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2015-2016 Rockets season recaps: Trevor Ariza's postseason flop

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Ariza was one of Houston's best players this season, but that doesn't mean he didn't also start to slip.

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

If you said Trevor Ariza was one of the Rockets' three best players this season, you wouldn't be wrong. The nights this past season where it was Trev, James Harden, and Dwight Howard producing and literally no one else are too numerous to count.

Ariza was good offensively. He finished with the second highest three-point percentage of his career at 37.1 percent and also the second highest offensive plus-minus of his career at +1.2. His 12.7 points per game were the fourth-highest total of his career.

But, if you then said Ariza regressed this year defensively, you also wouldn't be wrong. Sure, he finished 6th in the NBA with 2.0 steals per game, and the versatility is still there; Ariza is capable of guarding four positions on the floor and you can add a fifith if the opponent decides to play some serious small ball. But it would be remiss to not mention that Ariza appeared to lose a step athletically this season.

And it's understandable. He's 30 years old, he's played 12 NBA seasons, and he's worked a ton of minutes, averaging over 35 per game for the last three consecutive seasons. That catches up to you at some point. Throw in the pressure of being the only real line of effective wing defense on the entire Houston squad, and it's easy to see how Trev slipped a bit this year.

His +0.3 defensive plus-minus was second worst of his career next to 2006's +0.2 with the Orlando Magic. He was also barely better than average in differential shooting percentage with -0.2. Neither of these numbers are terrible. But they are basically just average, when what we've come to expect from Ariza is very good.

But that slight slippage defensively wasn't even Ariza's most egregious offense on the year. Undoubtedly, that title goes to his complete playoff no-show against the Golden State Warriors.

Ariza played 36.2 minutes per game in the five contests against the Dubs, finishing with miniscule averages of 6.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 0.8 assists on an ugly 25.5 percent shooting from the field, including an embarrassing 14.3 percent from beyond the arc. After knocking down almost 2.5 threes per game during the regular season, Trev hit a total of 4 in the entire series versus Golden State.

He did snag 2.6 steals per game, still flashing that ability to jump the passing lanes, but that positive development was completely white-washed by the atrocious percentages and even worse analytics.

Ariza finished the postseason with a -8.3 offensive plus-minus, a basement-level number that completely nullified his +3.4 defensive plus-minus into a combined -4.9 for the five-game set. He was a negative value over replacement player and also finished with negative win shares to wrap up the worst overall playoff numbers of his career.

The heavy minutes and the immense responsibility of carrying the defensive load likely played a role in that epic egg-laying, which just further illustrates that Trev's taken a half-step back with age and also highlights the need in Houston for additional help on the wing.

K.J. McDaniels may yet grow into that wing help, but we didn't see enough of him this year to garner a sufficient sample-size for that determination. Sam Dekker remains on the roster as well, but he's a complete and total unknown commodity at the moment due to injury.

Ariza is signed for $7.8 million in each of the next two seasons, a bargain contract considering the rising salary cap and that he's still a productive player despite slightly dipping over the hump to the backside of his career. Which makes him very likely back in H-town next season, though that cap-friendly number could also make him an attractive trade piece at some point as the Rockets work to remake the lineup in light of this past season's failures.

Ariza is still a useful player and can play a part in any hopeful Rockets turnaround, but as he enters into his 13th season and approaches age 31, he shouldn't be the second or third best piece on any team with realistic title aspirations.