As the Rockets leave L.A. stewing in their own juices after a 140-132 overtime defeat at the hands of the Clippers in which L.A. set a franchise record with 22 three-pointers, one piece of cold, hard reality should be obviously apparent.
The Rockets are in desperate need of a defensive stopper.
Sure, J.J. Redick and his 9 triples are capable of getting hot against anyone, and getting Redick open shots utlizing screens was a definitive part of Doc Rivers' strategy coming into this game, as Max so astutely pointed out in the game recap. And while a major chunk of Redick's triples came against the notoriously shoddy defense of James Harden, do you have confidence there is actually anyone on this Houston roster you can send out on the perimeter to truly bother an opposing player when they start to heat up?
Redick wasn't the only Clipper bombing the Rockets from beyond the arc. Chris Paul hit 5 triples. Paul Pierce hit 3. As did Wesley Johnson. Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers also knocked down treys. Those 6 players, all guys who play the majority of their minutes outside the paint, scored 111 of the Clippers' 140 total points. The Rockets' perimeter defenders were absolutely roasted all night.
Before one chalks this up to nothing more than a team on the second night of a back-to-back running into a hot shooting Clippers squad with a grudge yet to settle from last year's Western Semis, realize that the Rockets currently don't have a single above-average perimeter defender for this year on the entire squad. This has been a season-long problem for Houston.
In year's past, the Rockets were able to lean on Patrick Beverley and Trevor Ariza for their perimeter defense. Beverley's tenacious nature was a handful for anyone, while Ariza's anticipation and versatility made him one of the most skilled perimeter defenders in the league. But even those two usual defensive stalwarts have regressed this year into below average defenders.
Ariza has a defensive plus-minus of negative-0.1, which would be the lowest of his career and the only time Ariza has been in the negatives if it holds. And while defensive plus-minus isn't a perfect picture of a defender's effectiveness, it adjusts defensive contributions compared to a league-average player and translated to a league-average team, so it does give a general framework for player's effectiveness, especially when combined with other data.
For instance, the players Ariza has matched up against this season have a combined overall field goal percentage of 44.4 percent on the season. However, when guarded by Ariza, those same players shoot 45.1 percent against the Rockets, making Ariza's differential percentage plus-0.7, illustrating further Ariza's slippage to a below-average defender. (When looking at differential percentage for a defender, positive numbers are actually bad as they indicate a higher than average shooting percentage, whereas negative numbers infer lower than average, hence better defense.)
It's the same story for Beverley. He's also in the midst of his worst-ever defensive season. His defensive plus-minus of negative-1.1 would be the worst of his career and is the only time he's been in the negatives. His differential percentage of plus-2.6 would again work out to the worst of his career if it holds.
The rest of the Rockets' perimeter players look similar. Ty Lawson, never regarded as a good defender, has a defensive plus-minus of minus-2.3 (the worst of his career) with a differential percentage of plus-4.1. Corey Brewer's defensive plus-minus is minus-1.0 (the worst of his career), and he has a differential percentage of plus-3.4.
Marcus Thornton (minus-3.3) and Jason Terry (minus-2.3)are both sporting the second-worst defensive plus-minuses of their career and positive differential percentages (which means worse than average, don't forget).
Harden's defensive short-comings certainly need no introduction here at TDS, but just for good measure, his defensive plus-minus (minus-0.8) is the second worst of his his career, and it's no surprise his differential percentage is also poor (plus-3.0).
There's simply not a lock-down defender or intimidating presence among them.
With Dwight Howard and Clint Capela both rocking positive defensive plus-minuses (the only two players on the team), and Capela sporting a glittering minus-2.9 differential percentage, it's time the Twin Towers received some assistance on the perimeter for their defensive efforts, and it's becoming more apparent with each passing day that that player (or players) just isn't on the roster.
An upgrade is undoubtedly needed and with rumors once again heating up about GM Daryl Morey's desire to make a move, it's imperative that the Rockets address their perimeter defense.
What good fits are out there? How would you improve the Rockets' defense? Tell us in the comments.