Out of the many By The Numbers writeups I've done, I think this might be the most easily accessible and most telling post yet.
Also, these are easy numbers. For the record, I got a B+ in my freshman Statistics 1200 class and haven't taken another math course from there. I've got to be the least math-enthused stats guy out there. In fact, I had already taken the same class my senior year of high school, only to get a B-minus. So you'd think I could at least land an 'A' on the second go-around. Guess this means I won't be getting a graduate degree in Mathematics. Shucks.
Anyway, let's get to it. Big ups to TeamRankings.com to for the following information:
The Rockets lead the NBA in first quarter scoring.
-- Houston scores 27.7 points per first quarter. It's a quarter in which the majority of the plays are rehearsed and set, or so it appears. For a team that possesses many players who tend to be better in set plays than when asked to create for themselves, this makes total sense. We often see Kevin Martin score a bunch of his points in the first quarter before defenders can get a good read on his tendencies. We'll also see the Battier Hook and other carefully crafted plays in the first quarter every so often as well. While set formations and plays are by no means limited to the first quarter, this the period that the Rockets have obviously controlled all season long, due in part to the creative, yet soundly executed strategy that Rick Adelman employs from the start.
-- We can grumble all we want about Adelman's decision-making in the fourth quarter, but what if he was the type to start slow, then motivate his players to finally start playing as the game progressed? What if the Rockets lost games by trying to play catch-up too often? Trust me: we cannot discount the importance of playing a good first quarter.
-- To be clear, the Rockets don't exactly fade away in the remaining three quarters, either. Houston averages 25.5 points per game in the second quarter, and despite the overwhelming sense that the Rockets have struggled to keep pace offensively in the second half for most of the season, the Rockets are eighth in third quarter scoring (25.7 points per game) and seventh in fourth quarter scoring (25.5 points per game).
-- Thus, as the Rockets' offensive efficiency and overall scoring output would indicate, offense isn't the problem. In most cases, the only reason the Rockets appear flat on offense in the second half is that their first-quarter offense is second to none in the NBA. It's that good. So, what's the problem then? Defense.
The Rockets are currently dead last in the NBA in fourth quarter scoring defense.
-- Houston allows 26.3 points per game in the final tally. Given the many blown leads during the Rockets' horrid start to 2011, that's not much of a surprise.
-- As the average game progresses, Houston's defense fluctuates. They allow 26.4 points per game in the first quarter, only to shrink that number to 24.8 points per game in the second quarter (ranking them eighteenth in this category, their best defensive ranking among the four quarters). In the third quarter, however, they allow 26.1 points per game, and in the fourth, they allow 26.3 points per game, a far cry from Chicago's league-best 21 points per game allowed in the fourth.
-- On average, the Rockets take a 1.4-point lead into the fourth quarter. And yet, they have a losing record. Yikes.
What do I think of these numbers?
In short, this further illustrates that this team relies heavily on coaching. More specifically, it tells me one of two things. (or perhaps a mixture of both):
1. Adelman's positive influence can be seen in the first quarter, where it is much easier for a coach to impact the game. In the fourth quarter, his influence is not as prevalent, as players must often take matters into their own hands and make split-second decisions according to what the opponent does.
2. Adelman's positive influence can be seen in the first quarter, where it is much easier to execute a pre-game to-do list. In the fourth quarter, his presence is far less of a positive, as a coach cannot rely solely on preparations and must make on-the-fly decisions in according to what the opponent does.
Then again, we can't solely look at coaching, as this roster lacks a true, established paint defender. But I do think Adelman does have a substantial effect on these numbers. I also suppose this last bit is a mini-study of basketball as a whole, in addition to being a dissection of the Rockets, so feel free to expand the discussion yourselves if you'd like.