Denver Nuggets v Houston Rockets

The tasty underside of the Rockets’ defense so far


The Houston Rockets are 0-5, which is just bizarre. They’ve fought hard against good teams and been in positions to win, only to find new and inventive ways to lose. This is a team that many consider one of the most fun teams to watch, and a legitimate playoff contender. So what in Olajuwon’s name is going on down there?

Looking at the numbers, we try and identify where the problem is. We see the offense is ranked 14th in efficiency. They’re shooting 53% from the field, right in the middle of the pack. They’re only turning the ball over on 13.1% of their possessions ( 8th lowest in the league). They’re eleventh in offensive rebounding rate. The offense is looking good. So what’s the… oh. Right.

The defense.

Houston currently has the worst defense in the league, when factoring for pace. They force a turnover on less than 10% of all their opponents’ possessions, league worst. But surprisingly, they’re fourteenth in FG%. They’re not getting killed by shots, but they are letting their opponents get to the line 36% of the time.

Okay, so we’ve isolated the defense as the issue. Now, we need to go deeper. (Braaaahm.)

Looking at their opponent field goal percentages, they’re bad but not horrific down low, giving up the tenth best FG% at the rim. They’re 8th worst on the perimeter, but the big one is 10-15 feet, where they’re fourth worst. So where are all those shots coming from? For that we turn to Synergy Sports.

According to Synergy Sports, the Rockets are weakest in pick and roll defense on the ball handler, posting a .90 points per possession mark and allowing opponents to shoot 49%. That’s long form for “guys are coming behind the screen and nailing jumpers. Aaron Brooks and Courtney Lee are the biggest offenders, allowing a 1.31 and 1.30 PPP respectively. Brooks’ allowed field goal percentage is better, but he’s also fouling 18% of the time. So what’s happening on these pick and rolls? Here’s a look.

Here Chris Paul brings the ball up the floor and gets ready to go behind the deep wing pick.


Paul peels Brooks one way and the back the other, using the discernible lack of size to pancake his defender.



As CP3 peels around and gets to the baseline, Yao moves to cut him off. Brooks is taking a bad angle here, moving laterally instead of moving to anticipate Paul getting to the baseline. This could be because he’s expecting Yao to close off the baseline. He does not, and CP3 is now roaming free under the basket. If you were wondering if it’s time to panic, it is.

Brooks catches up with him, but now you’ve got Paul against an opponent who’s actually smaller than him (one of the few). The result? A turnaround fadeaway that Paul can make in his sleep from less than five feet.

It’s good, Hornets take the lead and hold on to win.

Now, Brooks isn’t the only problem, neither is Martin. In reality, the problems for the Rockets are system. Take this play for example from last night, where the Rockets actually defended the pick and roll pretty well, except when Manu Ginobili was draining step-back J’s and Richard Jefferson was getting wide-open looks.


Here Jefferson  gets the ball on the wing and pulls his man into a Blair pick. Which is kind of like pulling him into a brick wall with spikes on it.

The problem here is a lack of recognition by Jordan Hill to show hard off the pick to deter Jefferson. Given your choice of DeJuan Blair pick and pop, and Jefferson free and clear, you take Blair every single time.

That clump there should not exist, because now you have other defenders having to watch both their man and figure out if they need to commit to Jefferson.

The two defenders are still hung up on the pick, leaving a wide-open jumper for Jefferson who stops mid-range.

But worst was probably this possession against the Spurs, in overtime, after the Rockets had worked so hard to get themselves in good position to win. Up one, Parker gets the ball on the wing.

Here comes the pick. Again.

Again, the Rockets are too shallow off the pick. Look at how open that left elbow area is. You can tell your man to fight through the screen, as long as you’ve got rotation help. But Luis Scola needs to stick with his guy and can’t get there. Which means…

Ishmael Smith tries to cut off Parker going over the screen, but can’t get there, because Parker is really fast. Again, this would be the time to freak out.

Wide open J. Money.

The Rockets are far from finished (they tip-off against the woeful Timberwolves in a few minutes after this post). But the problems they have are pretty clear. They’re a fast paced team that can put up some offense but can’t get stops. Which is bizarre for a team with such great depth in the frontcourt. We’ll have to see if these problems become an epidemic or if this is just an early season outbreak.

NBA: Warriors wins credited to Steve Kerr, Luke Walton can win awards

Luke Walton
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Later on Tuesday it will be announced that Warriors interim coach Luke Walton is the NBA Coach of the Month for November. (That’s not official yet, but seriously who else is going to get it?)

Yet Luke Walton’s record will remain 0-0 as a head coach. Those record 19 wins to start the season belong to Steve Kerr.

The league clarified its position to the media on Tuesday with a release:

…the head coach of record is credited with team wins and losses.  Steve Kerr remains the head coach of record for the Golden State Warriors and is credited with those results.  Additionally, any team head coach, interim head coach or acting head coach is eligible to be recognized with league coaching awards.  Therefore, Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton is eligible for NBA Coach of the Month.

The logic is that the systems installed in Golden State were put in place by Kerr, and while Walton has managed games he is not the overall architect of their success. Which is true. With all due to respect to what Walton has done Kerr laid the foundation for this team, Walton has managed it this season. He hasn’t crashed the car.

There still is no official timeframe for Kerr’s return from his back issues. He is around the team at the practice facility all the time, but is not coaching games or traveling with the team consistently.

This performance will be a significant step toward Walton getting job where his wins and losses will count on his permanent record soon enough.

Clippers’ Chris Paul exits game with “rib muscle strain” may miss time

Chris Paul, Gerald Henderson, Mason Plumlee, Al-Farouq Aminu, C.J. McCollum
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It happened in the third quarter, although it’s not clear exactly how. All anyone saw was Chris Paul calling a timeout to remove himself from the game (an eventual Clippers’ victory over the Trail Blazers) and grabbing his left side.

After the game, the Clippers said that Paul had suffered a “rib muscle strain.” CP3 will be re-evaluated on Tuesday, and then a timetable for his return will be set. It looks like he could miss a little time. Since the term “rib muscle strain” is intentionally vague we’re left to speculate a little: This could be an oblique muscle strain and if so they can be tricky, and it takes a couple of weeks (or more) to get back.

The Clippers might be wise to give Paul a little time away from the game; he has battled through a fractured finger and a strained groin this season. A little time off could help all of this. Paul played in all 82 regular season games for the Clippers last season, the first time he had done that in his career.

Paul is averaging 17.5 points and 8.4 assists per game, and the Clippers elite offense is 13.9 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the floor rather than sitting. Look at it this way, the Clippers’ most used lineup (Paul, J.J. Redick, Lance Stephenson, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan) outscores opponents by 19 points per 100 possessions, but sub Austin Rivers in for Paul and they get outscored by 13.8 per 100 and their defense falls apart. (For the record, I know that they are trying different players at the three and that Luc Mbah a Moute got the chance Monday, but I was using the lineups with the most played minutes to lessen the sample size error.)

The Clippers are not the same without Chris Paul, if he is out for any stretch of time, it’s a setback for a team that had seemed to start finding it groove.

Will Kobe Bryant’s pending retirement change how Lakers use him?

Kobe Bryant, D'Angelo Russell, Byron Scott
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This is Kobe Bryant‘s final season in the NBA; he made that clear with his announcement on Sunday. If for the Lakers organization that means they want Kobe to go out playing his way — still trying to create and make tough shots — then go right ahead. As evidenced by the reactions at Staples Center Sunday night, the fans love it.

But what should have been the Lakers’ primary goal for this season — developing young players D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance — has seemed at cross purposes with that. At least in the mind of coach Byron Scott.

So there it was in crunch time against the Pacers’ Sunday and Kobe and Nick Young were on the court while Russell watched from the bench. It gives the perception the Lakers don’t embrace the future.

Will how they use Kobe Bryant — and by extension the younger players — change now that Kobe has made it official this is his final season?

“I don’t know that I’ll change that much, as far as I want him to play,” Scott said. “I still want him to go out on a very positive note. And there’s a part of me that feels he is going to have those glimmers, having some of those games I know he’s capable of having.”

Scott’s job as coach, at least in his mind, seems to have been to make the last couple seasons of Kobe’s career comfortable. He said that Kobe has earned the right to take his tough, contested shots but has benched the players he’s tried to develop for their mistakes (and not clearly communicated to those players why they are sitting, if you ask the youngsters).

Beyond the coach, this is an organizational decision and priority.

“We have to huddle up and decide if there is going to be anything different in terms of minutes,” Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said. “It’s not something that’s going to be decided today. But since he has made it clear this will be the last season for him, it will be more enjoyable and I think people can appreciate and will appreciate what he’s accomplished, not only in our building — with loads of love — but even more so on the road.”

Kobe isn’t going to change.

“I gave up hoping he would change his approach 15, 18 years ago,” Kupchak joked. “He is what he is. And I’m thankful for it.”

I understand the need to let the fans see Kobe be Kobe, to let him go out on his terms (although playing him 30+ minutes a night and saying the goal is to have him standing at the end of the season is an odd mix, Scott). The Lakers are selling Kobe while they try to develop their young players.

The question of how well they are developing them remains.

One thing I would like to see is more Kobe with the second unit, and by extension less with Russell and Randle. Kobe’s going to take his shots, but if he is taking those away from Nick Young or Lou Williams, so what? Let those guys fight over the ball a little (that would be entertaining). But then rest him and let Russell and Randle and the other youth learn to work together for long stretches without any of those ball dominating players on the court. That includes letting the kids close some games, even if it’s not pretty.

This was always going to be a rough Lakers’ season, although it is uglier than the team and its fans imagined. But that’s okay if the young players are getting their minutes, being coached up, and developing. The Lakers can’t let the Kobe farewell tour get in the way of that.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert with the crazy high alley-oop finish (VIDEO)

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I love that the Jazz were going to be themselves against the Warriors — two of our three best players are big men in Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, and we are going to use them whether you go small or not. Those two have the athleticism to make that work in a way few teams can’t. The result was a close game, one ultimately won by the Warriors because Stephen Curry can do Stephen Curry things, but you had to love the way the Jazz played.

And you had to love this finish by Gobert in the fourth quarter.

This alley-oop is pretty well defended, but there’s not much a defender can do when you can lob the ball above the box on the backboard, and Gobert can just go get it and finish.