The Potentially Harsh Reality of the Rockets' Shooting Woes

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NBA: Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs

A look at the differences between the long range shooting of the 2012 and 2013 Houston Rockets.

 

What is the difference between a slump and a team that just isn’t that good at shooting? As I watch the last few weeks of games I consider this regularly. Bill Worrell routinely talks about how ‘so and so’ hasn’t, “busted out of that funk yet”,  but the more I hear that the more I start to wonder if it really is a slump or if this product is going to be similar to what we see for the whole year.

There have been some peaks and valleys already during this season and I happen to believe we are in a valley so things will get at least a little bit better. Over the past ten games the Rockets have shot 30% (82/269), which would put us in 2012 Timberwolves (last place) territory if trends continue. Houston came out of the gates hot from downtown, and it seemed as if things were just business as usual. But as I took a closer look I realized more signs point to the recent “slump” being a return to the mean.

2012 Houston Rockets

I think one of the reasons why we tend to assume the Rockets are a quality shooting team that’s just in a slump is that traditionally we do shoot well from behind the arc. But I think it is worth noting that this team really isn’t made up of the same players that built that image in our minds.

Last year’s team shot 37% from three and ranked 8th in the league respectively, while this year’s team is sitting at 34% with a ranking of 20th in the league. At first glance you say, “well 3%? I am reading an article over a measly 3%?” Well to give it some perspective I’ll show you the difference in points over a season. Last year the Rockets shot 2,369 three pointers which was second only to the Knicks at 2,371. At 37% shooting that comes out to 2,632 points while 34% shooting produces just 2,415 points. So right there that’s 217 points being left on the table by a Rockets team that shoots 3% worse than last year. Spread that out over 82 games, that’s almost 3 points a game and as basketball fans we know there is a big difference between averaging 98 points a game and averaging 101 points a game.

Now that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to make up that point differential with a higher volume of shots inside or from midrange, but quality inside shots are the hardest ones to come by.

So who exactly was responsible for the success that last year’s offense produced? As it turns out, a LOT of people. This is partially because of the revolving door policy that Morey instituted in order to create the team and flexibility that the Rockets experience today. The 2012 Rockets had 10 players attempt more than 70 three pointers, and for the most part they could all be considered successful, except D-Mo (sorry buddy).

Player Name # of 3 pointers attempted 3P shooting percentage
James Harden

486

36.8%

Chandler Parsons

395

38.5%

Jeremy Lin

257

33.9%

Carlos Delfino

421

37.5%

Marcus Morris

194

38.1%

Toney Douglas

162

37.7%

Francisco Garcia

70

38.6%

Patrick Beverley

96

37.5%

Patrick Patterson

96

36.5%

Donatas Motiejunas

83

28.9%

 

So what do we learn from this?

Well something most of us know is that Delfino shot A LOT of threes. In just about half the minutes played, Delfino shot only 60 fewer threes than Harden and he shot them pretty dang well considering the volume. Chandler Parsons had an extremely impressive year behind the arc which was well circulated by local and national media alike.

Other players that brought a lot to the table were Marcus Morris, Toney Douglas, the two Patricks and the Cisco Grandpa. As opposed to the Cisco Kid…well I like it so it’s staying in the article.

As we can see, the Rockets had a lot of players that regardless of their sample size, shot the ball very well, and boy did we need it last year. Last year’s offense produced a lot of open shots and the defense certainly gave up more than its fair share. But ball movement was the business, and baby, business was booming.

So how does this year’s team stack up?

2013 Houston Rockets

As most of you are aware, last year’s trade deadline and this past offseason was a time of drastic change for our Houston Rockets. Carlos Delfino, Patrick Patterson, Toney Douglas, and Marcus Morris are no longer on our team. But to the delight of just about all Rocket fans we were able to add the Greek God of Rim Protection, Dwight Howard, and a few other pieces such as Omri Casspi. Omri was a journeyman forward whom Daryl Morey had his eye on for quite some time.

As I stated above, the shooting performance of our team has dipped this year so lets see who all is responsible.

Player Name # of three pointers attempted 3P shooting % (Last years %)
James Harden

186

32.3% (36.8%)

Chandler Parsons

144

37.5% (38.5%)

Jeremy Lin

83

37.3% (33.9%)

Francisco Garcia

140

34.3% (38.6%)

Patrick Beverley

105

33.3% (37.5%)

Aaron Brooks

91

39.6%

Omri Casspi

99

35.4%

 

I tend to approach basketball sample size like I approach baseball. In baseball 100 at bats is considered enough to draw a conclusion, so to a certain extent I’m willing to do the same with around 100 shots. As you can see from the chart above, no one is producing on the same level that they were last year other than Jeremy Lin who actually exceeded his previous percentage by four-ish percent. I’ll go into why that is in just a second but I want to address the two new additions to the roster as well. Aaron Brooks and Omri Casspi both started the year on fire and have seen their sharp shooting prowess dissipate as of late.

For his career Omri is a 35.3% shooter but his previous two years with Cleveland saw him shoot 32%. Omri has been part of the “slump” talk quite a bit because he started the year off so well but lately can’t seem to do anything right. He has shown impressive ability to drive to basket off of his pump fake but really he hasn’t been getting enough open shots to truly be effective. I think a lot of this is due to the new direction the offense has taken.

Brooks has been a revelation…compared to other third string point guards. I do believe he is the best pure shooter we have and if you watched the Rockets in Brooks’ first tenure with the team then you know he is in range once he passes Beltway 8. When Daryl Morey drafted the diminutive point guard out of Oregon his skill set relied on his shooting and things haven’t really changed. He is a career 36.6% three point shooter and finished last year at 37.3%.

So what can we conclude?

I think the difference in our shooting comes down to three things.

  • Shooting talent
  • Injuries
  • Offensive strategy

Shooting Talent

What I have been showing through the information above is that the Rockets don’t have the same three point shooting depth or talent that they have had over the past couple years. Casspi is not Delfino, he does some things better than Delfino but shooting is not one of them, if Casspi shot 400 threes this year that would actually be a problem for the Rockets. The things that Marcus Morris and Patrick Patterson did at the power forward spot really did help spread the floor for Houston and Terrence Jones is not at the point in his career where they can rely on him to shoot a quality percentage. And for all of Toney Douglas’ faults he did provide quality shooting at the point guard position that Patrick Beverley has not been able to replicate.

Injuries

This section really just affects James Harden and Chandler Parsons. James Harden hasn’t been the same shooter we saw last year. He also has been hurt for almost the entire season. When you list things that could hurt a player’s ability to shoot, their feet would have to be near the top and James has had trouble with his the entire year. I think his struggles are also attributed to the game plan but you have to think that Harden would be shooting closer to his 2012 standards if he was fully healthy. He dipped over 4% and that’s pretty unusual. It also doesn’t seem likely that he is going to get a large amount of rest any time soon unless he decides to bow out of the All Star game.

I think another aspect of the injury bug is that it has made Harden less intent on getting to the rim, so he is willing to settle for a shot further out in order to preserve his body. Overall I think he has played through the pain very admirably but in the games when he tweaks or aggravates something he tends to hang out at the perimeter more often.

Chandler Parsons has been dealing with back spasms the entire season as well. His dip in shooting is probably too negligible to blame on any one thing, but with no significant rest in sight, who knows if his back will have a chance to progress.

Offensive Strategy

With the addition of Dwight Howard a lot has changed for the Rockets. When you add one of the best post players in the game of course numerous things are going to change. Last year if the ball made it into a big man’s hands on the block it was usually by accident, but this year it is now a huge part of our offensive gameplan. The Rockets have proven they can win some games with dominant post play and average to below average shooting. Harden does a nice job of executing late game heroics and overall we are clearly able to compete with anyone on a given night. But one of the draw backs of having Dwight camped in the post for extended periods of time is that the running and slashing offense of yester-year gets slowed down to a certain extent. Instead of making back cuts or moving off the ball, we spend our time creating ways to get the ball in Howard’s hands down low. If Howard executes then great, that then opens up shots for the outside and then people start to say, “Look at all the ways we can win, we can play like the 2012 Rockets or the 2009 Orlando Magic!” (But really this team can’t touch the 2009 Orlando Magic). But if Howard doesn’t execute, the offense has trouble doing anything at all in the half court.

By the way the 2009 Magic shot the ball at a salty 38.1%. Check it out for yourself, that team was disgusting from long range.

My point on the offensive strategy is that this team is not getting the open shots that they had last year. We see glimpses of our old blistering pace but not the prolonged stretches we got used to. I think it will improve the more this team plays together but for now too many of our three pointers are contested or desperation three pointers. And we don’t have the shooting talent to overcome that.

We also don’t see as many transition threes these days. A three point shot in transition has become an irresponsible shot to a certain extent because of the urge to wait for Dwight to either set up down low for a post play or just to have him down there for the rebound. I’m not saying that having Dwight Howard is hurting the Rockets but it is definitely changing them.

Final Thoughts

This Rockets team is not the sharp shooting bunch we are used to seeing in the red and white (or ketchup and mustard). It may be hard for us to admit but the Rockets will most likely be a below average long range shooting team this year. But as we all know, if something is broke, Daryl Morey works day and night to fix it.

Morey knows his team isn’t the best it can be. I imagine that Isiah Canaan was drafted with the idea of being our version of 2009 Jameer Nelson and the moves made with Omer Asik will be designed to move us closer to championship contention. This team’s offense isn’t the 2012 Rockets or the 2009 Magic, but a fusion of the two would be the ideal scenario to launch the Rockets into the into a deep playoff run (although really that idea would deserve its own article). We have the stars in place, we have the coach (I think?), we have the GM, and so in my opinion all we need now is the shooting. Once the proper smaller pieces are in place we will contend for a title.

But we aren’t there yet.

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