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The revamped Rockets bench is running the NBA into the ground

The Headband of Brothers -- Corey Brewer, Josh Smith and Jason Terry -- has become one of the best bench units in basketball.

Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The biggest worry going into the season for the Rockets was their lack of depth. At this point, it's pretty safe to say that the December acquisitions of Josh Smith and Corey Brewer have looked like some classically savvy Morey moves. The #HeadbandOfBrothers is a thing, even if only to Rockets fans. So now, the obvious question is: Where do we stack up?


First, let's start with the headbanded ones in front of us. Want to hear something crazy? How about that among all of the three-man lineups to have played at least 200 minutes for the Rockets this season, the sweat-wicking combo of Smoove, Brewer and Jason Terry have the second-best Net Rating at 13.9, according to The only one better? Harden-Ariza-Canaan! FREE LIL' SIP.

#FreeLilSip, y'all.

Why the success, besides those magical headbands? Let's bullet this, because it's important you get a sense of the scale of their majesty. In terms of where they rank among three-man Rockets lineups, according to

  • Assist Ratio (number of assists per 100 possessions): First
  • Assist/Turnover Ratio: First
  • eFG & TS% (both measure percentage, weighted for threes and free throws): Sixth(! With Josh Smith!)
  • PACE: First
  • PIE (Player Impact Estimate, the percentage of game events players contribute to): First (at 60%. No other threesome has more than 50%.)
So, these guys run, they share the ball well and safely, and they take and make the right kinds of shots. Moreyball is in full effect. The push and pull of each guy in this group is what is the most gratifying. Brewer is the well-known king of leakouts, JET drags up the shooting numbers, and Josh Smith is the defensive destroyer needed to start the break.

Remember that James Harden is essentially the sum total of the Rockets' half-court offense. What he doesn't provide amounts to Dwight and Donuts post-ups. So when Harden's not on the floor, it's run or die for the Rockets -- further illustrating how crucial Corey Brewer is to the Rockets.


At this point, I'm prepared to say that J-Smoove was a genius pickup, full stop. Expect a more in-depth look at him next week, but for now, the short version: He doesn't have to shoot any better than he does (which is still poorly). He's been an absolute defensive destroyer. He gets to the bucket, attempting more field goals around the rim than he has since 2009-10, which was his last season before he started jump-shooting (though I would reeeeaaallly love if his free throw shooting came back from hell). Finally, he might be in a dead heat with the Beard for best Rocket passer.

His four assists last night (which you should really watch if you want to watch sexy basketball) were: Two cross-court passes out of double teams from the paint to wide-open corner threes, an under-the-basket feed for a Donuts layup, and a bullet to Trevor Ariza for a layup to finish a fast break that he started with a steal. That's good stuff.

Most importantly, there hasn't been a single shred of evidence that he's anything but a fantastic teammate in Houston. He's happy here, he buys into the Rockets' philosophy, and the whole team seems to love him.

The Competition

I compared the Headband Of Brothers to three-man units from four teams that seem to have rep for having a good bench: the Warriors, Hawks, San Antonio and Chicago. I selected the three-man unit on each team involving no regular starters with the best Net Rating (200 minute minimum). Obviously, all of these teams vary in terms of bench usage, but bear with me.

  • Golden State Warriors: Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, Marreese Speights
  • Chicago Bulls: Aaron Brooks, Nikola Mirotic, Taj Gibson
  • Atlanta Hawks: Dennis Schroder, Thabo Sefolosha, Mike Scott (which, in this case, is the ONLY three-man Hawk lineup involving no starters)
  • San Antonio Spurs: Corey Joseph, Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw (also their highest-rated trio, period)
A note about the Hawks: Mike Budenholzer's next-level minutes distribution and Thabo Sefolosha's injury obscure the Hawks' first big man off the bench, Pero Antic. Without a doubt, he's a part of many good Hawks lineups, but they always involve starting perimeter players. We'll just have to keep that in mind. That aside, these seem like the sixth to eighth men off the bench for each team, like the Bandz. So let's get a look at them side-by-side.

Rockets 236 104.1 90.3 13.9 1.64 18.7 55.8 60.2
Warriors 287 103.5 94.4 9.1 1.54 18.4 54.3 57.7
Bulls 220 113.5 106.6 6.9 1.34 15.7 54.5 52.1
Hawks 239 103.4 97.1 6.4 1.83 19.5 54.7 53.0
Spurs 248 112.8 94.7 18.1 2.32 20.6 56.4 62.7

Spurs gonna Spur, man. Two old, balding dudes (one of them hefty) and a cast-off form the best second unit in basketball. Now, Corey Joseph is the odd duck in all this, since he's spent a lot of time starting this year with Tony Parker and Patty Mills both suffering long-term injuries this season. But all of the minutes levels more or less line up, so I'm still happy that we're comparing apples to apples.

That being established, boy does #HeadbandOfBrothers come out of this looking good. A 90.3 defensive rating is otherworldly -- the best team rating this season belongs to the Warriors, at 97.3. And if we include PACE in the equation for these trios, the rankings would go like this: Rockets, Warriors, Bulls, Spurs, Hawks. A shutdown defense that loves to run is a lethal combo that generates easy, early offense.

The one area in which the Rockets' trio lags is in rebound percentage; not surprising considering JET and Brewer are both allergic to rebounding. But their aptitude at creating turnovers lessens the rebounding deficit. Still, factoring all of that in, it's safe to say that the Rockets now possess one of the best benches in the NBA, and it's made up of veterans with postseason experience, no less! How good does that feel?

One final thought: Based on what I've seen on the court, there is another, important distinction to be made between these bench units: how they're deployed. Gregg Popovich and his disciplies, Steve Kerr and Mike Budenholzer, stagger their rotations a lot more than old-schoolers McHale and Thibodeau. The league leaders in minutes played are full of Rockets and Bulls.

The benefits of resting your starters for longer, and mixing your bench and starters more, is obvious to any basketball fan. But when you look back at the table and see the minutes, remember that we're only talking about a month and a half of basketball for Team Headband. Over a full season, they would blow that minutes total out of the water. It's obvious that McHale knows what he has in this group.

Now that the numbers are in, it's time the country started showing some love for the #HeadbandOfBrothers. Let's tell them all.