Over at basketballnews.com, there’s currently a series called Blazing the Trail, where writer Mat Issa breaks down some of the most revolutionary players of the 1990s and 2000s, featuring guys like Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Kemp, Chris Webber, Penny Hardaway and more.
But one former Houston Rockets players who was less statistically inclined than the others also made the list, and the write up is certainly worth a read for anyone who fondly remembers those fun Rockets years or any new fans who weren’t old enough to be engaged with the team at the time.
Issa targets Shane Battier as a revolutionary defender who utilized analytics in his high-level defending before it in was in vogue across the league, and with the arrival of Daryl Morey in the H-town front office (first as Assistant GM, later taking on the main role), right around the same time as Battier, it was the perfect marriage of player and management.
Some highlights from Issa’s write up include quotes from former coaches:
...Battier did create positive events through his weak-side shot-blocking and timely charge-drawing. And he also refrained from causing negative sequences by avoiding fouls (remember, preventing free throws — the most efficient shot in the game — is an immensely valuable skill).
“Whether it was to take a charge, steal/deflect a pass, discourage [a driver], trap the box — he was going to be there every single time. He was the king of the charge.”
Battier’s game was basketball minutiae, predicated on the intricate subtleties that make or break a possession. He fronted goliaths in the post, swiped at the ball when it was still low to bypass challenging shots vertically and utilized the hand-in-the-face contest to hinder his adversaries’ efficiency even further.
Some quotes from Battier himself:
“The Rockets were the first team in basketball to adopt a data-centric philosophy,” Battier explained to Basketball News. “Daryl had a thesis that [he] wanted to run his entire organization based on what the data says.
“I was their first major acquisition when Daryl became the general manager because the algorithms they used identified me as a player that provided outsourced value at a very reasonable price,” recalled Battier, who was acquired by the Rockets just months after Morey’s hiring.
Along with statiscal evidence, graphs, and clips:
From 2004 to 2009, Battier’s teams finished top-five in Defensive Rating (both in Memphis and Houston). And there’s reason to believe he was the driving force behind those machines, despite being a non-big man (centers typically have the largest footprint on defense because of their ability to protect the paint).
In 2005-06, the Grizzlies finished second in the league in DRTG. When Battier was traded to Houston the following season, they plummeted to dead-last, despite returning all their coaches and best defenders (except Lorenzen Wright).
Meanwhile, after finishing nearly three points below the league average on defense in 2005-06, the Rockets improved to almost six points below the league average in 2006-07 when Battier arrived.
It’s a neat trip down memory lane, and for someone like myself who has always believed Battier didn’t receive enough credit for what he meant to those 2000s Rockets teams, it’s a well-appreciated read.
Make sure you head over here to Basketball News to read the full take on Battier. You can thank me later!