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What I’m looking at: bench usage and a nickname

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The beginning of the season is a little awkward for dataheads. On one hand, data exists in very small quantities and every bone in my body knows I should not analyze it just one week into the season. On the other hand, I’m bored and want to post something. I’m going to compromise and write about what I’m going to analyze once enough data is available. My number one focus this year, at least right now, is the Houston Rockets’ bench usage.

Last year I was a bit stunned by how little the Rockets employed their bench, despite it being pretty effective compared to the rest of the league’s units. The graph below (side note: I’m transitioning over to D3 based charts instead of Tableau ones, so bear with me) shows that, at the end of last year, the Rockets’ bench was the 5th most effective in the league but second to last in minutes played. In the playoffs, the Rockets essentially employed a 7.5 man rotation, with Asik and Lin being the only regular bench players to see time along with a little used rotating 8th man.


Bench usage vs effectiveness. Click for a full-size interactive version.

The direction of the league certainly seems to be trending towards more rest for starters in the name of ensuring player health, led by the Spurs and last year’s Heat, and also influenced by recent injuries to several key players. The NBA itself is even nudging teams in this direction by toying with shortening the length of games. I want to know how the Rockets are going to navigate this landscape.


I, for one, am a firm advocate for more bench minutes. Last year the trio of Harden-Howard-Parsons were 7th in the league in minutes played (it’s worth noting that Trevor Ariza was part of the threesome that played the most minutes). Individually, Harden and Parsons ranked 5th and 7th, respectively, in minutes played per game. This team’s recent history is to live and die with its starters. With McHale’s seat becoming a little warm, there might be an element of self-preservation involved, as well.

Sooner or later, however, long-term aspirations have to take precedence over short-term gratification. Dwight Howard may only be 28 years old, but this is his 11th NBA season and he’s already had a major back issue. Parsons was also swapped for Ariza who, while a better defender, is also substantially older and just coming off a very high usage season (see above). Needless to say these two players have been really instrumental to the Rockets’ success thus far, and protecting them should be a priority.


Potentially more interesting than how much the bench plays is who will be playing, especially now that Asik and Lin are gone. The pre-natal rotation that’s developed thus far has been a little surprising. Troy Daniels, last year’s playoffs darling and my pre-season pick to be the team’s designated shooter, has barely seen the floor. Forum favorite Isaiah Canaan saw even less time than Daniels the first two games. Instead, the creaky body of Jason Terry was the first guard off the bench. However, once Patrick Beverley became injured, it was Canaan who started. Further adding to the confusion is that once Bevereley returned against Miami, Canaan was once again out-used by Terry, 19 minutes to 14. It’s also worth noting that Harden, Ariza, and Howard played 40, 40, and 38 minutes, respectively, in that game. Wade and Bosh played 31 and 30.

The flag bearer for the bench seems to be Kostas Papanikoloau. I have nothing to say about him except that I want the Rockets to play the Bucks on TNT so Charles Barkley is forced to say Kostas Papanikoloau, Donatas Motiejunas, and Giannis Antetokounmpo as much as possible.

Can a brother get a nickname?

I actually have one thing to say about Kostas. I’m officially laying down the nickname challenge for this guy. Any writer can submit a nomination. The only rule is that strong mockery of other submissions is required.

Rahat seems to have tied his horse to Big Papa. Obviously I think this nickname sucks, because it’s not mine. But also because Biggie was actually Big POPPA. This is quite important because not only are his songs and albums spelled this way, but there are songs that literally refer to Biggie by spelling P-O-P-P-A. Furthermore, anyone with a nickname that includes the word “big” needs to possess one of two (preferably both) qualities:

1) Substantially large size given the context;

2) A noticeably rotund stature.

Think about Big Papi, Big Baby, or any of Shaq’s “big” nicknames. They’re either big for their crowds, cupcake shaped, or both. In college, I had a friend everyone called Big Josh. He was 6’5″ 315 lbs. He wouldn’t be Big Josh on the Texans offensive line, but he was plenty big for us and it once took six of us to move his passed out ass out of the car.

Kostas? He’s 6’8″ 220 lbs. So is Trevor Ariza. But no one’s calling him Big Trevor.

Lo and behold, I present to you Kostas’s new nickname–KPop. First, it’s a ridiculously awesome nickname. I would love to be called KPop. Second, it follows the lazy trend of NBA nicknames, which are basically initials and numbers (seriously, we went from the Round Mound of Rebound to CP3?). Finally, I bet the Rockets would receive a lot of inadvertent attention from Korean music fans. So yeah, marketing.


KPop is screaming because he loves his nickname.

View this discussion from the forum.

About the author: Richard Li is an independent researcher and consultant. He likes numbers and pictures.

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