Houston Rockets 102 – LA Clippers 85

  • It wouldn’t be a Red94 game review without me expressing indignation toward a slight of Chuck Hayes.  9:30 into the 1st, the Clippers broadcast crew relates to us that when told before the game that he would be guarded by the 6’5 Hayes, Chris Kaman responded saying, “They better double team me.”  So naturally Kaman went 5-16 from the floor for 10 points (to go with 5 boards.)  Yeah, I’m thinking we were fine without the double team.
  • Later in the 1st, the Clips’ crew quotes Adelman as having said, regarding Ariza’s struggles, “Superstars take a lot of shots.  It’s ok to miss them.”  It’s pretty clear that the staff sees Ariza as having a higher ceiling.  I just don’t see it.
  • With 9:30 left in the 2nd, the Clips’ crew tells us that “You just get the feeling that the Clippers have too many weapons for this Rockets team.  They [the Rockets] will have to pitch a perfect game just to beat them.”  Umm.  What.  That quote is, in and of itself, a comedic gold mine; too many ways I can go with that softball.
  • Later in the 2nd we see the unit of Lowry, Brooks, Budinger, Andersen, and Landry, otherwise known as, courtesy of 82games.com, the second most efficient unit on the team (after the starters.) Watching them closely, there wasn’t nearly as much movement off the ball as I had initially assumed.  Since the Tracy McGrady controversy began, I have been trying to visualize Tracy on the floor while watching different sets in action.  We already know McGrady can initiate the offense from the elbow in the role being played now by Chuck Hayes.  However, you will notice that the two weakside perimeter players are stationary when the offense is initiated on the strong side.  They don’t go into motion until after the first hand-off.  This will need to be examined more closely, but for now, this looks promising.  Tracy and stationary?  Check.
  • With 1:55 left in the 2nd, the Clips’ crew inquires, regarding Rasual Butler  “When we see a game like he had against Denver, are we asking too much to ask for 17 points per game from him?”  Wait.  This is Rasual Butler we are talking about, right?  Was there something I missed in the last month somehow making him relevant?
  • Shane Battier comes out in the third quarter and completely shuts down Baron Davis (except for a few breakaway dunks.)  Naturally this leads me to wonder why this was never even attempted in the playoffs against Deron Williams.  Shane just has this uncanny ability to stay in front of far quicker players by not biting on fakes.  Now that I think about it, it’s not that uncanny.  He just doesn’t bite on fakes.
  • With 3:40 left in the 3rd, the Clips’ crew, regarding Ariza, debates whether he has the mindset to be a go-to scorer, and then concludes that it is his skillset which is the root of his struggles.  This is possibly the first time in 18 games that I have heard a broadcast crew make this completely obvious observation.  Ariza just simply doesn’t have the skills to be elite.  It is as simple as that.
  • With 3:25 left in the 3rd, we see Shane Battier explode down the lane for a one handed dunk attempt.  The sheer shock value had me falling out of my chair.
  • With 8:28 left in the 4th, Baron Davis ties up Carl Landry, literally, getting the jumpball call after putting both arms around Landry’s neck.  I would really be interested in seeing a study that determined how many jumpball calls were actually the result of a legal attempt at the ball (ie: NOT characterized by one player putting both of their arms around the other player’s body.)
  • With 6:17 left in the 4th, Carl faces up Kaman, and we see the signature spin move.  This move has to have the highest efficiency rating on the team.
  • As the game winds down, the Clips’ crew wonders aloud how the Rockets can beat a Clippers team with “so many weapons.”  Ironically, this is what people all around basketball have been wondering in general since last May.  We still haven’t found an explanation for what is taking place.
1:55 in the 2nd “when we see a game like he had against denver, are we asking too much to ask for 17 points per game from him?” – did i miss something?

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On McGrady – Part 2

The folly in hastily trading Tracy McGrady out of spite is the fact that you would be completely relinquishing a value asset for zero return.

We aren’t completely privy to the amount of his trade value.  However, given the recent history of expiring contracts, even taking into consideration the insurance benefits associated with his circumstances, it is safe to assume that Tracy wouldn’t bring back much to the Houston Rockets in a trade.

(To receive any type of substantial return for McGrady, other significant parts would need to be included.  While I personally would have no qualms with breaking up the nucleus to facilitate the acquisition of an impact player, I think that management would be hesitant considering the established chemistry amongst this group.)

My concern is that, despite having little to no trade value, I think McGrady still has substantial player value, especially if on this team.

As I explained in Part 1, even in his declined physical state, Tracy will still possess the playmaking skills of which this team is in desperate need.

Almost every champion in NBA history has featured a player with the ability to make plays off the dribble.  If they hope to contend, somewhere down the line, the Houston Rockets will need to acquire a player with this capability.  The dilemma is that because this skillset is at such a premium in this league, such a deal would require the inclusion of key parts of our nucleus.  (I also don’t foresee the Rockets being bad enough in the near future to acquire a gifted playmaker in the draft – they tend to go high in the lottery.)

This begs the question – wouldn’t it be easier to just keep McGrady?

If he proves to be washed up, he can simply be dealt at a later date prior to the deadline.  But the team gains absolutely nothing from not even giving him a chance.  If you expel McGrady now, you not only lose his player value, but you will also need to recoup the loss of his skillset through other valued resources.

So naturally, I’m pretty baffled by some of the calls for McGrady’s outright release.  I think some fans have invested themselves into this issue at a personal level that is beginning to appear borderline unhealthy.

Management has taken the correct approach.  No, Rick’s recent comments don’t mean he has some personal distate for McGrady.  As a coach, it is natural that Adelman would be concerned about throwing a guy onto the floor without any practice.  It’s not a simple black/white case of healthy/unhealthy.

Ultimately, I think McGrady will be given and needs to be given a chance to play before he is traded, if he is traded.  Not because the team owes him anything but rather because it is the most pragmatic route for this team’s future.

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On McGrady – Part 1

I will refrain from commenting on the recent speculation surrounding management’s motivations in handling Tracy McGrady.  I can’t offer any insight unique to what has already been said, and I would rather not give way to conjecture.

My preferred subject for discussion is McGrady’s role on this team.

As was the case last season, the Houston Rockets still struggle to score in crunch time.  Contrary to the current popular claim, this is not due to some sudden failure to execute.  Motion offenses bog down in crunch time because defenses begin to key in on the weak side cuts that provide opportunities earlier in the game.  It is no coincidence that almost every NBA champion has placed the ball in the hands of a dominant guard late in close games.

The Houston Rockets simply do not have a player on this team with the ability to make decisions in pressure situations.  A healthy Tracy McGrady can be this player.  Even if at a 2008 level of low shooting efficiency and hindered athleticism, McGrady will still possess the innate court vision that is nearly unparalleled among wings in this league.  He can make a huge contribution to this team because of this unique talent.

Now, with this said, the concern is regarding the other 43 minutes of the game.  Is McGrady willing to defend and cut as required by this system?  More importantly, can he play with the sustained level of energy that his teammates have established as their greatest strength?  Based on his track record, it is reasonable to have doubts.

One possible solution might be to feature him as the “eye” of the storm within the motion offense, similar to Yao Ming’s role in the low post last season.  Tracy proved against Utah in 2008 that he is very comfortable operating from the left elbow where he is provided his pet options of jab-stepping for the pull-up to his left or finding teammates while going to his right.  I can envision such an offensive scheme with McGrady as the stationary focal point as the other 4 players move around him, playing off of the attention he draws from the defense.  However, is such a drastic adjustment to the gameplan even worth all of the trouble?

The question is whether McGrady’s assumed crunch time contributions would offset the detrimental effect of his involvement in the first three quarters.  That answer can only be determined on the court.

Rather than casting McGrady off for ten cents on the dollar, as has been the call of the angry mob, he needs to be given a shot.  This season, there isn’t much of a risk.  The Houston Rockets gain nothing from merely cutting our ties.

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Charting Houston Rockets guard Kyle Lowry

One odd phenomenon that has perplexed me since the previous year has been Houston Rockets guard Kyle Lowry’s complete inability to shoot the basketball despite possessing a fairly orthodox shooting form.

Lowry is shooting 43% overall from the field, which is at his career average and right around the norm for most NBA guards. However, delving deeper into the numbers, thus far this season, he has a eFG% of 35% on jumpshots. By comparison, Aaron Brooks has a eFG% of 47% on jumpshots. Furthermore, Lowry’s eFG% on close shots (what one would consider a layup) is at 54%. One can see that this latter figure is positively inflating his overall field goal percentage.

It was postulated last season that the culprit for Lowry’s low 3PT shooting percentage was the end of quarter ‘heaves’ which he was often forced into taking. However, even if true, this would only account for his low 3PT%. True field goal percentage is inclusive of 3PT accuracy, and thus far this season, 51% of the overall shots Lowry has taken have been what one would define as a ‘jumpshot.’ While this figure is comparatively low in relation to the typical NBA guard (71% of Aaron Brooks’ attempts have been ‘jumpshots’), it is still too significant (given the overall number of shots Lowry has attempted) to be dismissed as merely a composition of situational heaves.

It is the sheer peculiarity of this situation which begets the intrigue. This isn’t some mere case of arbitrary microanalysis of futility. I know why Rafer Alston shot so poorly – he put improper rotation on the ball. I know why Luis Scola only goes right – his left hand is a vestigial organ. I know why Carl Landry gets abused in the post – he has virtually no center of gravity, etc. etc.

Lowry’s case is unique because, to this point, I haven’t seen a single plausible explanation as to why this player, who is above average to elite in every other facet of the game and has a completely conventional shooting form, can’t hit a jumpshot to save his life. It’s of interest because, as I stated prior to the season, Lowry could be considered a top 15 point guard were it not for this achilles heel.

So why? Why can’t Kyle Lowry shoot? It’s not for a lack of practice. We read the reports from Morey that Lowry was taking 1000 jumpshots a day. So why?

My Hypothesis

Watching the game last night, as he casually knocked down two rare jumpers with ease, I noticed that both were in coming off his right hand. The significance in this is that, as anyone who even recreationally plays basketball can attest, right handed players are most comfortable in shooting while going to their left (and vice versa for lefties.) While just conjecture from personal experiences, I would imagine that this is due to the fact that one can stabilize himself by planting the off-leg while transferring the ball back to the shooting hand before taking the shot. If taking one or more dribbles with the shooting hand prior to the shot, one is not afforded the window to properly align both legs with the basket. (As a side note, I would argue that one of the primary abilities that made Jordan/Kobe so lethal was/is the ability to comfortably shoot jumpers going towards the dominant hand. However, this is topic for another discussion.)

My hypothesis is that because it feels natural (as described above), as with most players, the majority of Lowry’s jumpshots are in coming off the left hand (ie: taking at least 1 dribble with the left hand and then transferring to the shooting hand). However, unlike the average player, I believe that it is these attempts which are resulting in misses, while the majority of his made jumpshots are coming off of the dominant hand. Basically, I think he has a split completely opposite of the norm.

If my hypothesis holds true, and Lowry actually shoots better from a position where most players shoot worse, while it would underscore the overall peculiarity of the phenomenon, it would at the least serve to shed some light on his woes. Up to this point, it has been a complete mystery.

We know Lowry can’t shoot; we know he has great form; maybe the cause is simply that most of his attempts are coming from a position which, while natural, is personally low efficient?

Charting Kyle Lowry

I will begin tracking Kyle Lowry’s jumpshot field goal attempts from this point forward. The attempts will be divided into the following categories:

A)Jumpshots within the 3 point line:
•Going left
•Going right
B)Jumpshots outside the 3 point line:
•Going left
•Going right

Situational ‘heaves’ will be documented but not given consideration in the final assessment.

‘Going left’ is NOT only inclusive of ‘drives’ to the left. It will merely be defined here as any jumpshot taken after one or more dribbles with the left hand. This distinction is crucial because the premise is that it is simply the act of transferring the ball back to the dominant hand that allows players time to gather, providing the natural degree of comfort.

Going right is NOT only inclusive of ‘drives’ to the right. It will merely be defined here as any jumpshot taken after one or more dribbles with the right hand. This distinction is crucial because the premise is that it is the fact that the ball is already in the shooting hand that makes such a motion so uncomfortable for the average player. (ie: there is no time to plant both feet.)

The reader might note with some confusion that I have classified ‘setshots’ within the category of ‘going right’. The reason is that as my premise essentially boils down to targeting the jumpers ‘going left’ as the culprit, I have denoted the category of ‘going right’ as basically an all-inclusive ‘other’ for purposes of simplification. I think the data will prove that Lowry is actually fairly average on setshots. Last night notwithstanding, I don’t expect to see too large of a sample size of jumpers in motion going right as few average players actually have this capacity. (As mentioned above, my corollary contention is that consistent accuracy on jumpshots driving towards the dominant hand is one of the absolute distinguishing traits of the elite.)

My Prediction

My prediction is that one of these two scenarios will unfold:

1.I will abort the experiment in embarrassment: I have a fearful suspicion that this data already exists in some capacity.

***To be clear, as I am sure many have already made this assumption, this is something distinct from that of a ‘hot zone’ or ‘shot chart.‘ My interest is not where on the court the player is most accurate (data of which is already extensively available), but rather how they are most accurate. Taking a jumper from the left side of the court is NOT synonymous with taking a jumper after dribbling with one’s left hand.

2.The Study Will be Inconclusive: Lowry barely ever shoots. Even with a full season’s worth of data, my hunch is that the sample size will simply be too small to warrant any type of deduction. In addition, for this reason, I also anticipate that the splits will not be extreme enough to conclude any definitive proofs.

Despite this pessimistic forecast, I do look forward to getting this project underway as I feel that at the very least, it can shed some light on other aspects of the game of which I have thus far been overlooking. It is often the case that the focus upon one of life’s perplexities lends itself towards the elucidation upon other discoveries originally unknown.

I will report on my results at frequent intervals and would greatly appreciate any feedback on fine-tuning the methodology.

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Houston Rockets 97, Minnesota Timberwolves 84

•9:27 in the 1st – Chuck Hayes cuts off Al Jefferson on the baseline. I wanted to make note of this possession to underscore Hayes’ mastery of strategic positioning but unfortunately, he pretty much got destroyed the rest of the way.

•8:40 in the 1st – Trevor Ariza drives to his right, gets trapped and has to jump to make the pass. The whole sequence was incredibly awkward. Ariza’s problem is that he has no close counter moves. A normal NBA guard could easily cross-over, spin, or stutter-step in such a situation. Trevor just picks up his dribble.

•3:18 in the 1st. Trevor gets fouled on a breakaway dunk attempt for free throws. The entire play took two seconds. We haven’t had a guy with similar fastbreak prowess since Vernon Maxwell.

•The Landry-Andersen-Lowry-Budinger-Battier lineup looked terrible together in the 2nd quarter. They didn’t even look like they knew what plays to run.

•6:13 in the 2nd. Ariza gets whistled for some combination of a travel and carry on the fastbreak.

•Aaron Brooks comes in and the team immediately goes on a 7-0 run. They finish the quarter up on a 19-8 run.

Extremely odd 6 minute stretch. As the Houston Rockets were in the midst of the run, I made sure to pay close attention to Brooks’ contributions as his replacement of Lowry was the only substitution. Except for a pull-up jumper, he made none. Guys just suddenly started drawing charges, running the floor, and cleaning up on the offensive glass. Unless you subscribe to the belief that there was some conspiracy against Lowry, this was incredibly bizarre.

This is demonstrative of the greater point that caution needs to be exercised in utilizing unadjusted +/- for single-game microanalysis. One can be sure that, without a doubt, this stretch greatly inflated Aaron Brooks’ +/- contributions for the game. However, unless I’m missing something observationally, he didn’t really do anything that contributed positively to his team’s output. Single game +/- tells us what happened but not why it happened. Don’t make the mistake of deducing definitive conclusions on the basis of what is intended as merely one of many tools that help us understand the occurrences that take place in a game.

•Ariza hits corner 3 with 8 minutes left in the 3rd. I would be interested in seeing his splits on spot up 3′s vs. “I’m Tracy McGrady” pullup 3′s.

•Brian Cardinal checks in midway through the third. Their pbp guy remarks that “[he's] Minnesota’s answer to Chuck Hayes.” Um. No.

•Ariza dribbes it off his leg with 4:40 left in the 3rd.

•6 minute mark in the 4th, Lowry hits a pull-up jumper inside the arc going straight ahead. I have begun to notice that when he pulls up after dribbling to his left, he usually misses, whereas he seems fairly accurate going straight or to his right. This is incredibly odd because the norm is the complete opposite for right handed players (and vice versa for left handed players.)

•2:45 left in the 4th and Lowry hits another jumper going straight ahead. I think I’m on to something.

•1:35 left in the 4th and Lowry takes a jumper going to his left and misses. I’m on to something.

•My main intent heading into this game was to observe the interaction between Kyle Lowry and Aaron Brooks while together on the court. As I posted earlier, the Houston Rockets’ most efficient offensive quintets contain that duo. Strangely, the two did not share any court time today.

You can be assured that Daryl Morey is cognizant of the same statistic cited earlier. This tells us either one of two things:

A) The data holds no significance. Either the sample size is too small for conclusive implementation or Daryl Morey is utilizing a more exact metric (with different data.)

B) This game was deemed as experimental.

I think B is the likely case as I remember seeing the Brooks-Lowry combination in every game this season. The rotation change certainly wasn’t for matchup purposes – Corey Brewer weighs about 125 lbs.

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