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Assessing Ariza – Part 3

In the seven games between March 13th and March 24th, spanning from the point Trevor Ariza returned from injury and joined Kevin Martin in the Houston Rockets’ starting lineup, up until the day Martin went down with an injury, Ariza shot 47% from the field and 34% from deep in averaging 13.1ppg.  Overall on the year, Ariza shot just 39% and 33% on 3’s in averaging 14.9ppg.

While primitive and unadjusted, these measures, in combination with observation, allow us to confidently posit that the presence of Kevin Martin significantly impacts the production of Trevor Ariza.

In addition, because Ariza’s 3pt% remained roughly the same, we can attribute the improved production to, rather than open looks on the perimeter, a shift in the manner in which he took his 2’s.

With the season over, it would now be appropriate to revisit my earlier assertions regarding Ariza, originally made in Part 1, then reaffirmed in Part 2:

Will never become a go-to player on a good team

The belief by many fans prior to the season that Ariza could become a go-to player for the Rockets was so preposterous that it was beyond maddening.  I don’t think I need to spend any more time here re-establishing my assertion.  Anyone who has watched more than two games all year can recognize that Trevor Ariza is not a go-to player.  He can’t create.  Without that, it can’t be done.

Prior to the season, fans and media alike mistakenly believed that Trevor Ariza could simply run offseason drills, and, with more touches, blossom into a go-to option.  As I had explained, it’s not that simple.

Somewhere along the line, the notion that Rockets management actually signed Ariza to fill such a role became imbued within the collective wisdom of broadcast crews across the nation.  For a front office which likely conducts adjustments for even variables such as tightness of jock-strap, it’s far-fetched to think the Rockets weren’t aware of Trevor’s limitations.

Given Daryl Morey’s comments that Ariza’s defense alone justified his salary, in combination with the distinct change in the latter’s role upon the acquisition of Kevin Martin, it’s pretty safe to conclude that Trevor’s first half usage as a playmaker was simply heuristic and not intended as part of the team’s long term plan.


In an addendum to Part 1, I tried to explain the difference between creating and slashing.

The clip shows instances of Ariza attempting to create off the dribble.  See how after receiving the pass, he has no advantage over his defender and the two men are squared up?  Because the offensive situation has not presented any advantage, Ariza has to try and create a situation.  That is creating – making something when nothing is there, either for oneself or for others.

Skilled guards, in fact most starting guards, can get past their defender, using various counter-moves such as spins, stutter-steps, or crossover dribbles.  A skilled player does not need favorable defensive conditions to advance past his man.  A skilled player does not need to start from a position of advantage – he can create a situation for himself.

Because Ariza is so unskilled, in these isolation situations, he either attempts to use his speed, or if using a counter-move like other guards, turns it over.  If choosing the former option, because most NBA defenders can stay in front of their man unless crossed-over, Trevor is usually either cut off or forced into an awkward position.


Trevor Ariza has other weaknesses which severely limit him as an offensive threat.  As seen in the clip, he has very poor body control which hinders him when finishing against contact.

More importantly, because Ariza always uses his speed when driving, rather than controlled skill, he gets tunnel vision, putting him in very awkward situations.

When skilled players drive to the basket, they maintain control and awareness of their surroundings, allowing them to recover if cut off.  Ariza goes full steam.  If cut off, since he can’t put on the breaks, he either flings up a prayer or awkwardly lofts out a bad pass back out to the perimeter.

It should be clear by now that Trevor Ariza does not have the tools be a go-to player.  On the year, he scored on only 33% of his isolation attempts.  While serving as the ball-handler in pick&roll situations, he scored only 29% of the time, and while posting up, he scored at only a 35% rate.

Perfect role player for this team

I still stand by this assertion.  My reason is because I was referring to the long-term big picture and Trevor’s role on a team with both Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady.

Ariza is struggling right now simply because he is not suited for his current role.  He’s just not skilled enough to have the responsibilities he currently has in this offense.

(At the same time, I don’t blame Rick for experimenting because this year is the only chance he will get for that.)

If Yao returns and another impact player is acquired, I do still think that Trevor can be a very productive role player for this team.  As I said earlier, Ariza is at his best when put in situations where he does not need to make decisions with the basketball.  If playing next to dominant offensive players, when the defense gives them heightened attention, Ariza can thrive by slashing to the hoop or spotting up.

If given the same amount of attention as his other four teammates and required to create on his own, as has been the case this year, Ariza is just not very good.  The results this year don’t exactly come as a shock.

As we saw, Trevor Ariza’s performance significantly improved after the trade for Kevin Martin.  This should not have come as a surprise.  As I had explained, because Martin can handle and create, his presence alters Ariza’s usage, allowing Trevor to slash, cut and play off the ball.


The above clip illustrates slashing. See the difference with creating?

In those plays, when Ariza caught the ball, the defense was still rotating and was thus, off-balance.  In essence, the offensive situation provided Ariza with an advantage over his defender.

With his defender off-balance, he was able to catch, pump-fake if needed, and immediately make his move to the basket.  Unlike his problems against pressure, it didn’t matter that he was only using his speed/quickness because the defender was not set – counter-moves were not necessary.

In the first half of the year, because only Aaron Brooks could create, and none of our players regularly commanded double-teams, Trevor usually found himself facing a set defender upon receiving the ball.  But in the second half, with both Kevin Martin and Brooks doing the initial creating, forcing the defense to scramble, Ariza was able to catch and attack against off-balance defenders.

Slashing is where Trevor thrives because of his physical gifts.  We saw it last year with the Lakers.  With Yao likely to command double-teams next season, defenders will again need to rotate and help.  If they are slow to recover, Ariza can feast on their mistakes.


The clip illustrates a cut. The man moves without the ball and is fed near the basket.  Trevor’s length and athleticism make him a dangerous cutter in Rick Adelman’s offense.  In fact, Ariza scored on 66% of his cutting opportunities.


The above clip shows that Trevor is actually very comfortable bringing the ball up.  He has natural form, unlike someone such as, for example, Shane Battier.  I think that, combined with the slashing Ariza displayed in the ’09 playoffs, seeing Ariza’s natural comfort in handling against little to no pressure is what led so many to assume he could also create. But of course, it’s a different animal against tight pressure.

Still, the ability should not be dismissed.  Many NBA small forwards are not comfortable bringing the ball down the court.  Playing what is essentially a backcourt of two shooting guards in Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin makes this ability of Trevor’s a boon because he can set the offense up if needed (not to be confused with creating for others) or, grab the rebound and take off in transition on his own.

This signing was a ’slam dunk’

Many have recently expressed their disappointment with the signing, stating that it was a blunder on Morey’s part.  I strongly disagree and still feel this was a very good signing.

We can all agree that Ariza has performed very poorly up to this point.  I personally think  his production will improve if/when the team personnel is upgraded (via Yao’s return or a trade), but let’s set even that aside.

Regardless of his actual production, this was a good signing simply because it gave the team another plus asset.  It doesn’t matter how poorly he performs – Ariza is just 24, earning just the league average, and has significant contributions to a title team on his resume.  He can easily be traded.

For his production, Trevor’s salary is great value.  At just 25 and due roughly $28million over the next four years, he is a plus-asset for potential trades.

Assessing Ariza

Trevor Ariza had a difficult first half, reflected in his mediocre eFG% (.460) and PER (13.3).  His overall USG% (21.2) underscores the peculiar nature of his first-half role.

USG% is an estimate of the % of plays used by a player while on the floor. See how Ariza compares to other swing-men. Click to enlarge.

But in the seven game stretch where he and Kevin Martin were both healthy and playing together in the starting lineup, when forced back into his natural role, we saw Ariza’s strengths on full display.

There is of course the contentious issue of his defense, something which will be the subject of a later installment.  But going forward, I feel validated in my earlier assertion that this was a great signing.


About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of www.Red94.net.

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