard that the Rockets are expecting to keep Omer Asik for the rest of the season.


“Teams that are tanking don't want him to make them better and winning teams want to steal him,” one rival GM said.

Now, I know we were all so excited to see what kind of haul Morey would be able to pull down with perhaps his most valuable trade asset yet, but this doesn't necessarily mean keeping him is bad news.  As has been said many times on this site, there is real value in having Asik come off the bench and provide 48-minute rim protection, even if it makes him the most overqualified, overpaid part-time player in the NBA.

The Rockets were 5-4 during the failed Twin Towers experiment, but rolled off a downright dominant stretch of games, going 8-1 over the next 2 weeks after committing to Terrence Jones full time at the 4 with Asik coming off the bench.  Since Asik's injury though, the team is 9-8 and continues to battle with consistency issues.  That's just two games over .500 combined with Asik not in a reserve role.  If that doesn't spell value, I don't know what does.

I commend Morey for being proactive and trying to move Asik while his value was still (somewhat) high after realizing the need to do so, but that time has passed.  And maybe this team can still be improved with a trade, but I sure hope (and truly believe) that he will continue to practice patience and not just make a move to pacify Asik's request.

Proof is in the pudding - The guys over at Hickory High have created their own take on the metric Expected Points Per Shot (XPPS). XPPS is a metric that figures out how many points a player should get per attempt, based on league averages, from a shot in one of the five league-recognized areas: Restricted Area, Paint, Mid-Range, Corner 3 and Above the Break 3.  Ian Levy has created his own take on this metric by adjusting it to show what each player can expect to score on each shot based on his shooting percentages in these areas, as opposed to the leagues average.  It gives a truer picture of what players really dominate in which areas of the court.  His first area of concern is the most coveted shot on the court: the restricted area.  It's no surprise that Lebron dominates this area in his metric.  The rest of the list does offer one pleasant surprise:


And while wings are scarce among the top 25 for this category (predictably populated mostly by low-block presences at PF and C), the others beyond King James all fit the bill perfectly – Manu Ginobli, Dwyane Wade, and Kevin Durant are all elite rim-attacking wings, and their RA-Adjusted XPPS reflects it.  Likewise, while seeing a name like Jeremy Lin might be a surprise to some, SportsVu data backs up his inclusion – he’s one of the most efficient and most frequent drivers to the hoop in the league.

That's a pretty impressive list to be on for a guy who takes flack for not being his team's starting point guard.  And if you click the SportsVu link, you'll also notice James Harden and Chandler Parsons' names on the list of players with the most points per game off shots at the rim.  After playing with the filters a bit, requiring players to average at least 4.5 ppg on drives with a shooting percentage over 48.5%, I managed to whittle the list down to just 14 players in the whole league who fit that criteria.  And all three Rockets remain on that list.  This can help us further understand why Lin is better suited as a sixth man for this team.

Morey has always said he prefers two attacking guards in his lineup, but with Parsons' continued improvement across the board, adding an elite attacking guard to the bench reeks of sense.  Patrick Beverley's perimeter defense is a bigger addition to a starting 5 that already consists of Harden and Parsons.  Jeremy Lin was already somewhat redundant playing next to Harden before you even take into account how much Parsons' offensive game continues to grow.  It's just a crying shame that Lin and Asik haven't been able to spearhead the second unit together much this season, just three games by my count, because they are both elite at such important aspects of the game.  How many bench units can make a claim like that?

Expectations vs Reality - Taking a look back at last year's schedule, the Rockets ended their 35th game of the season with a 125-112 win over the Lakers.  James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Carlos Delfino all had at least 19 points, with Harden leading all scorers with 31 points.  More importantly, it was the Rockets' fifth straight win and pushed their record to 21-14.  Not bad for a team that not only featured one of the league's youngest rosters and paid almost 130 million dollars to three players with less than a full season of starts combined, but also prominently featured Toney Douglas.  Those Rockets were loveable gunners that no one expected much out of come playoff time.

This year's team, which features 2 of the top 10-15 players in the league, has the NBA's best value contract in Chandler Parsons and is considered one of the 5-6 teams with a legitimate shot at the Finals, has rushed out of the gate to a record of....22-13.  Let me save you the trouble of looking for a calculator; that's only a one game improvement.  Both teams faced similar problems.  Consistency, chemistry and defensive question marks are all issues that have plagued the Rockets since two summers ago.  While the talent level and overall ceiling of the current incarnation is somewhat higher, the results just haven't been there.

For those looking for a bright side in that comparison, last year's Rockets lost their next seven games and barely played .500 ball the rest of the season.  These Rockets will surely continue to grow and are much more suited for the grind that is the NBA schedule.  It's just interesting to remember the euphoria of last season's first few weeks, reveling in James Harden's breakout, and how even with a one game improvement, this year's team feels slightly underachieving.




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#33129 Houston Rockets @ Indiana Pacers on 12/20/2013

Posted by Red94 on 21 December 2013 - 03:43 AM

New post: Indiana Pacers 114, Houston Rockets 81 - So That's What Defence Looks Like
By: Rob Dover

Ever since they smothered the Rockets in their sole visit to Houston last year, the Pacers have been one of my favourite teams to watch. I'm fascinated by how they are able to force teams to take shots they don't want to take and strangle the opposition's offence, and I was eager to see whether this year's iteration of the Rockets would fare any better. On the basis of tonight's showing the answer is an emphatic "NO!". In the second half the Pacers dominated the Rockets in pretty much every facet of the game, stretching the lead out and cruising to a comprehensive victory.

  • There were three key areas the Pacers excelled in defensively tonight that allowed them to run away with the game:
    • Their discipline in defensive transition was incredible. No matter what they tried, the Rockets just could not generate any opportunities when they pushed the ball. It almost seemed as though the Pacers defenders were teleported back to their paint after the shot went up.
    • You do not get open three point shots against the Pacers. Ever. Against any other team a kickout to the corner would generate an open look, but Indiana's weakside helpers are so quick to recover to their man that the shot just isn't there. This was not just a bad shooting night - there's a reason the Rockets were 4-21 from behind the arc.
    • Any over-dribbling is punished by quick hands knocking the ball away. This was particularly a problem for Harden, who likes his intricate dribbles - Paul George was constantly bothering his handle and knocking the ball away. It kills the possibility of any penetration and often leaves someone with a tough look as the clock expires.
  • Howard vs. Hibbert was always going to be fun to watch. In the pre-season games between these two teams, frankly Howard was awful if he allowed Hibbert time to get set before making his move. So it was great to see just how effective Howard was in the post tonight  - really he was the lone bright spot in an otherwise miserable performance by the team. He was making smooth moves with just enough unpredictability about them to avoid wandering hands of defenders coming down to double team. The result was a stream of high-quality looks, most of which he was able to convert on his way to a 19 point (9-16 shooting), 12 rebound, 5 block line. You can tell the time that he is spending with the big name big man coaches associated with the team is paying off.
  • Last year Harden struggled big time against the long arms and keen defensive presence of Paul George. Given George's evolution as an offensive threat over the past year, I was worried that we might see Harden embarrassed on both ends of the floor tonight. To give him credit, I thought he looked much sharper than usual defensively, but offensively he was almost completely shut down (12 points on 3-14 FGs).  Apart from some occasional success with the pump fake, Harden doesn't seem to have any way of getting past George and into the paint. This is where the Rockets really miss Lin - they need another way of getting dribble penetration on nights like this when Harden is ineffective. Without that, the half-court offence bogged down and the team could not find ways to score.
  • The Pacers felt they had a mismatch in the post with West matching up against Jones and went to it often. They were right, too - he was able to consistently get good position and Jones found it very difficult to stop him. Admittedly, West is a difficult cover, but it is problematic if Jones is unable to handle opponents down low. In theory he is the bigger 4 in the rotation and as such he is who McHale wants to turn to if the opposing PF is being aggressive in the post. If he can't be the guy who stops that, then he's not going to be able to get as many minutes as you'd like.
  • Perhaps because of the above, McHale played Smith at the 4 alongside Howard for stretches tonight. Playing the two of them together coincided with the Rockets going on a run and it actually looked pretty good defensively. They were able to shut down the paint and stay at home on opposing shooters since the Pacers were not playing a stretch 4. I remain unconvinced that it's something McHale should be going to too often though because it feels like there would have to be spacing issues offensively, but perhaps this can be a situationally effective tool against bigger teams.
  • While the defense looked solid with Smith at PF, it didn't look great with him at the C. Casspi was giving up size to Scola, and unlike when Howard is on the floor there isn't really the inside presence to help out. Wouldn't it be nice if we had a defensively-talented 7-footer we could put on the floor when Howard sits? Oh wait. If Morey isn't going to trade Asik, they need to get him back on the court as soon as they can.
  • Speaking of Scola, he had a bit of a throwback game tonight. He even hit a three early in the second quarter! I guess he's been expanding his range. Always nice to see him doing well.
  • On the evidence of tonight, the Pacers may be the worst match-up possible for this Rockets team. Their defensive strengths are almost tailor-made to cancel out the areas the Rockets rely on to score points. It's not something you have to say very often, but for once I'm actually glad the Rockets are in the Western Conference so they only have to face these guys twice per year.

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#33010 The Houston Rockets have a terrific bench... and don't use it

Posted by Red94 on 20 December 2013 - 01:34 AM

New post: The Houston Rockets have a terrific bench... and don't use it
By: Richard Li

During the recent game against the Chicago Bulls, Aaron Brooks came off the bench for a few minutes. Jeff Van Gundy remarked, "If Aaron Brooks were on the Bulls he would be their best offensive player. He's the third string point guard on the Rockets. That's how deep this team is." JVG is right. The Houston Rockets are incredibly deep.  Coming off the bench regularly are a scorer (Lin), two 3-and-D wings (Garcia, Casspi), a big (Asik... yeah, I know), and a grinder (Smith). Seeing spot duty or injury fill-in duty are a microwave man (Brooks) and a stretch 4 (D-Mo).  Those are very useful roles to be filled by young, talented players. Just ask the Pacers or the Bulls (when Rose was whole) how valuable a productive bench can be.

Here's how the Houston Rockets bench ranks league-wide, according to NBA.com:

  • 3rd in points per possession
  • 4th in TS%
  • 5th in net points per possession
  • 8th in +/- per game

But here's the most important stat about the Houston Rockets bench:

  • 25th in minutes per game

Only five other teams play their benches less than the Houston Rockets. Below is a chart that plots every team's bench according to how much they play and their net points per possession (click for a full-sized interactive version).

Playing time on the y-axis is in terms of the percentage of a team's minutes played by the team's bench.

There are a couple of things I want to point out. Most teams' benches don't play very much, and most teams benches aren't very good. The number of teams below and to the left of the respective average lines are far more numerous than their counterparts. The averages are skewed positively by some truly remarkable bench play.

Unsurprisingly, the Spurs are running away with the title of most amazing bench ever. The Heat and the Thunder also have some incredible benches (hint, these three teams have a track record of knowing what they are doing). The chart also portends a dangerous a future for teams like the Pacers, Blazers, and Warriors. Their benches are pretty meh and don't play very much (probably because they're pretty meh). Injuries and fatigue loom darkly.

The Houston Rockets, it turns out, are one of very few teams (maybe just two, with the other being the Clippers) that has an incredibly productive bench... that doesn't play. It's very apparent where those minutes are going.

  • James Harden ranks 3rd in the league in mpg
  • Chandler Parsons ranks 12th in the league in mpg
  • Harden, Parsons, and Dwight Howard rank 1st in the league in mpg for all 3-man lineups
  • Harden and Parsons rank 4th in the league in mpg for all 2-man lineups

Basically our super productive bench is being squeezed through a bottleneck. Those five guys (potentially seven) are all subbing in for two players, Jones and Beverley, thus severely limiting their playing time.

Interestingly, the Houston Rockets staff seems to know this. The big question regarding the Asik trade has always been who can be traded for and help the team? The answer seemed to gravitate towards no one, because any player received in return will be a role player who will only add to a talented bench that doesn't play very much. Hence, the focus became draft picks, which never materialized.

But to fix this situation, doesn't that mean (gasp) Harden, Parsons, and Howard have to (gulp), sit? Yes. Their replacements are more than capable.  It also keeps them fresh and healthy. Don't forget that these three players, over the course of less than a year, have all suffered or are suffering from what can be considered chronic wear-and-tear ailments (Howard-back, Parsons-back, Harden-ankle and foot). To make matters worse, Parsons is also 4th in the league in distance traveled per game. Why not give them a break?


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#32814 Serious question: Will Dwight Howard be more valuable than Omer Asik over the...

Posted by Red94 on 18 December 2013 - 05:17 PM

New post: Serious question: Will Dwight Howard be more valuable than Omer Asik over the next 5 years?
By: Justin Wehr

I know the question sounds ridiculous. I don’t mean to ruffle feathers or be provocative, I am just curious if I am the only one biased enough to believe that, over the next 5 years, Asik might bring at least as much to the table as Howard.

In order to help you identify my delusions, I have laid out my premises below.

  • Dwight Howard’s back surgery looks like it could be one of the most dramatic turning points in NBA history. Prior to his back surgery, Dwight Howard was indisputably one of the best two or three players in the league, and now he’s maybe one of the top 30. To put that in perspective (using ESPN’s NBA Rank), that would be like Kevin Durant or Chris Paul dropping to the level of Pau Gasol or Damian Lillard.
  • If Dwight Howard is still not fully recovered from his back surgery 606 days later – and Dwight himself said he isn’t in this radio show yesterday – then it looks unlikely that he will ever return to his former self.
  • I worry that Howard could suffer another major injury at any moment, rendering his contract a giant sinkhole in the Rockets' flexibility. Asik, on the other hand, seems surprisingly stout for a big man, and it wouldn't be contractual doom even if he were to go down.
  • Asik is currently one of the top 40 players in the league, and that’s being conservative. I believe he’s not far behind Joakim Noah or Roy Hibbert, and in fact in RAPM they were dead even last year.
  • Layups and corner threes are the most efficient shots in basketball, and the Rockets will get more of those shots with Asik rather than Howard simply because Howard demands post touches, which are less than efficient, to put it delicately.
  • Asik will likely improve at a faster rate than Howard simply because he’s a little younger and a lot less experienced. (Also, rumor is that Asik is a much more of a gym rat than Howard, but I have no evidence to support that claim.)
  • Asik is likely to age much more gracefully than Howard simply because his game relies much less on athleticism.

Even if you’re not convinced that Asik could be as valuable as Howard over the next 5 years (I’m not convinced myself), you might at least agree that the difference is not awfully large. And if it isn’t, then you have to wonder why the Rockets aren't also considering trade options for Howard.

Think of it this way. We know that the Rockets cannot get much in return for Asik (sorry, Millsap, Young, and Verejao, but in my book you don’t count as “much”), but presumably the Rockets could get quite a bit in return for Howard. Like, say, Kevin Love? And wouldn't Asik + Love be a much more devastating front court than post-surgery Howard + your choice of Millsap, Young, or Verejao?

Of course Howard for Love isn’t going to happen, I’m just dabbling in hypotheticals as sports fans do. I’m curious to hear other opinions on this.

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#32633 Houston Rockets @ Sacramento Kings on 12/15/2013

Posted by Red94 on 16 December 2013 - 02:17 AM

New post: Sacramento Kings 106, Houston Rockets 91: A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad game.
By: Paul McGuire

Jeremy Lin was out with back spasms. Terrence Jones had the flu.  James Harden sprained his ankle during the game.  Dwight Howard couldn’t hit a free throw (nor for that matter, could the Rockets as a whole).  Garcia and Casspi could not hit anything, and Greg Smith in his first game back after a month fouled out in 20 minutes.  It was that sort of a game, where while Houston came off strong, Sacramento took the lead in the 2nd quarter and everything from free throws to shooting to some interesting referee calls made things progressively worse as the game went on, resulting in the final dismal score.

  • In a radio interview at the beginning of the 2013 offseason, Daryl Morey stated that if the offseason was a total flop and the Rockets failed to sign any major free agents, that Houston’s record would likely not improve very much from last year’s.  Morey claimed that while the young Rockets players would improve, the team was very healthy last year, and that would likely change.  The Rockets are obviously far superior to last year’s team both overall and in talent, but the constant banging that everyone seems to have received this season has taken its toll.  For example, Harden played very well at the end of the second quarter and at the beginning of the third, and for a moment it looked like it would be one of those games where he would just overpower Sacramento by himself.  But then he badly sprained his ankle and went to the locker room.  While he would return, Harden was forced to the perimeter and did little more than fire up 3 pointers for the rest of the game.  For now, at least the injuries have been minor, but there are still over 50 games left to go in the season.
  • While I would like to make a note of the officiating, the Rockets really do not have grounds to complain given that seemingly no one could hit their free throws tonight.  Houston went a mere 22-38, or 58% tonight, and while Howard obviously regressed with a 5-13 effort, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas also missed both of theirs.
  • From Sacramento’s end, Rudy Gay is likely going to be the one who gets the credit, as he put up 26 points and looked nothing like the Gay who infamously chucked 37 shots against Houston earlier this season as a Raptor.  However, I was more impressed by Isaiah Thomas.  So recently after stifling Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, Patrick Beverley struggled to guard Thomas, who scored 11 points in the second quarter, finished with 19 points on 12 shots, and grabbed 8 assists.  Thomas was devastating in the pick and roll man regardless of the roll man, as he threw lobs up to Cousins, Jason Thompson, and even Quincy Acy.
  • As noted above, Greg Smith made his return after missing a month with a sprained right knee, and was more or less typical Smith.  He had a good hook shot and grabbed 9 boards, but his problems with defense and fouling continued, as he could not guard Cousins in the post or the pick and roll in general.  Rahat has stated that he does not believe that an Asik trade will occur – I am inclined to agree with him, but perhaps that is due to mere trepidation at the fact that I do not trust Smith to be Howard’s backup center at all.  The Rockets need more defense, not more finishing ability.
  • With the emergence of Terrence Jones ( who honestly should not have played tonight with the flu), Houston’s main problem has seemed to shift from fixing the power forward position to finding someone, anyone who can give James Harden and Chandler Parsons a breather( as the two are respectively first and tenth in minutes per game).  The problem has been exacerbated by the fact that clearly a Lin-Beverley lineup was to help this problem, but Garcia and Casspi were very bad in their return to Sacramento, going a combined 2 for 11 for the game and missing several 3 pointers which were completely wide open.  The starting lineup for now seems to be set – but with Lin currently hobbled, what about the bench?

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#32451 Dwight Howard made some amazing post moves last night

Posted by Red94 on 13 December 2013 - 02:03 PM

New post: Dwight Howard made some amazing post moves last night
By: rahat huq

Dwight Howard had a monster game last night in Houston's loss, scoring 32 points and grabbing 17 rebounds.  But the story was how he did it.  With the Blazers opting to play Howard in single coverage, the big man punished Robin Lopez in the post with an assortment of moves so uncharacteristic of his usual self that even TNT analyst Shaquille O'Neal was at a loss for criticism at halftime.  This move in particular was sickHoward looked like Hakeem right there.  I've been as vocal a critic of Howard's post abilities as anyone out there, but last night makes you wonder...perhaps there's hope?

What I've noticed in these first 23 games is that Howard actually has all of Hakeem's moves.  As sacrilegious as that sounds, I'm serious.  Okay, aside from like the faceup crossovers baseline turnaround fadeaway, he has some of the more basic stuff down (if anything of Hakeem's can be considered basic).  I'm talking about the reverse pivot spins and that psuedo-Dreamshake move cited above.  And that's really, really incredible if you think about it.  What he doesn't have is touch, timing, awareness, and the good fortune of being born in a generation with rules more favorable to big men.  On that latter point--something Howard even himself noted--he's dealing with way more arms in the paint and more bodies even prior to the catch than Hakeem ever faced (except when the Sonics did it illegally.)  There's not really much that can be done about that.  As for touch, who knows?  It's said that it can't be developed so we'll just have to wait and see.  But timing and awareness are factors upon which Dwight can improve.  His struggles come primarily against double teams as he struggles to react and pass out.  And it's said that recognizing double teams is one of the last stages of development for great post players.  So I think there is hope on that front.  Howard for now will need to make his moves quickly before the double arrives.  He won't always face single coverage like he did last night.  And we'll have to hope that as he matures, when those doubles arrives, he'll be able to react better.

We'll have to file this under "pending."  I was ready to consider Howard's post game a lost cause before last night.  There's still a long way to go.  But this is highly critical for both the player and the team.  Dwight Howard is 28 now and it's not exactly breaking news that he's a shell of himself physically; the days when he could just leap over and through defenders are long gone.  But Hakeem dealt with that physical deterioration too.  Let's hope there is more to what we saw last night.

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