Welcome back to Corner Stats! Ok, first of all, I apologize for the title of the article, but it is really fitting with the current situation of the Rockets. Because yes, today we analyze the bad start of D’Antoni’s team.
I think we all had little doubts about the Rockets at the beginning of the season: leaving aside Anthony’s sign, many wondered how much some departures of important players of the last season (such as Mbah to Moute and Ariza) would have weighed on the team performance. But these doubts did not affect the belief that Houston would remain a contender for the NBA title. The current situation, however, makes this thought less reliable; of course, the season is still long and there are enough matches to overturn it, but at the moment we can not be very optimistic.
Let’s start by looking at the ratings chart of the past season:
Houston was the best offense and averaged a very good defense (seventh-best defensive rating). In the current season, however, the situation is as follows:
The offensive efficiency dropped by only two points, while the defensive efficiency increased by 6.5 points, making Houston one of the worst defenses of the NBA (28th in Defensive Rating). Therefore, Houston primary problem is on the defensive side.
In fact, observing the disposition of the players in the following chart, which intersects the individual Offensive and Defensive Rating, we can see that Houston players are located in different quadrants between the two seasons:
In the chart of last season, Rockets players (red dots) are basically all in the best quadrant, while in the chart of the current regular season they have moved to the quadrant below. In other words, the offensive performances have remained more or less the same, but the defensive phase has worsened. The loss of the aforementioned Ariza and Mbah in Moute, two excellent 3&D and system players, meant that the defensive abilities of the Rockets dropped. Last season bad perimeter defenders such as Harden had good values of Defensive Rating: this because the presence of good perimeter defenders took away defensive responsibilities on Harden and their teammates; now that they are no more in the roster, the whole team suffers. And in general all the defensive phase is affected:
- From 4th to 29th in Defensive Rebound Percentage (from 75% to 69%);
- From 13th to 22th in opponent eFG% (from 52% to 53%);
Carmelo Anthony’s arrival made on that all Houston critiques drop on him, but actually, the problems were much more widespread. Of course, some critiques was right; here is Melo’s impact:
No one would have expected that Anthony would have given what Ariza guaranteed last season in the defensive phase; moreover, as can be seen, the difference in Defensive Rating between On and Off court is near to the zero (ok, the two values are bad ones). For the offense, however, the data show that there was not the adaptation in the Houston offensive system that all the staff hoped: with Melo on the court the Rockets Offensive Rating drops by 12 points for every 100 possessions. Anthony was, therefore, a problem for D’Antoni in the offensive phase, the only phase that in this beginning can still be considered positive for the Rockets.
Actually, there is an offensive aspect that at the moment is not working for Houston: as we have already noticed, the Texan team, in spite of its coach’s classic playstyle, does not like to run. Last season had a normal Pace (98 possessions per game, 14th), while this year is 29th with 96 possessions. The big drop in the standing is due to the fact that in this season teams are playing at a higher pace and Houston has slowed even more than its standards. Of course, players like Harden and Paul do not like to push too much, but at least last year when they pushed, produced a really good transition. This year the situation is very different:
As you can see, the frequency has remained more or less the same, while the points for possession have dropped dramatically, going from the first position of last season to the last of the current one!
In conclusion, Houston must first resolve its defensive problems, but also it would not hurt to push a little more sometimes, to get easy points.