Before the season started, and before the Harden trade, the Rockets were predicted to land under .500 by the end of the season.
Even after the Harden trade there were several lingering concerns to be addressed that stemmed from doubts and skepticism behind several of the front office's offseason roster moves
Can James Harden rise to the occasion and become a true first option?
Can Jeremy Lin keep up Linsanity next to Harden?
Can Omer Asik play starter minutes?
Who will be our back-up PG?
Will Chandler Parsons have a ‘sophomore slump'?
What will you do with your avalanche of power forwards?
Will/Should Royce White play in a Rockets uniform?
End of season answers: Hell yes, he doesn't need to, 82 starts and 2464 minutes played, Patrick Beverley, not a chance, flip them for Thomas Robinson (still can't get over how sick that trade was), and God can we please stop talking about this.
On top of answering every pre-season eyeball test thrown at the team, they amassed some incredibly impressive statistical feats for a team that is so young and so recently thrown together.
1. Is, according to Daryl Morey's twitter, the 6th youngest team to ever make the playoffs. They were also certainly the youngest of the playoff field itself. Though it depends on the metric you use (top 9 in minutes, everyone who played minutes that year, only playoff roster, etc) and how you deal with trades, it is safe to say that we have had the pleasure of watching one of the youngest teams in NBA playoff history start a legitimate conversation not only about beating a #1 seed, but coming back from a 3-0 deficit to do it (Russell Westbrook gets an assist here).
Lets stop right here for a second. The most significant players just got 6 incredibly intense playoff games against the top competition in the West. Lets break down what kinds of experiences they got.
Game 1: Blown out by what looked like a far, far superior team. Humbling experience all around
Game 2: Kept it close, went down by 15 in 4th came back off a 20-2 run, lose but a no-call on Perkins holding Parsons definitely altered the dynamic.
Game 3: Went down 48-22 in the first half, stormed back in the 3rd quarter to cut lead to 4 by 4th quarter, Durant hits miraculously lucky 3-pointer and Delfino misses overtime forcing 3 as buzzer sounds
Game 4: Parsons explodes for a near triple double, OKC makes a 2nd quarter run, Rockets respond with massive 38 point 3rd quarter, win game with defense late forcing 3 OKC turnovers and forcing people not named Kevin Durant to make plays.
Game 5: Came out hot on the road, weathered the OKC storm, forced ‘Hack Asik' strategy late, won with poise after controlling most of the game.
Game 6: Came out with fire and energy but ran out of gas late as Derek Fisher issued the daggers with 3 pointers and forcing turnovers late to close out the series.
By my count, that tallies up to 1 blowout, 3 games decided by three points or less, 3 second half comebacks after looking like things were getting out of hand, 2 ridiculously lucky rolls of the dice for OKC late in games (Perkins no-call and KD 3-pointer), 2 player injuries (Lin and Delfino) to fight through, and 2 playoff victories to show for it. Every game offered a very serious challenge to this team's fortitude and more often than not the Rockets responded in ways that no team this young should be expected to respond. This team did a lot of growing since mid-April and shows no signs of slowing down their development. Now the real question is how many of these young guys can we retain for the long haul to a championship.
Now, where were we?
2. Was second in the league in 3 pointers made and attempted. For some reason this reminds me of Daunte Culpepper's record breaking TD throwing year in 2004 when he tossed for 39 scores only to be overshadowed by Peyton Manning's 49 in the same year. At the time the top 3 were Dan Marino twice (once for 48 TDs and another for 44) and Kurt Warner (41 TDs). We had a record setting season that will not get as much press as the team that took #1. The Knicks will take top honors in both makes and attempts, but our buddy Max Croes did a nice write-up as we approached (and eventually did) break the old record for 3-pointers made and attempted in a season along with NYK. This season, the Knicks hit 891 3-pointers and took 2371 3-point shots. The Rockets hit 867 3-pointers and attempted 2369 3-pointers. Only seven teams other teams in NBA history had crossed the 800 mark before. This season, third place in makes went to Miami with 717. Only 3 teams had above 700, after that, a big drop-off into mid-to-low 600's. The former record was held by the '09-'10 Orlando Magic squad with 841 makes and the '08-'09 Knicks with 2284 attempts. The Rockets also tied the record for most made 3 pointers in a game against the Warriors in mid-February, much to Mark Jackson's chagrin. I know I'll be marking my calendar for the dates Houston plays Golden State for sure next season.
3. Was 3rd in free throws made, 4th in free throws attempted. A lot of credit here goes to James Harden, who led the entire league in free throw attempts and was second in free throws made behind only Kevin Durant. Harden alone took 37.9% of the entire team's free throws this season and made 42.8% of the team's free throws. He wasn't entirely a one man show, as Omer Asik ranked 37th in attempts and Jeremy Lin was 51st in the league. The ability to stop the clock and get calls by forcing contact is one of the things that had made this offense so efficient all season. Finally, a year where the Rockets started becoming the beneficiaries of these infamous ‘superstar' calls.
4. Led the league in ‘pace' at 98.6 - and it was not close. They bested the second place Nuggets by a difference of .8. By keeping their number of possessions sky high, they were able to make their already high value shots become even more valuable. This blistering pace acted as a magnifier for the Rockets solid shot selection throughout the year and helped drive our highly rated offense.
5. Was second in the league in fast-break points, second only to Denver. Houston excelled at getting out on the break, even after opposing teams made shots. This was necessary to cover up a fairly poor half-court offense when the ball got "sticky" and helped fuel comebacks throughout the season. Individually, Harden led the league in fast break points both per game (6.3) and in total points scored (492). He scored 24.3% of his points on fast breaks alone. He was 2nd in the league in points off of turnovers a game (4.8), tied with Durant. Second only to Lebron who had a ridiculous 6.1 points off turnovers a game.
6. Was dead last in field goals attempted between 10-19 feet, by several miles. Houston took 264 shots from 10-14 feet and 496 shots from 15-19 feet throughout the entire year. By contrast, the second place team in each category took 362 from 10-14 feet (Detroit) and 751 from 15-19 feet (Denver). Those numbers drastically increase up to 851 for 10-14 feet (Dallas) and 1606 for 14-19 (Philly). In terms of overall attempts, the Rockets shot only 3.8% of their shots from 10-14 feet and 7.3% of their shots from 15-19 feet. By contrast, the Rockets were 3rd in the league in shots attempted within 5 feet with 2822 attempted. This along with the 3 point attempts noted above total to 5191 attempts from either in close or from downtown. This figure represents a whopping 76.5% of ALL Rockets field goal attempts over the ENTIRE season. By avoiding mid-range shots that have the same point value as a layup but a much lower percentage, Houston vastly increases its overall scoring output relative to its competition.
We knew all along that Daryl and Les' grand plan was to assemble a group of guys who could score in the most efficient ways possible and move away from the Olajuwon model of offense where the team routinely fed the big man in the post. Still, few people could expect this team to come out this dominant in these sets of statistics. The roster is built for high end speed and efficiency offensively, and that is exactly what the fans got. You're likely going to see a layup, a 3 pointer, or a free throw and not much in between. It has been one of the most electrifying offenses we've seen since the Suns ‘seven seconds or less' offense under D'Antoni.
There are still aspects of the offense that need to be hammered out, such as the tendency for the team to ISO late in games as the team enjoys front row seats to Harden's one man show, but but for all of the whining about several of the particulars of the offense, it is undoubtedly one of the most deadly offenses in the league by any statistical measurement this year.
Numbers like that lie even less that the ball does.
Back to the count, this team:
7. Tied for league lead in team defensive rebounding percentage at 75.5% (sharing that % with GSW). Omer Asik stands at the center (get it...) of this statistic with his impressive ability to gobble up glass. He was in the top 5 in overall rebounding per game. 3rd if you discount the injured Anderson Varejao (25 games played) and Kevin Love (18 games played) numbers. His own personal defensive rebounding percentage of 30.3% stood behind only Reggie Evan's one man rebounding show for players with a minimum of 30 games played. These numbers were absolutely crucial to kickstart our transition offense and catch teams winded or out of position to start the break. Despite how much we have bemoaned other Rockets to prevent offensive rebounds, they tend to stick out more than the ones that never happen. Houston, per 100 possessions, gave up the fewest offensive rebounds of any team in the league in 2013. Avoiding these backdoor turnovers is crucial for a team that turns the ball over enough through the front door already.
8. Has Greg Smith on it. He was 3rd in the league in field goal percentage. Of players who averaged over 15 minutes per game this season, the only players to put the ball in the basket at a higher rate were DeAndre Jordan and Tyson Chandler. This is no accident either. He led the D-League last season in FG% at 66.8%. The 22 year old has massive, soft hands (largest ever measured at the combine) and an extremely strong body that allows him to absorb contact and finish with relative ease. He is one of the young guys that I hope we keep for a while. Check out the Playoff Scouting Reports for more player information on him (and others).
9. Led the league in ‘number of Patrick Beverleys', both per game and per possession. I mean seriously, how annoying would this guy be if he stayed with either the Lakers or the Heat and developed with them after his draft night. Although one of the more seasoned veterans, winning the Eurocup MVP overseas relatively recently, he plays with a level of youthful feistiness on defense that deserves its own statistical category. He is the only man on earth who has successfully stopped Russell Westbrook from playing a game of basketball (I wish him a full, healthy recovery). On a more serious statistical note, his defensive rating led the team, including beating Asik, when sample-size based anomalies are removed (Machado/Brooks are rated higher in the reg. season). His net rating (OffRtg - DefRtg) is second only to James Anderson, oddly enough. For reference, Lin (2.4), Harden (2.7), Parsons (2.6), and Asik (5.9) are all well below Beverley's +7.4 net rating. Lastly, Beverley is tied for third among guards in blocks per game (James Harden is also among this 3rd place tie) in the whole NBA. In particular, his game saving block against the Spurs will be relived via YouTube for years to come.
10. Carried the above statistics into their playoff games. Every playoff team has played 6 games to this point except for Miami, San Antonio, Milwaukee, and the Lakers who had 4 apiece. In the playoffs so far (Saturday's games excluded) the Rockets are:
#1 in 3 pointers made
#1 in 3 pointers attempted
#2 in field goal attempts within 5 feet (only one attempt behind Denver)
#3 in fast break points per game
#4 in 3 point field goal % (34.7%, they shot 34.6% in the reg. season)
#6 in defensive rebounding percentage at 77.2% (1.7% higher than reg. season)
2nd to last in field goal attempts between 10-14 feet (17) - 3.4% of total attempts
Last in field goal attempts between 15-19 feet (27) - 5.5% of total attempts
For a young team, it can be easy to get forced out of what worked in the past and do what seems to work against a particular team. The Rockets were true to character and did not let Oklahoma City dictate how they would play. Kendrick Perkins was largely taken out of the line-up so that OKC could better match-up with us, not the other way around. Granted, we were not playing a team whose style is all too different from our own offensively, but defensively we did not allow their scheme to dictate ours. In fact, throughout the series it always seemed to look like the Rockets were forcing OKC to do things it didn't like to do more than vice-versa. Doubling Durant at the top of the key, switching to a soft zone, and matching up Harden on Ibaka defensively (cross-matches make fast breaks much more interesting) gave us advantages we needed without sacrificing the core team concept that we had been building around all season.
Elephant in the Room
Oh, and no Rockets edition of ‘leads the league in..."-type analysis would be complete without mentioning the stat we led the league in from beginning-to-end this year: Turnovers.
Houston led the league in every overall team turnover statistic recorded this season. You name the category and the Rockets likely went H.A.M on it this year. Whether it is per game (16.4), total (1348), per 100 possessions (16.6), per 36 minutes (12.3), or even turnovers per minute (.34), the Rockets cough it up more than any other team. Harden leads the league in the category individually, followed by Jeremy Lin landing at 10th in the NBA. Asik and Parsons come in at 39th and 58th respectively. Part of this is a product pace, but a LOT of it is youth and inexperience showing.
It is certainly a downer that the aggregate numbers did not really dip in that meaningful of a way throughout the season
November: 251 TOs (14 games)
December: 257 TOs (16 games)
January: 287 TOs (17 games)
February: 172 TOs (11 games)
March: 235 TOs (14 games)
April/May (playoffs included): 241 TOs (15 games)
One thing to look up at is the fact that turnovers are by far one of the easier things to fix on a team. I have always viewed players who turned the ball over a lot as analogous to a player who lacks a jumpshot. Sure, there are some people who just don't have the coordination necessary, but, by and large, it is a hole in a players game that comes more easily over time as they get more comfortable with the players around them and the speed of the game itself. Not turning the ball over can be taught over time more easily than, say, rebounding, shot blocking, height, or athleticism.
You can take what you will from the season that just passed us by. Whether you think that McHale legitimately deserves to be fired, that Lin should be traded or any other random hodgepodge of inept opinions about how seamlessly you would be able to run the team if a magical incarnation of Jay-z appeared and actually turned the NBA into 2k13 just for you, I think that we can all agree that this season went above and beyond everyone's expectations and that, collectively, Rockets nation is in a wonderful spot moving forward.
Of course, most of the above facts were at least partially known, if not confirmed with an eyeball test by many. To see how this team ultimately stacked up to its competition throughout the season across all 30 teams in these categories statistically, however, can give us an added level of appreciation for what this team has done. It also provides a little bit more conversational ammo for when you eventually have to hang out with that one friend who is an obnoxious Dallas Mavericks fan. Its rude to just tell the to leave, but verbally berating them is a well worn road made more comfortable with hard stats.
Hats off to a very enjoyable Houston Rockets season, and here's to an even more successful 2013-2014 campaign!
Share your favorite Houston Rockets moment/statistic from this season in the comments!