Houston Rockets: Smartest Offense In The NBA?

Despite being the youngest team in the NBA last season, with an average age of 24.9 , the Houston Rockets possessed one of the best offenses in the league.

The Rockets were second in the league at points per game, averaging 106 points per game (just 0.1 points behind the Denver Nuggets), and were the fastest team with a pace[1] of 98.6.

How did a team that began the season as the most inexperienced team in the league, in terms of minutes played, end the season with one of the league’s most potent offenses?

The answer, in short, is that they played smart.

If you know anything about Daryl Morey, the Rockets’ general manager, you know he is one of the leading proponents of using advanced statistics when formulating his team. Given the number of shots Houston attempts behind the 3-point arc or near the rim, the Rockets’ offense is the on-court embodiment of an advanced statistician’s dream.

With the advent of technology allowing teams to review where their players are taking and making their shots, it’s become more and more clear that the mid-range shot is the least effective shot in the NBA.

The Rockets seem to understand this, and their shot selection reflects that.

This past season, the Rockets took the least amount of shots at 10 to 14 feet away from the basket, attempting only 264. To give that number some context, the Detroit Pistons were 29th in field-goals attempted from that distance, and took nearly 100 more than Houston (362).

In contrast, Houston was third in the league in field goals attempted less than five feet away from the rim with 2,822 attempts, and second in 3-pointers, attempting 1,038.

As mentioned earlier, the Rockets led the league in pace last season and this is due to the fact that their first offensive option is the fast break. According to Synergy, the Rockets were in transition[2] 17.2 percent of the time and they averaged 1.14 points per possession on those plays.

However, it’s Houston’s affinity for the 3-pointer that launched their offense to the top of the NBA. More than 35 percent (35.4 to be exact) of the Rockets shots came from behind the arc and although they only converted 36.4 percent of them, because they made 867 of them that field-goal percentage isn’t very helpful.
For more perspective, Wages of Wins discusses the value of the 3-point shot using the Toronto Raptors as an example. They concluded that making 60 of 206 3-pointers (29.1 percent) is equivalent to making a little better than 43 percent of your 2-point shots. Instead of using simple field-goal percentage, if you look at effective field goal percentage[3], the Rockets were fourth in the league, behind only the Heat, Spurs and Clippers.
Miami Heat – 54.5%
San Antonio Spurs – 52.8%
Los Angeles Clippers – 52.4%
Houston Rockets – 52.3%
Oklahoma City Thunder – 52.1%
Courtesy of Teamrankings.com

Effective field goal percentage is a much better barometer of how efficient a team is on offense because it accounts for the fact that 3-pointers count for an extra point.Houston could have one of the most devastating offenses next season, but they’ll need to work on two things for this to happen.

First, they will need to increase the number of offensive rebounds they grab. Last year, Houston was second in the league in defensive rebounding percentage, claiming 75.3 percent of defensive boards, but they ranked 16th in the league in offensive rebounding percentage.

The addition of Dwight Howard will certainly help fix this issue.

Second, the Rockets will need to minimize turnovers. Houston was 27th in assist/turnover ratio last season, averaging 1.39 assists per turnover. Compared to San Antonio, who was second in the league with 1.71 assists per turnover, this isn’t going to cut it.

If the Rockets can increase the number of possessions that don’t end in turnovers while simultaneously increasing their chance of scoring second-chance points, their efficient shot selection could result in them having one of the most daunting offenses in recent NBA history.



[1] Plays considered by Synergy are those that ended in a field goal attempt, turnover or free throw

[2] Pace is the number of possessions a team uses per game.

[3] eFG% = [field goals made + 0.5 x 3-pointers made] / field goal attempts


Tags: Dwight Howard Houston Rockets Houston Rockets Offense James Harden Three Point Three Point Shot Value Of Three Pointer Wages Of Wins

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