Today, Zach Lowe published a great look at some data Grantland received from STATS LLC coming from their player tracking software installed by a number of teams in the league. The system is a setup of cameras that tracks every movement on the court, be it the ball, the players, the referees, or the coaches and analyzes their movements in three dimensions.
As of right now, it appears that systems such as these are part of the next step in advanced statistics. At its very core, the advanced statistics movement simply seeks to accumulate as much data as possible in a way that is possible to decipher and use to benefit a team. Sometimes, this involves creating algorithms to predict how a college player will fare when he enters the NBA based on his performance in college, and other times, it's more qualitative like this setup from STATS LLC.
Anyway, Lowe had a number of evaluations of players based off of his analysis of the data, and he includes a great section on James Harden (with a touch of data on Jeremy Lin). The whole article is a must-read, but this section is of particular interest to Rockets' fans:
The Rockets average a league-high 29 drives per game, with STATS defining "drive" as any time a player dribbles the ball from at least 20 feet away from the basket into an area within 10 feet of the rim. Drives do not include fast breaks, meaning transition chances don't inflate the insane numbers Houston and Denver are putting up.
The average team "drives" about 20 times per game, and the STATS numbers show teams generally score more efficiently on any possession in which a qualifying drive happens at any moment than they do in general.
Harden averages nine drives per game, which is fourth among players whose teams have the cameras. The top four: Tony Parker (10.8), Rajon Rondo (10.1), Russell Westbrook (9.3), and Jrue Holiday (9.2). As an aside, that Holiday number is a fantastically good sign for Philly. He ranked below average by this metric last season, and he's piling up about twice as many drives per game this season, according to the 2011-12 data I've reviewed. Philly is still below average as a team in drives per game, which tells you how much heavy lifting Holiday is doing for a very limited bunch.
Back to Harden: Houston is scoring 1.51 points per possession on trips in which he drives at any time in the shot clock. That is easily the highest mark among all players in the 15-team database with more than a token number of drives. It is a mammoth number; keep in mind, teams average just about one point per possession overall. Harden has drawn a foul on one-third of his drives, which is among the highest numbers in the data set, and sort of amazing when you think about it.
Jeremy Lin is averaging 8.1 drives per game, ninth among all players, and even though he's having a disappointing season, the Rockets are scoring 1.32 points per possession when Lin drives - about what the Spurs have scored on Parker drive possessions.
In other words: There is some merit to the idea of telling guys, "Put your head down, get to the paint, and make a play - any damn play," especially if the team has skilled 3-point shooters and good passers driving the ball. The punishment will likely be a lot of turnovers, and Carlos Delfino, more empowered to drive in Houston than he might be elsewhere, indeed ranks among the most turnover-prone drivers so far.
And what of Harden? He has turned over the ball on just 4 percent of his drives, one of the lowest numbers in the data set. The dude is scary. These numbers paint him as even more valuable than we might think.
Denver is third in drives per game, though the cameras have recorded only 11 of their games (not including Thursday night's destruction of Chicago). The Nuggets led the league in this category last season, and they are once again among the league's half-dozen best offenses.
Of course, you have to have players and smarts to succeed doing anything. The Kings, Cavaliers, and Bobcats rank among the most prolific driving teams, and none of them can score. The Knicks and Warriors are bottom-10 teams and rank among the league's best offenses.
When the Rockets paired Lin and Harden, their ability to penetrate the paint and score was a huge reason why many people were bullish on the two's ability to bring the Rockets to the playoffs. What this data tells us is that they have been doing so very effectively, and that's a huge reason why the Rockets' offense is being as successful as they are.
Look for a film post to analyze this in the future.