Around the League: Houston Rockets

Hello all, here goes my effort to give back to the Canis Hoopus community by way of working up a season’s end analysis of the Houston Rockets. I think it goes without saying that I am no fan of these Rockets, although I cannot place them amongst my most hated teams in the league either. For the Rockets I reserve the unkindest cut of all: sheer indifference. That said, I do find the relative success they have enjoyed this season to be fascinating given the lack of a true star.

I have decided that in the interest of personal growth, as well as a general experiment in basketball analysis, I am going to try to do this in three distinct parts.

1). Completely off the top of my head. This will be purely based on my recollection of the few Rocket’s games I saw as well as what I have heard said on television, read on the internet, pieced together as a player of fantasy basketball or just generally absorbed as person interested in the NBA. This section will come complete with my own assumptions and biases for or against certain players and perceived styles of play.

2). Using what I will call traditional statistics. Minutes played, points scored, rebounds, assist, turnovers, shooting percentages and so on. You get the idea. I will do some basic investigation into the Rocket’s season and see if I can expand some on the limited knowledge I brought into this. I expect that I will find out a few things I didn’t remember off the top of my head (like who is the Rocket’s starting small forward for example) and that this will help paint a clearer picture of hows and whys of the Rocket’s season.

3). Using Advanced Statistics. This is the part that is making me wish I had not agreed to this. Since tuning into this site I have made an honest effort to improve my understanding of Advanced Stats. I really have. Still, I have some limitations that are intrinsic to my personal being. I should disclose that, as a clinical social worker by trade, my brain is much better suited to relational rather than numerical analysis. As I wade my way through the various websites dedicated to furthering this approach to understanding our favorite sport I often find my eyes glazing over and my thoughts drifting off to somewhere else. Anywhere else. My clinical self would suggest that this may be a reasonable reaction the environmental trauma triggers which are shifting my consciousness back to the Statistics course I had to take at Normandale before attending graduate school. My logical self might just accuse me of being lazy. Either way I find that deep statistical analysis can often be a chore for me. Still, I recognize its value, and this is part of the reason I signed up to do this in the first place. I will take a stab at some of the advanced stats that I understand best as they relate to the Houston Rockets. Who knows, I may even learn something, but don’t be surprised to find the inclusion of a few unrelated but humorous youtube videos in this section. The human brain, after all, can only take so much.

Part One

In keeping with my original plan I am doing this part entirely off the top of my head without so much as even reviewing the current roster. My apologies in advance if I make the claim that the Rocker’s season came down to Clyde Drexler’s ability to get to the line or whether or not Scottie Pippin still had anything left in the tank. I might make such claims. Memory can be a tricky business.

The interesting thing about this Houston team is that they don’t have a clear NBA star. They didn’t even have an all-star this season. (Did they? I’ll check later). Despite this the Rockets spent much of this season in the drivers seat of the Western Conference playoff race. I will misremember the late season collapse towards the end of this section. Anyway, this is quite an accomplishment for a team without clear star and leader. How did they do this you ask? The way I remember it the Rocket’s initial success was the result of having two very good basketball players and several other pretty good to acceptably good basketball players. Also noteworthy I think is that these players are mostly able to play within a team concept and seemed to have complimentary skill sets.

The two very good players by my estimation are Kyle Lowry and Louis Scola.

Lowry has gotten steadily better over these past few years and has developed into a very competent all around point guard. He is strong and quick and aware of the game. He can score inside and outside, pass the ball within the context of an offensive set, get the rebounds he should get, and play defense. Lowry was having a breakout season until he got some kind of strange intestinal bacterial infection which sidelined him indefinitely. Weird. What do you think happened. Did he allow someone to talk him into eating at Applebee’s or the Olive Garden? Seriously, why do people eat at these places. I can think of multiple Italian restaurants off the top of my head that offer exceptional pasta dishes for basically the same price as Olive Garden. Al Vento, Carmello’s and Caio Bella all come to mind. Granted you can spend a lot of money at these places but you don’t have to spend more than you would to at Olive Garden if you are careful. Sorry about the sidebar rant- just let Kyle Lowry’s story be a lesson to you. One can never be too careful.

Scola is a different kind of "very good player" than Lowry but is very good none the less. While I can see Lowry someday developing into a bonafide star, I think Scola, at this point, is who he is. That said, tell me what he does bad. I remember him as being an all around power forward with tough instincts, a nose for the ball, the ability to hit open 12-17 foot jump shots and finish around the basket. In many ways Scola is the prototypical roll playing power forward for a team trying to build around stars at other positions. He brings to the court what the Bull’s were hoping to get from Boozer, he could have stepped into the Horace Grant role and helped win those championships. I must admit that I was relieved that the Laker’s didn’t find a way to pair him with Bynum in the front court. Not that I think Scola is better than Gasol, I don’t. But I do think he might better fit what that team is currently trying to do. Scola also has a worldly air about him that makes one think that he would not eat at Applebee’s which, as we have seen with Lowry, can be an important trait. Also, I should mention that Kevin Love stepped on him, although I don’t really see how that is germane to our discussion here other than it possibly speaks to how irritating an active player like Scola can be to the opposing team.

And now for the "pretty good" and "acceptably good" players in descending order.

Reluctantly I will start off with Kevin Martin. Go and get your favorite balance and let’s weigh the pros and cons. First and foremost we will have to admit that Martin has what I have seen termed an "elite skill." He can shoot. He can shoot off the bounce, he can shot off the pass and he can shoot off balance. This, of course, is no meaningless skill in the sport of basketball. Now place this skill squarely on one side of the balance. That’s right folks, the way I remember it, this is the only item listed in the "pro" column. We can pack it in a little heavier of course because he quite good at it but still, that’s it. Now for the cons. There must be a reason that Sacramento was was willing to give him up and he has been included in trade rumors for almost his entire time in Houston. Martin doesn’t defend or rebound, doesn’t pass and can’t stay healthy. In my opinion he misses to much time and get’s paid too much to overcome his one shining ability. I say no Wolves fans, we don’t want him despite the fact that he can do something we sorely need. Conversely, I fully expect us to acquire Martin in the offseason. I may need counseling for my pessimism regarding the Wolves in the respect. Prove me wrong team Adelman, prove me wrong. (Seriously, please prove me wrong).

Now for the anti Kevin Martin- Courtney Lee. Lee may not have a a specific elite skill but, as I recall, he does have acceptable skill levels in a variety of important basketball related categories. He can shoot some, defend some, pass some and get to the rim some. I like Lee for the Timberwolves but, unfortunately, I think think that the Rockets like Lee for the Rockets. As well they should. He is a good all around complimentary and competent NBA quality wing player. Something that we have seen very little of here in Minnesota.

Now onto Marcus Camby. I should admit that I did not see one minute of Camby playing for the Houston Rockets. At least not that I recall. I am putting him here on the list based on past years performance. Camby’s career has earned the right to be listed as at least pretty good rather than as acceptably good or even left off the list entirely. If I was chronicling the Timberwolves I would put Brad Miller here out of respect. I have nothing tangible to write about Marcus Camby as a Rocket.

Next I will list Goran Dragic. Now I am really relying on memory and memory only. I liked him as Nash’s back up in Phoenix and he continued to impress me in Houston. I am remembering Dragic as being active defensively and competent at getting his team into their offensive sets. I think he shoots well enough from the outside that he cannot be left open and can occasionally make a strong move towards the basket and finish. He played well initially when Lowry went out but seemed to drop off some down the stretch run of the playoff race. I see him as a high quality back up point guard on a good team and a starting point guard on a struggling team. Think Luke Ridnour or Beno Udrih. However, I would not be surprised to be wrong on this and see Dragic emerge at some point as a competent starting player on a good team.

Samuel Dalembert. Dalembert is a classic heart breaker of an NBA center. One day he is the second coming of Dikembe Mutombo and the next day you are trying to figure out where he went. I think Dalembert has the tools to be a pretty good NBA center if he can find some consistency. I even think he was pretty good in Philly a few years back. However, for now, he seems to me to be solidly acceptable.

Last I will list Chandler Parsons and Chase Budinger. I remember Parsons an a streaky three point shooter with not much else to offer at this point in his career. I remember Budinger as having a name reminiscent of love interest in a Lisa Simpson goes to private school episode and as looking like the guy who was always picking on Napoleon Dynamite. That’s all I got.

The only other Rocket I can currently think of is Jordan Hill. A player who I do not recall being much of a factor for the Rockets and who was traded to the Lakers. I know there is another 4/5 combo player who is an occasional contributor but I can’t remember his name so, in keeping with the spirit of section one, I am leaving him out. I am also leaving the Kevin McHale factor out of this. My sense is that he is a basically average coach who does not factor in significantly one way or another. Besides, I am not sure I am a qualified basketball analyzer to get too deeply into the merits or lack there of when it comes to coaching. I believe the late season collapse that cost Houston the playoffs was primarily the result of Lowry and Martin's injuries leading to a depleted bench which was simply too much to overcome. I look forward to seeing what I can learn through traditional statistics in the next section.

First let’s enjoy something funny to lighten the mood. Please be aware that this link contains salty language.

Part Two

The Houston Rockets did not have a 2012 All-Star.

In this section I will add the benefit of what I am calling traditional statistics. My initial glance taught me several things about what I have written in section one already. First, and perhaps most importantly, pretty much anyone worth mentioning was mentioned above. One notable exception is Patrick Patterson who averaged 23 minutes in 65 games for the Rockets. Although I, like anyone likely to be reading this, pay reasonably close attention the the NBA, I must admit I cannot for the life of me remember this guy. Like I said before, memory can be tricky. I also learned that Chandler Parsons was the primary starting small forward and that the 4/5 combo I couldn’t remember was in fact Jordan Hill who I did remember. Tricky indeed.

For the sake of my own sanity I am only going to look at the 10 Rocket’s who averaged at least 20 minutes per game. This means I will not be looking closely at Jordan Hill, Earl Boykins, Terrence Williams or Jonny Flynn. I hope you will forgive me for this. There are also several other Rocket’s who I am not going to even bother mentioning that I am not mentioning, other than to point out what a huge bust Hasheem Thabeet is for making the 2012 Houston Rocket’s unmentionable list. Let’s look at the numbers shall we?

Note: I am including +/- as a traditional stat. Because I did not find this stat in a table along with the other basic stats I sought out I will list it directly after each players name. This is the players overall season +/- rather than a per game average.

Kyle Lowry +/- 43. I’m not sure traditional statistics taught me much about Lowry. If anything his numbers were slightly down from what I expected, but not by much. 6.6 assists is far from elite but it is respectable. He led the team with 1.6 steals and gathered a 4.6 rebounds which is good for a point guard. I would like his 3P% to be a little higher but it is not shameful by any means. The most telling stat, I think, for Lowry is his 47 games played. This really hurt the team. I was also surprised to see that he only started 38 of the 47 games he played in. I have to say I am confused by this. All and all I still view him as a reasonably good starting quality point guard but maybe not even at the sub elite level I was starting to think of him as being.

Luis Scola +/- 67. 15 points is fine, 6.5 rebounds per game is not good enough. I expected more truth be told. Still, 66 games played with a good FG% and reasonable FT% I still see him as what I saw before- a very good role player. Maybe not good enough to be the second best player on a playoff team however and definately not good enough to be the best player on said team as we saw down the stretch after Lowry went out.

Kevin Martin +/- -15. That was not a typo folks, there were two minuses in a row there because Martin is in the negative when it comes to +/-. I know that +/- is not a perfect stat. Far from it. It has always bothered me that player A takes a statistical hit because of something player B did or failed to do. Still I think we can agree that it is telling when your presumed star player who started all 40 of the games he played in has an overall negative(yikes injury prone to boot). Even the FG% and 3P% were not as flashy as I had been led to believe. Throw in less that 3 rebounds and assists and less than one steal, factor in 13 million guaranteed for next season and I say no thanks. I also worry that Khan is photo shopping Martin into Wolves jersey as I type this and imagining the adoration we fans will feel towards him for finally delivering us our promised star. Ugh, please no.

Courtney Lee +/- 48. Pretty good shooting and not much else. Much cheaper and more durable than Kevin Martin and my eye test bias says more versatile than Kevin Martin. Traditional statistics, however, don’t provide much evidence of that other than maybe +/- combined with a slightly higher steals per game average. I wonder if advanced stats will help.

Marcus Camby +/- 11. Only played 19 games for the Rocket’s. During this time he didn’t score much and rebounded well. Is it notable that these 19 games coincide with the late season collapse? Probably not fair to Camby to suggest that. He has a whole career for us to look at to see who he is. (or at least who he was). Is he worth the 9.2 million dollars he is guaranteed for next season? Probably not, but since it’s not my money, I would be willing to have him bring that contract over to back up Pek- not that I think it will happen but I figure I would bring this discussion back to the Wolves just for fun.

Goran Dragic +/- 71. Dragic played in all 66 games and started 28 of them. His 11. points and 5.3 assists are not that far behind Lowry’s numbers and are excellent for a back up point guard. Although it is not a bad problem to have, I think Houston does have a problem here. What would you do Wolves fans? Lowry’s bigger but still favorable contract might bring more in return, but Dragic might be the way to get out of the Kevin Martin contract. Can Dragic get the job done as a full time starter? I think he probably can but what do I know. His overall FG% is good and his 3P% is respectable. It will be interesting to see what the Rockets do.

Samuel Dalembert +/- 54. Oh foul temptress, why must you mock us so? Not much scoring and far less rebounding than I would like to see out of a starting quality center. The 1.7 blocks per game are 10th in the league and a .796 FT% is a nice touch. Still, where does he go? The center position in the league is a difficult thing which, I believe, is why we are so giddy about Pek. That and the tattoo. Damn that is a kick ass tattoo.

Patrick Patterson +/- -42. Once again negative in the overall +/-. Remember when I admitted I couldn’t remember this guy? I think the numbers tell me why this is. 7.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and nothing else of note. The most interesting stat for Patterson is that in 64 games he attempted exactly zero three point shots. I count this as a positive. I appreciate a guy who knows his game.

Chandler Parsons +/- 62. Tell me again why we didn’t need this guy? Did I read correctly that we traded his rights for cash? Cash? Come on now. I know he’s not Glen Rice but I think he could have helped us. Whoa, did I see that correctly? .551 FT%? That is not good for a would be shooter. Still, Cash? If he can get those shooting percentages up a little and rebound a little better I think he can be a pretty decent player. Does anyone know if he can defend? Traditional stats are not helpful in this regard.

Chase Budinger +/- 25. Can anyone help me learn how to tell this guy and Chandler Parsons apart? Budinger shoots better from beyond the three point line but slightly worse overall. He also pulls in one less rebound per game. From this I infer that he is a slightly less active, slightly better shooting version of Parsons. I take it back, no reason to bother trying to tell them apart. It’s like a co-worker with twins, eventually you stop trying to tell which is Kevin and which is Devin and you just nod as they explain some hilarious mix up that happened over the weekend.

Part Three

Now comes the fun part. I am going to try to sort through some advanced statistics to see if I can learn even more about a team I don’t really care about. (This really is a bizarre way to spend my time). I’m pretty sure I have already admitted that my brain is not wired for numerical analysis but I think this is worth repeating. Still, I trudge on, and I appreciate the efforts and support of those of you who are still here with me. I will again glance at the 10 Rockets I have deemed worthy of our attention. I am also going to once again take my own sanity into account by looking at only a few of the many statistics out there. My apologies in advance if I get confused along the way and accidentally claim that TS% represents cord length used in competitive Tethered Swimming.

Ralph's tethered swimming (via Gunners1403)

Specifically I am interested in TS%, TRB%, AST%, STL%, BLK%, DWS and WS/48. Additionally, since Canis Hoopus’ own vjl110 has taken the time to create his own metric I will take the time to include it here. I will not pretend to understand PA100 other than as a means to compare players to each other. I will list Offensive PA100 directly after each players name similar to the way I listed +/- above.

Before I get to the Rocket’s I am going to briefly address one of the primary problems I tend to have with Advanced Statistics. This problem is simply that I do not have an immediate understanding of what they mean. I admit freely that this problem exists with me rather than with the stats. Still, it is a problem. What I mean by this is that when I see that a player averages 17.2 points or 2.6 rebounds I have years of experience making sense of this. I can instantly weigh a variety of factors to decide if the number I am looking at reflects positively or negatively on that player. With advanced statistics I just simply do not have the history. By following this website I am likely creating such a history but it is not yet in place. What I am going to do to address this for both myself and others who may be similarly handicapped is look at three players who are not Houston Rocket’s that we can use to create a baseline understanding. For this I will choose one player that I think we can all agree is good, one player that I think we can all agree is OK and one player that I think we can all agree is not good. Hopefully this will help us.

LeBron James PA100 10.95 TS% .605 TRB% 12.6 AST% 33.6 STL % 2.6

BLK% 1.7 DWS 4.5 WS/48 .298

Danilo Gallinari PA100 3.52 TS% .563 TRB% 8.7 AST% 13.0 STL% 1.6

BLK% 1.3 DWS 1.0 WS/48 .140

Wes Johnson PA100 -4.55 TS% .477 TRB% 6.7 AST% 6.4 STL% 1.2

BLK % 2.3 DWS 1.0 WS/48 .021

I think we need a break before we get to the Rockets.

Gheorghe Muresan Cologne (via TheAlassondro)

Kyle Lowry PA100 2.82. Lowry scores out fairly well with the advanced stats, not amazing, but pretty much he seems to be who I thought he was. I especially like his steals and rebounds (he is a point guard) in comparison to our test group. I’m happy with his TS% but would like to see slightly better assist numbers. Lowry, it turns out, may not be as good as I remembered him but I think his numbers point to a solid starting NBA point guard which is nothing to be ashamed of.

Luis Scola PA100 -2.3. Right off the bat I am confused. I know that traditional statistics already proved my memory had overvalued Scola, but a negative PA100? That I did not expect. There must be something in the PA100 that does not like this type of role player. Maybe someone smarter than I about such things can help us out. Scola’s TS% seems respectable, especially given that he is willing to shoot midrange jump shots. His TRB% is not great for a starting power forward. His other numbers are pretty pedestrian and his WS/48 supports the PA100 score as it’s pretty darn low. I still see him as a reasonably good role player but I will tone down my overall exuberance about Luis Scola as a result of this experiment.

Kevin Martin PA100 2.28. I have been looking forward to this. At least Martin’s PA100 is in the positive. The most surprising thing to me is that his TS% is far from elite. Hell, it’s not even elite on his own team. Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic, and Chase Budinger all have a better TS% than Kevin Martin. My memory had led me to believe that this was the one area in which he could consistently shine. The bad news for Martin is that there is no other stat that makes up for this. In fact his 4.9 TRB% is the worst of all the Rocket’s getting at least 20 minutes per game and is almost a full 2 points lower than Wes Johnson’s. Let that sink in. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Wolves do not need to pay 13 million dollars for Kevin Martin to be overrated while playing in only half of our games next year.

Courtney Lee PA100 1.96. Lee does not exactly jump out at you does he? His stats are pretty mediocre. I’m slightly saddened by this because I wanted my secret obsession with him becoming a T-Wolf to at least have merit. I guess I still think he is well worth the money he makes, and is even worth the raise he will most assuredly get, but it’s not like he’s the second coming of James Harden. He’s Courtney Lee, he has been for a while now and he will continue to be. I would still like to see him come on over to the blue side (not that I expect this) but I will temper my internal pining.

Office Space TPS Reports (via kornfreak82187)

Marcus Camby PA100 -1.63. What can I say about Camby that we don’t already know? He is an aging version of his former self. Camby still sports respectable TBR% and BLK%‘s for a back up center but he is not going to turn a team’s fortune the way Tyson Chandler did for Dallas just one year ago.

Goran Dragic PA100 2.62. Again the advanced stats seem to back up what has already been said. Decent TS%, reasonable AST% and STL%. Dragic probably deserves a chance to start but I can’t help but wonder if he is best suited as a different look back up for a team that has a good but not great starter? A team such as, let’s say, the Houston Rockets. I like Dragic, I like his game and toughness. The numbers seem to like him just fine too. Like I said before, it will be very interesting to see where he goes from here.

Samuel Dalembert PA100 1.24. I like the BLK% but am disappointed by the TRB%. Dalembert’s WS/48 suggests he is a reasonably good NBA player and I think that he is. The problem he has, like many others, especially centers, is consistency. Still I think that overall he is an asset for the Rocket’s. I also think he would look nice backing up Pek but that’s just silly to even think about, that money is for Darko!

Alan and Jerome discuss the Knicks (via schwaboy)

Patrick Patterson PA100 -2.66. Seriously, who is this guy? Do I really have to look at this? We all know that if it weren’t for Kevin Martin’s persistent injuries Patterson would have averaged less than 20 minutes and I wouldn’t even be including him. Other than PA100 and WS/48 his numbers are eerily similar to Wes Johnson’s. Do you think Wes and Patrick go out for a boring meal together after the game to discuss how much better it is to make millions of dollars being not very good at their job than it would be to make thousands of dollars being amazing at their job like all of us? I bet they do.

Chandler Parsons PA100 -0.07. I can’t remember, is this Kevin or Devin? The TS% is encouraging but nothing else jumps out. I think you can win with a player like this but I’m quite sure you can lose with a player like this as well. Parsons is neither the solution or the problem. Actually he had a nice rookie year for a second round pick that was traded for cash so it will be interesting to see if he can get any better.

Chase Budinger PA100 -0.09. Ok, I admit that I am getting lazy here but what do you want me to say? Look at the numbers comparing Budinger to Parsons- it’s uncanny. Parson’s does slightly better in everything other than TS% and WS/48 where Budinger is slightly better. The optimal word in all this is slightly. They really should cut one of them loose just to avoid confusion.


One of the main things I learned from this assignment was that I am glad that I am no longer in school. That said, I did have some fun but I am glad to be done with it. But enough about me. What did I learn about using statistics for basketball analysis and what did I learn about the Houston Rockets?

I’ll start with the Rockets. The main thing I think I learned is that they are a very boring team. I feel that I can honestly say the most interesting player on the team is the back up point guard. That cannot be a good thing. The primary problem for the Rockets is that they are stuck in that dreaded middle ground. Good enough to fight for a low playoff seed but not good enough to be a factor in the playoffs. They are a team with some solid role players but no real stars. Anyone who follows the NBA knows that this is a serious problem. A team needs at least one, and preferably two or three, stars to win in the NBA. So what should the Rockets do? Without digging to deeply into salary cap issues and such I have to say I suggest they make every effort to bring in a player who can give this team a focused identity. I would continue to explore the Pau Gasol angle (unless that is already solidly dead which it may well be). I do think they need an upgrade at the power forward, at least in terms of versatility. Honestly if I were them, and the Gasol flirtation is over, I would call Minnesota and dangle all manners of Kevin Martin and filler at the Wolves in an attempt to snag Derrick Williams. I think I have made it clear I am hopeful that we will not go for such a trade but my opinions should not stop the Rockets from trying. Could Martin and Budinger get it done? I really hope not but one never knows what Khan will do. What about Martin and Dalembert? Lee and Dalembert? Lee and Camby? Ok, I’ll move on. Houston needs an upgrade somewhere. Like too many teams they probably need it most on the wing unless the can find a way to bring in a power forward who can bang inside and shoot from distance to stretch the floor. Personally I hope they continue to dabble in mid level player shifting causing them to stay stuck for years to come. Our Wolves need a few teams to drop off in the West and Houston seems to me like a good place to start.

Now on to what I learned about statistics. First, and unsurprisingly, I learned that pure memory cannot be trusted. At least not mine. My brain is all filled up with song lyrics, falling home prices, dreams about exciting travel destinations and concerns that my lovely three year old daughter might someday become a teenager. No, memory is not adequate. How about memory plus traditional statistics? I think that this probably was a good start. Supplementing my memory with some actual facts is often useful even if those facts are limited in scope. It was helpful, if not disappointing, to find out that Luis Scola averages less than seven rebounds per game. As for advanced stats. I think that, for me, this mostly just furthered what I had found through traditional stats. It was helpful but not transcendently so. I must emphasize, however, that this has more to do with me and how I was able to process this information than it does with the numbers themselves. In order to really make use of advanced statistics I think I will need to gain more experience with them. In fact this assignment was extremely helpful in that regard. Although I may not have learned a ton more about the Rockets, I think I did learn more about the process of using statistics to analyze basketball players. This should prove useful to me in the future. Already I regret some omissions I made as I looked at this. Specifically I regret not including TOV% and USG% in my query.

Anyway- that’s all I have about the Houston Rockets. I admit I will probably look at them differently next season although I cannot say it will be with increased fondness.

Before I sign out I need to thank the good folks at Basketball Reference. This website is freaking amazing. Holy crap do they compile a lot of information.