I saw an interesting headline over the weekend that piqued my curiosity. It was “Even With Howard, Rockets Still Struggling On Defense,” written by Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee.
Lo and behold, what was his rationale for the Rockets struggles on defense? They give up lots of points.
I’m not even sure why I’m surprised—this is what I should be used to from mainstream NBA coverage. Raw numbers, zero context.
Yes, the Rockets give up a lot of points—102.5 per game, as a matter of fact. That figure is tied for 23rd in the NBA. Ranking 23rd out of 30 teams sounds bad, doesn’t it?
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Lies, damn lies and statistics”? It certainly applies here.
Yes, the Rockets give up a lot of points, as I’ve stated previously. But the Rockets also play at the ninth-fastest pace in the NBA, averaging 98.01 possessions per game. So it stands to reason, then, that they might surrender more points than a team such as the Memphis Grizzlies, who rank as the slowest-paced team in the NBA at 92.36 possessions per game.
Shockingly, the Grizzlies give up fewer points per game than the Rockets do—six points per game, to be exact.
But wait … the Grizzlies surrender six fewer points on six fewer possessions. How is that not a wash?
When adjusting for pace, the Rockets defense isn’t great—tied for 15th in the Association at 102.9 points allowed per 100 possessions.
So where does that defensive juggernaut in Memphis rank? How about 23rd at 105 points per 100 possessions.
So maybe, just maybe, “struggling” is too strong a term for Houston’s defense this season.
The Rockets are sixth-best in the NBA, holding teams to 43.8 percent shooting. Not to pick on Memphis too much here, but the Grizzlies are tied for 21st in the league at 46 percent opponents field-goal accuracy, tied with those noted defensive giants from Dallas and Philadelphia, for the record.
That isn’t to say the Rockets don’t have work to do defensively.
Dwight Howard’s impact on the defense, within the context of just the 2013-14 season, is negligible; the Rockets allow 102.8 points per 100 possessions with Howard on the floor and 103.1 without him, a slight uptick.
Houston defends at a rate of 105.9 points/100 possessions with Jones on the floor and 100 with him off. With Parsons on the floor, Houston’s D-rating is 103.9; it falls to 99.9 when he’s out. Lin’s split is 104.8 to 101.3.
However (and there’s always a “however”), the offensive tradeoff seems to be worth it in two of the three instances.
With Jones on the floor, the Rockets score 109.7 points/100 possessions, without him the rate falls to 105.5. Parsons is even more entwined with the offensive success. With Parsons on the court, Houston’s O-rating is 109.9; it drops to 100.9 when he sits. Lin, on the other hand, has an on/off split of 107.7/107.4.
That might explain why Lin was losing playing time to Patrick Beverley even before (a) Lin hurt his back and (b) Beverley broke his hand. Beverley’s defensive rating is 99.7, but the Rockets rate goes to 105.6 without him on the floor. That makes up for the two-tenths of a point Houston gains when he’s off (107.4 offensive rating with Beverley on the court, 107.6 without him).
So, yes, there are some defensive things the Rockets could stand to fix. But the situation is nowhere near as dire as the headlines, or the raw numbers, might indicate.
Last week, the Rockets were 1-1 in a light week of action, losing to the Kings on Tuesday and beating the Knicks on Friday.
The Rockets are now 22-13, sixth in the Western Conference. Houston is 5½ games clear of Denver and Minnesota, who are tied for ninth in the West, and 4½ games behind the Spurs in the Southwest Division.
Here is the week that was, including game reviews, some news and notes, the rookie watch, injury updates, study some stats from the week and the season and select a player of the week, as well as a look ahead to next week’s action.