Preview: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets
Previous meeting: Spurs won 114-92
OffRtg: Spurs 106.7, Rockets 103.0
DefRtg: Spurs 98.2, Rockets 104.2
NetRtg: Spurs 8.5, Rockets -1.1
There are many different styles through which to build a successful basketball program, though the one common thread between champions is that each picks a style–a culture really–that generally begins at the top of the organization and permeates throughout.
In general manager Daryl Morey and franchise player James Harden the Houston Rockets have the foundation for such a culture in place.
Houston hired Morey to bring a statistical perspective to the basketball court, an effort to crack the magical mathematical formula to basketball’s success. Offensively the most efficient shots are those taken at the rim (highest percentage shot), three-pointers (largest return on investment), or free throws. Building a game plan around attempting and preventing these two shots theoretically offers a team its best chance for victory.
In James Harden the Houston Rockets boast a star whose offensive game generates each of these three shots in bunches while eschewing almost everything else.
Already Harden is proving to have a profound effect on these Rockets, who have adopted their franchise player’s tendencies. The Rockets attempt 27.2 three-pointers a game, second to only the New York Knicks. According to Hoopdata.com, through December 3, the Rockets are also second in shots attempted at the rim with 32.1 per game and attempt the fourth most free throws with 25.4 per game.
Every shot in between Houston practically ignores, ranking 22nd, 29th, and 30th in shots taken from 3-9 feet, 10-15 feet, and 16-22 feet range.
In theory the Rockets shot selection should eventually lead to a dangerously potent offense, and to that point they already rank 10th in the league in offensive efficiency with a rating of 103.
I say in theory because though they are choosing their shots well, they’ve struggled converting them–they’re merely tied with Phoenix for the 16th best three-point shooting team percentage-wise and finish at the rim at a percentage slightly below the league average.
Defensively these Spurs are perfectly suited to handle such tendencies. Though the Spurs have been just middling in preventing shots at the rim, they’ve been superb in defending them once taken, holding teams to below the league average at 59 percent.
As always Popovich teams rarely foul, and this season the Spurs are absolutely stifling three-point attempts.
Meanwhile, though the Rockets do well to keep shots away from the rim they allow three-pointers in bunches and remain quite vulnerable to teams capable of spacing their defense out and moving the ball around.
In their first meeting the Spurs simply picked Houston apart, breaking their defense down until ultimately Matt Bonner was able to do this:
Tonight’s game could hinge on the Rockets ability to find efficient shots versus the Spurs ability to force opposing offenses to move towards their third or fourth options.
Given that Harden is currently struggling with a tweaked ankle, and the Rockets inability to convert enough shots to truly make the Spurs defense pick a poison in pick and rolls, the math favors the Spurs.