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.
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.