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@  thejohnnygold : (21 January 2014 - 03:18 PM) Chandler Parsons is doing an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit today at 4pm Central time. LINK
@  HoopsReportCard : (21 January 2014 - 03:13 PM) https://twitter.com/...467358350548992
@  thenit : (21 January 2014 - 03:51 AM) Bev was real good
@  feelingsuper... : (21 January 2014 - 03:32 AM) It sure is good to have Beverley back, good team win!
@  blakecouey : (21 January 2014 - 03:32 AM) First game back and Bev puts up a gaudy +26. Great win.
@  miketheodio : (21 January 2014 - 02:07 AM) I'm not liking this. Offense losing it's rhythm towards the half.
@  Dayak : (20 January 2014 - 04:34 AM) Great work Justin!
@  Opasido : (19 January 2014 - 02:53 AM) Luke Ridnour's shoes are sweet though..
@  thejohnnygold : (18 January 2014 - 08:36 PM) Justin, you've made it to Reddit.com as well!
@  feelingsuper... : (17 January 2014 - 08:00 PM) Mike and Seth on 610AM just mentioned Justin Wehr's graph comparing Harden favorably to other greats.
@  Richards : (17 January 2014 - 02:38 PM) It seems some already threw white flags. Repeated losses don't rattle them anymore.
@  feelingsuper... : (17 January 2014 - 02:35 PM) I agree Drew. Years ago when I was more emotionally invested this loss would have devastated me. Really this is just part of them paying their dues, I agree with rocketrick in that it will strengthen them. The mention if Asik was not an excuse just a logical thing to mention considering how physical the second half was, Dwight was all alone down low.
@  Drew in Abilene : (17 January 2014 - 02:14 PM) Yes, Houston lost after leading by double digits, but this was against a very strong Thunder team on the second night of a back-to-back with key players injured. Still stinks to lose a winnable game, but I don't see cause for panic.
@  rocketrick : (17 January 2014 - 11:41 AM) This game will stiffen the Rockets backbone for future tussles headed our direction. But man, that was one ugly second half to have to witness in person!
@  Buckko : (17 January 2014 - 07:40 AM) Asik has been injured, and you can't use him as an excuse. We will get him back by the end of the month though.
@  miketheodio : (17 January 2014 - 06:41 AM) another blown double digit lead
@  feelingsuper... : (17 January 2014 - 05:23 AM) Perhaps Harden should have shot more to find his shot in the second half, to get it going. The Rockets sure could use a committed Asik, it's a shame what he did to this team.
@  feelingsuper... : (17 January 2014 - 05:20 AM) I agree, it's crazy. Seventy three in the first half and 19 in the second half.
@  thenit : (17 January 2014 - 05:15 AM) I know but scoring under 20 in second half is deflating
@  feelingsuper... : (17 January 2014 - 05:14 AM) Not entirely unexpected, this is a young team searching for an identity facing a team with a system in place. This won't happen next year.


Dwight Howard's defensive impact remains humongous

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#1 Red94


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    Posted 16 January 2014 - 03:15 PM

    New post: Dwight Howard's defensive impact remains humongous
    By: michael pina

    We’re almost midway through the season, and the Houston Rockets have yet to experience a prolonged stretch of consistent two-way play.

    Houston’s fallen to the Sacramento Kings (twice), been blown out horribly by the Oklahoma City Thunder (sans Russell Westbrook) and the Indiana Pacers, and lost to a hobbled Atlanta Hawks team that bravely scrapped 83 points together, all in the past month.

    They’re far from bad, though, sporting the league's fourth best offense (including its third best team True Shooting percentage) and 10th best defense. Some of their struggles in individual contests can be explained by the myriad lingering injuries to key players like Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons, James Harden, Patrick Beverley, Omer Asik (yes, he’s a key player), and Greg Smith.

    The one constant, however, has been a revitalized Dwight Howard. Once again he's the very best his position has to offer, and to date he's been Houston's Most Valuable Player. Howard's the rock on 14 of Houston’s 15 most utilized five-man units, and over the past couple months he's unleashed a devastating (and surprisingly varied) post game.

    But it’s on the other end where Howard’s most had his work cut out for him. On some nights the three-time Defensive Player of the Year appears to be headed for a fourth trophy, while on others there are critical, preventable lapses (mostly not his fault) that send Houston into a momentary spiral.

    The Rockets’ overall defense is top-10 with Howard on the floor and about average when he’s off. He plays a ton, too. Kevin McHale refuses to remove Howard from the game in Hack-a-Howard situations and usually lets him play through threatening times early on after he's picked up multiple fouls.

    When defending pick-and-rolls Howard sags back into the paint, either forcing a mid-range jumper from the guard or a pass back to the screener, also for a mid-range jumper. Sometimes, if Howard closes out hard, his man will try to take him off the dribble. Due to Howard's awesome ability to slide while keeping his hands above his head this rarely works out well for whoever has the ball.

    But most often he’s perfectly content receding back to the paint and waiting for the rebound. Letting someone take an open shot isn't the best strategy in the world, but there are much worse options. (When Howard’s on the floor Houston’s opponents are 6% more accurate from the mid-range, according to NBA.com. They also attempt shots from that zone 4.4% more often.)

    His unwillingness to leave the paint for fear of absolutely no Rockets protecting the rim or grabbing a rebound is somewhat fair, but that doesn’t make it helpful. At least a couple times this season there’ve been moments where Howard won't go after a loose ball that's literally rolling on the ground a few feet outside the paint.

    It’s a trust issue, and teams with bigs who can knock down an outside shot (New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers, Dallas Mavericks, etc.) have given Houston issues.

    Another spot where Howard’s presence, or lack thereof, is felt is in the corner. A serious area of weakness for them last season, opponents are shooting 34.4% from the corner when Howard plays and 35.9% overall. Only the Thunder, Mavericks, and Pacers defend it better than that first number, and the second places them seventh in the league.

    Things turn into The Purge when Howard heads to the bench. There are no laws, no discipline, and all semblance of morality and human decency is abandoned in the worst way possible (maybe forget that last point). Every opponent turns into Shane Battier circa Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals, and shots fly into the hoop at a 40% clip when launched from the corners; good for 19th overall.

    Some of this is due to an increase in offense rebounds. But most of the time Houston’s players are simply too concerned with protecting the paint. The rate of corner threes attempted doesn’t change when Howard sits, but the quality of the shot is drastically improved.

    In both pictures every Rocket is either in the paint or a foot away.


    Ironically, the one area where Howard's made his mark as an elite player is also Houston's greatest concern: the restricted area, where opposing teams connect on 61.3% of their shot attempts, making Houston one of the 10 worst teams in the league.

    Howard isn’t lackluster as an individual defending shots at the rim, and a lot of these struggles are more symptoms of Houston’s still-hilariously-awful perimeter defense than anything else.

    The Rockets will consistently miss a rotation when Howard’s the help defender on 1-3 or 1-4 pick-and-rolls involving wings or power forwards. It's a painful weakness that smart teams will easily exploit over and over again in a seven game playoff series.

    Here we have Parsons and Beverley guarding a 1-4 high pick-and-roll against George Hill and David West. Not the smoothest "hedger" in the world, Parsons bangs into his teammate as West lumbers free into the lane. Beverley manages to cut Hill off at the elbow but West is still wide open. Why? Worried about leaving Paul George open on the perimeter, Harden doesn't slide far enough over from the weak side to muddle West's progress.

    Why doesn't Howard do something about it? Well, he's busy guarding this guy named Roy Hibbert. In a world where God is a Rockets fan, Parsons would take Harden's responsibility out on the perimeter and the two would switch. It isn't the best situation—there's a good chance Parsons' miscue at the beginning screwed them from the start—but nothing is worse than an open layup. Had Harden everyone rotated properly they wouldn't have given one up.

    Houston's frontcourt personnel is another reason why they're wet toilet paper near the basket. Howard has zero teammates who can really hold their own defensively in the post. Smith and Asik can, obviously, but both horrifically devastate Houston’s offensive spacing when paired beside Howard on the other end. (Also, at least one of them is always hurt.)

    As hard as they try, Omri Casspi and Terrence Jones are far too small to bang down low. Howard will leave his assignment (and his feet) to help, but when he doesn’t get the block his man is left waiting to grab the offensive rebound for a point blank put back.

    Teams have also done a good job attacking Houston quickly, before Howard can get back to where he’s most comfortable. Most of the time they use a big up top to direct traffic.

    Here's Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut lobbing a pass over Howard's fingertips to David Lee, who has Jones completely sealed. See Harden on the weak side block? Think he slides over to take the charge? Haha. Of course not.

    As you can see a lot of this isn’t Howard’s fault. But a few times this season he’s made the mistake of fronting his man in the post, or coming up far too high on the pick-and-roll. The consequences of doing so are swift and unpleasant.

    Howard's doing a pretty good job fronting DeMarcus Cousins in the picture above, but if Isaiah Thomas can hit his large teammate with a bounce pass...

    ...see what happens? Cousins waltzes past Jones for the easy layup.

    Howard's having a phenomenal first season as Houston's center, but his margin for error is nonexistent playing alongside so many teammates who're either outmatched or outwitted on the defensive end. Still, as time goes on he'll need to trust guys who you'd like to think can't stay incompetent forever.

    It was mentioned earlier in this article that Houston's defense is still average when Howard takes a seat, but those minutes largely come against opposing benches for less than 15 minutes every game. It's scary to think how far this team would fall if Howard wasn't there.

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

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    #2 Jatman20



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      Posted 16 January 2014 - 03:43 PM

      <br /><br /><p>I posted before how we lack a backup center and how this limits the aggressiveness of D12 (we can't lose him to fouls). You can play DMo vs Ajinca<br />
      (Guy off the street-13 games total this season) or Stiesma(sp?) who shoots 50% from the FT line....if they use whack-a-DMo (56%FT) you counter and turn it into a FT shooting contest between those two. We put up with D12 (53%FT; up from 49% last year) because he brings so much to the table. Terrence is now down to 59% from FT line.....he needs to up that. Bynum could help at vet minimum per his tenure in the league.....if the price is right.</p>
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      #3 j_wehr



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        Posted 16 January 2014 - 05:42 PM

        Michael, I love your posts and find your analysis so smart, and I'm amazed at how often we disagree. If your argument is, "Dwight Howard's defensive impact remains humongous," then my question is, compared to what? Compared to most of his teammates? Okay, but that's not very interesting, because the starting C is _supposed to be_ the anchor of a defense. What about compared to his back-up (Asik)? What about compared to other starting C's and PF's around the league? What about compared to other players making $20M a year?
        I will be very interested to see Dwight's dRAPM this year. I'd be willing to bet that it will fall well short of his pre-back-surgery performance.

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        #4 MichaelPina



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          Posted 16 January 2014 - 06:05 PM


          Michael, I love your posts and find your analysis so smart, and I'm amazed at how often we disagree. If your argument is, "Dwight Howard's defensive impact remains humongous," then my question is, compared to what? Compared to most of his teammates? Okay, but that's not very interesting, because the starting C is _supposed to be_ the anchor of a defense. What about compared to his back-up (Asik)? What about compared to other starting C's and PF's around the league? What about compared to other players making $20M a year?
          I will be very interested to see Dwight's dRAPM this year. I'd be willing to bet that it will fall well short of his pre-back-surgery performance.



          Thank you for the kind words. In writing the piece I was more concerned with Howard's impact on the Rockets, as opposed to any other center's impact on their respective team. But I used team-oriented statistics (specifically related to how the Rockets defend specific areas of the floor) as tools to show why Howard's play is particularly impressive and note-worthy.

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          #5 RudyT1995


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            Posted 17 January 2014 - 12:08 AM

            Thanks for the piece Michael.  It was a good read.

            Edited by RudyT1995, 17 January 2014 - 12:09 AM.

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            #6 thejohnnygold



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            Posted 18 January 2014 - 05:59 PM

            Still waiting for Dwight to learn this move from Hakeem...only then will his training be complete.



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            #7 timetodienow1234567


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            Posted 18 January 2014 - 06:06 PM

            Lol. Imagine if that happened today.
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            Why so Serious? :D

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