Houston is now 21-12 and as we approach the halfway point of this NBA season it's always appropriate to size up what you see on the court with the incredible breadth of statistics that are available at our fingertips these days, regardless of where you fall on the qualitative/quantitative divide. The newly installed SportsVU player tracking technology in every NBA arena this season, as well as a host of other analytic improvements in stat tracking, has opened up a number of different ways to dissect a team or player's court play that were previously pipe dreams in the days of dial-up and the Seattle Supersonics.
Today we pick apart what these and other advanced statistics say about the Rockets play so far this season and how they stack up against the rest of their NBA competition.
New SportsVU Metrics
If you have yet to check out some of these statistics, do yourself a favor and give them a look here. Fascinating stuff.
One of the really cool additions has been the ability to track player speed and distance at every game in every arena. It's hard to ascribe too much importance to these kinds of statistics, as they are admittedly very imperfect. It doesn't really account for things like quickness and, hell, I may be the North Carolina pick-up game leader in the ‘moving a lot but not doing much' category.
Seriously, imagine being the person that drops the ‘distance travelled per 48 minutes' stat in a sports argument among friends. Talk about killing your ethos.
This kind of stat is still interesting to look at in the context of other statistics you see about the player and verify many of the things that our eyes tell us are true.
For example, Patrick Beverley is tied for second among all NBA players playing averaging 30+ minutes a game in terms of average speed on the floor. Beverley's mark is 4.5 miles per hour is tied with Michael Carter-Williams and slightly ahead of Nicholas Batum. Patrick's mark is second only to Tony Parker's 4.6mph. Sustaining that average speed through an NBA contest with heavy minutes is an impressive feat for anyone and helps give more credence to Beverley's nickname: Mr. 94 feet. These numbers are consistent with his other oddly high point guard stats in 'hustle' categories like blocks and rebounds.
One interesting fact is that Chandler Parsons is second in the entire league in terms of total distance traveled during games this season, racking up an impressive 84.2 miles of running over the course of the season. He is behind only Gordon Hayward, who has racked up 87.5 miles of running. He is also tied (with Michael Carter-Williams and Klay Thompson) for tops in the league in distance traveled per game at 2.7 miles.
Don't you just wish you could go back and see how much Rip Hamilton ran during games during the Piston's most recent title run?
In terms of individual speed, there are some interesting things to note. Despite being a top ten team in terms of possessions per game and regularly being referred to as a ‘fastbreak' team, Houston's two superstars oddly rank in the bottom 10 in individual pace (in miles per hour) for players playing 30+ minutes. Howard's 3.8 mph mark ranks 8th slowest in the league by that measurement and Harden almost takes the cake, coming in at 3.7 mph and tied for second to last in the league with Andrea Bargnani, Al Jefferson, and Marc Gasol.
In fact, among the other intuitive big men that are members of this category (Roy Hibbert, Zach Randolph, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, etc) there are some star players whose inclusion force you to consider the multiple overlapping ways people can find themselves in these spots. LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony are actually tied with Dwight, Roy, and DeMarcus. DeAndre Jordan is technically faster than both LeBron or Carmelo over the course of their minutes on the court. Some players are just slow, but others just control their foot speed better than other players, resulting in such an interesting cast of players who log heavy minutes.
Another interesting measurement is number of touches per game (the number of times a player touches and possesses the ball). The highest rated Rocket was James Harden in 42nd place with 68.5 touches per game. Just a touch below Carmelo (69 per game) and a touch above LaMarcus Aldridge (68.3 per game).
On the whole, however, Houston gives several players fairly equal share of ball touches per game with Beverley (60.5 per game), Lin (60.1 per game), and Howard (59.8 per game), and Chandler Parsons (58.9 per game) come in places 61, 62, 63, and 68 in the NBA respectively respectively.
SportsVU player tracking also gives us the ability to look at not only touches, but how long each player possesses the ball throughout the game.
Harden leads the Rockets at 35th in the league in 'time of possession' at 4.7 minutes per game, followed by Lin in 48th place at 3.7 minutes per game and Beverley in 50th place at 3.5 minutes per game. Chandler Parsons is 98th in the league at 2.2 minutes per game, which make his statistics even more impressive because it shows how well he moves without the ball, especially when read in light of his speed metrics mentioned earlier. Dwight is even further down the list at 1.7 minutes/game.
Parsons and Dwight appear to be the players that require the ball in their hands the least in order to make a huge impact on a game, which is a huge luxury to have on a team with so many guards that can handle the ball.
This category is really Dwight Howard's wheelhouse, but there are some other very intriguing Rockets results in this category as well.
To get some of the Dwight formalities out of the way, he is 3rd in the league in rebounding opportunities (defined as the number of times a player is within 3.5 feet of a rebound-able ball) at 18.8, just a hair behind DeAndre Jordan (18.9). Both distantly trail Kevin Love, who gets a pretty astounding 20.9 rebounding opportunities a game. Howard also leads the league in total rebound percentage at 22%.
Dwight is 4th in the league in contested rebounds per game (4.9), again behind DeAndre (5.2) and Kevin (5.3). Everyone, however, trails Andre Drummond, who racks up 5.8 contested boards per contest. Dwight is also tied with Love for the league lead in uncontested rebounds per game at 8.4.
Bottom line: Dwight is still a rebounding beast. Even in LA with his back issues, he led the league in rebounding and he only seems to be getting better.
Terrence Jones has some interesting numbers here too. The second year player is 40th in the league in rebounding opportunities a game (11.6) and has a significantly higher contested rebounding percentage (45.5%) than Dwight (36.8%). Jones is also 37th in the league in contested rebounds per game at 3.0 per game. He may have hit a bit of a slump at times adjusting to his new starting role, but his rebounding numbers at the 4 position are things that Rockets fans only dreamed of when Patrick Patterson and Carlos Delfino were getting starts at the power forward spot.
Overall, Houston is 1st in the league in defensive rebounds, but somehow still leads the league in opponent offensive rebounds. Likely, it is a product of their how many possessions we generate throughout a game and how we use our shots, but its worth noting our tendency to generate possessions for the other team while at the same time being near the bottom of the league in forcing turnovers.
‘Catch and Shoot' stats
Harden is 26th in ‘pull-up shot' points per game with 4.8 and Harden is shooting a pretty abysmal 37.8% on those shots. When we separate it into two and three point shots it looks even worse. Harden ranks 9th in both ‘pull up' long ball attempts per game and at 2.5 and but unfortunately, is tied for the second worst field goal percentage for any player scoring two or more points per game in this fashion at 26.2% (only Paul George's is worse at 23.7% for 2.0 ‘pull up' three ball points per game).
Another unfortunate offensive statistic for Harden is that while he leads the team in 3 point attempts after a timeout, he shoots them at an embarrassing 11.1% rate. Overall, Harden also leads the team more generally in field goal attempts after timeouts, but salvages an eFG% of 45.2%. Even then, that percentage after timeouts is good for second worst on the team, ahead of only Aaron Brooks (28.6%). Interestingly enough, every other Rocket has an eFG% at or above .500 coming out of timeouts.
Both oddly and impressively, Aaron Brooks is 15th in the entire league in terms of eFG% on ‘catch and shoot' field goals at 73.5% and Lin slides in at 17th, shooting 71.2% on such shots.
Jeremy Lin is 8th in ‘drives per game' at 8.2, ahead of Kyrie Irving, Jrue Holiday, Damian Lillard, and Mike Conley. Despite playing in significantly fewer games than many that top the list in total drives to the basket, Lin still managed to stay in the top 25 in this category. Additionally, for players averaging 30+ minutes per game, Jeremy Lin is 7th in the league in driving field goal percentage 59.1%.
For all of the notoriety that Lin's individual driving ability relative to the rest of the NBA, two other Rockets round out the top 20 in driving field goal percentage for players playing 30+ mins: Chandler Parsons (15th, 53.9%) and James Harden (19th, 53.4%). In fact, Houston is the only NBA team that has three players in the top 20. The Lakers (Pau Gasol and Steve Blake) and Portland (Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews) are the only other teams to have at least two players that make this list. To put that particular comparison in some perspective, neither Gasol/Blake or Batum/Matthews has the combined number of total drives as Lin, Parsons, or Harden INDIVIDUALLY. To put it differently, the Houston Rockets have, hands down, the best driving half-court offense in the league (SportsVU driving statistics exclude fastbreaks).
They both attempt the most shots moving towards the basket, but also make them a very impressive clip. Harden ranks 8th in ‘driving' points per game with 5.7, shooting 53.4% on such shots and oddly enough, Francisco Garcia is the team leader in ‘driving' field goal percentage at 82.4% and although his sample size is not very large, its not exactly peanuts either.
General Offense/Shooting Stats
Recently, three point shooting has become the bane of our existence. In the past 3 games, we have hit merely 18 of our 78 three point attempts. I only wish there were a way to measure how badly shots were missed at the rim because I honestly believe that statistic is the only one that could look worse than that 3-game three point shooting stat.
On the season our three point shooting actually ranks a pretty paltry 22nd in the league at 34.6%, well under the league average of 36%, yet we lead the league in 3 point shooting by a HUGE margin with 872 attempts. To help understand exactly how big this margin is, the 77 more 3-point attempts we have taken than the second place team (Blazers) makes up the gap between 2nd place and 10th place.
As bad as this shooting stretch has been, our season long numbers still look pretty solid. Houston is 3rd in the league in overall field goal percentage (47.4%) trailing only the Spurs and the Heat. Lets just hope those 'driving' statistics can sustain themselves until we can find our team-wide three point stroke, because the past few games have just been disheartening in that regard.
There are other bright spots though.
For instance, only two players have logged over 1000 minutes this season and have a higher true shooting percentage as Chandler Parsons (60.9%): Kevin Durant (62.4%) and LeBron James (67.3%). Oddly enough, Parsons is tied with Nicholas Batum for this distinction, a man making about 10 million more dollars than Parsons this year.
Additionally, In terms of offensive win shares, Chandler Parsons rates 14th in the entire league, beating Dwight by just 10 spots, and losing out to Harden by merely 3 spots. Houston ranks 18th in overall win shares.
The team option for next year will keep it that way to, at least for a while but some day we are going to have to pony up the cash to keep a rising star like Parsons.
While this set of statistics for the Rockets this season is hardly exhaustive of even the data available with SportsVU and other areas, it helps paint an analytical picture of where our team stands in a number of different categories that can help us . I plan on doing writing more articles like these as the season progresses, so suggested areas of analysis are always appreciated. Many of these stats are promising while some are issues of concern that I am sure will remain topics of conversation all the way through the playoffs.
Regardless, tomorrow starts a new chapter in the Rockets much anticipated season. Christmas does normally mark the unofficial beginning to the NBA season when early season story-lines begin to crystallize and many more begin to bubble to the top and I don't think this year will be any different.
I think by most reasonable measures the Rockets are playing about as well as you could possibly hope for (sans shooting from range lately) given the injury issues the squad has faced over the past couple of months.
If anyone is interested, all statistics gathered for this article were from Nbawowy.com, Basketball-Reference, and the NBA.com stats page
Happy new year everybody!
And, as always, feel free to send any comments, concerns, complaints, corrections, or crass jokes my way at 3ptsTheHardenWay@gmail.com