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Maybe the Rockets DO Have a Star.

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To put it simply, I think I'm done with the Texans for the year. I'll tune back in the spring to see who gets drafted, but I'm not watching this shit anymore this season. Unfortunately, the Astros are mired in suck and the Rockets' stars are injured. Not a lot to look forward to over the next few months, Houston sports-wise.

Well, I think the Rockets' start to the season has refuted a lot of that sentiment, but, as Dave is quick to note, the Rockets don't have a star on the roster right now, and the Rockets, while good, are not a team that can expect to go far in the playoffs. Now, I think the "star" epithet is largely meaningless, mostly just referring to whoever gets on ESPN highlights a lot, but it has some meaning. Typically, when people say "star," they mean someone who scores a lot. If we break this down a little further, it can be taken to mean "a player who uses a lot of possessions and converts them efficiently." There's no statistical "line" that will delineate "stars" from "great role-player," but I think we can agree that stars will show similar statistics, right?

So let's look at some numbers. Here are the statistical lines (courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com) of three NBA Power Forwards, two of whom are widely considered to be "stars" on some level. First, here are the per-36 rates:

Perminutepf_medium

Player A has a clear advantage in scoring over B (and, to a lesser extent, C), and smaller advantages in rebounding and blocks. However, he (as well as C) is much more turnover prone than B, and is nowhere near as skilled of a passer.

Personally, I never really liked per-minute stats. Teams play at wildly divergent paces. Still, per-minute stats capture some of the "star" qualities in a player - the ability to take a lot of shots, for instance. But let's look at per-possession stats:

  Perpossessionpf_medium

Things start to look a little different. Players A and C are using similar portions of their teams' possessions, they have similar assist numbers, and are fairly close in effective Field Goal percentage and blocks. B's rebounding looks much better, his advantage in passing looks even more solid, and he is obviously the least turnover-prone. But A has the best shooting numbers, and his rapid, efficient scoring leads to massive advantages in compiled metrics like PER and O-Rating. And, by Win Shares, he has contributed the most wins in 19 games.

In case you haven't guessed by now, Carl Landry is A. LaMarcus Aldridge is B, and Amare Stoudemire is C.

First,, some caveats:

  1. Carl Landry's numbers come as the team's go-to scorer on the second unit. Still, he plays a good number of his minutes against the other team's starters.
  2. Amare is having a down year, and while certainly not career-lows, these numbers reflect a season that is probably Amare's worst since 2002-2003.
  3. This isn't a particularly great season for LaMarcus, either, and his offensive efficiency has declined a bit from last year. But he's doing better on defense, so maybe it balances out a bit.
  4. I personally don't think Aldridge is a "star," but people were talking about him as an "all-star level" player during the offseason, and this is more about appellation than actual production.

Okay, with all that said, we need to ask two questions. First, do Carl's numbers in themselves warrant the star title? Second, do similar levels of production as other "stars" warrant that title?

I don't really have the answers to those questions. I ask you to provide them in the comments section. But I will say this:

Carl isn't a "go-to" scorer at the end of games (though I think this is an overrated quality). But I have seen him practically will the Rockets towards victory. He is a great player on the offensive glass, and he just doesn't seem to miss around the basket anymore. And, in a testament to practice which would impress even Yao, Landry has raised his sub-70% free throw shooting in college and his rookie season to 88% this season. Most importantly, he has been able to drastically increase his usage rate without any decrease in efficiency (this is related to the free-throw shooting). He has developed some good moves in the post, as well as a nice little turnaround jumper. The pick-and-roll with Landry and Brooks/Lowry has become something of a go-to play for the Rockets, even late in the game, and Landry is honestly the person I most trust with the ball at this point (turnover rates be damned). He accomplishes these numbers without an all-star level point guard like Nash or a floor-spacing 2-guard like Roy.

And, if Amare and Aldridge qualify as stars this year, then we should consider Landry for the title, as well.