Matt (aka "Only a Lad") had a nice rant earlier this week about not settling for simple analysis. In other words, he suggested that we do more than just call the Rockets "scrappy" and "hard-working" when searching for reasons for their success. I couldn't agree more with that statement, and figured I'd go stat-hunting to find some hard, yet basic proof as to why Houston has been more than just an afterthought this season, especially on offense. Here's what I found, primarily on Hoopdata.com:
To start, the Rockets take very efficient shots. It's easy to say that the Rockets are "efficient" because that's what everyone else says, but it's nice to find some data to actually back it up. As Matt has noted before, the two most efficient shots in basketball are the three-point shot (the corner three being the most efficient) and shots near the rim, followed by mid-range jumpers in order of closest to furthest.
As you might have guessed just by watching a game or two, the Rockets are eighth in the NBA in three-pointers made per game, as well as third in three-point field goals attempted per game. That rounds off to an effective three-point field goal percentage of 50.7, which is just below the league average. Though you'd like to see a higher percentage of threes made, it's comforting to know that the Rockets are taking the most efficient shot in basketball at a high frequency.
Despite their size disadvantage, the Rockets are fourth in the league at shots made around the rim per game, as well as shots taken around the rim. Mobile big-men, such as Carl Landry, Luis Scola and Chuck Hayes, help to make that possible. So too do paint-addicted guards like Kyle Lowry and Aaron Brooks. And if you thought Trevor Ariza camped out at the three point line all game, then you're wrong - he's second on the team in shots made around the rim per game, with 3.1.
Hoop Data separates their mid-range jumpers into the increments of <10 feet (excluding shots directly at the basket), 10-15 feet, and 16-23 feet. According to these numbers, the Rockets are fourth in the league in shots made less than ten feet from the rim, the third-most efficient shot. However, as you move further from the basket, the Rockets take fewer and fewer shots, until you reach the three point line. Houston is 21st in the league in shots attempted from 10-15 feet, and are 29th in the league in shots attempted from 16-23 feet. Simply put, we don't shoot ourselves in the foot with bad shot attempts.
In looking at overall offensive statistics, there wasn't anything that the Rockets do that makes a lot of noise. We're at or near the league average in nearly every offensive category. However, the two most important stats that Houston stands out in are Turnover Rate (TOR; percentage of possessions ending in a turnover) and Offensive Rebound Rate (ORR; percentage of offensive rebounds grabbed by a team). In simple terms, this means that the Rockets don't turn the ball over very much (18th in the league) and grab a bunch of offensive rebounds (4th in the league). We give ourselves a chance to score points at a higher rate than many teams do. Unfortunately, our overall offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions) isn't anything to really brag about at 105.3, good for 12th in the NBA.
While the Rockets do need to work on some things, such as their abismal FTR (free throw rate), it's clear that Houston is no fluke on offense. They just make things... easier.
Upcoming Part Two: What's wrong on defense?