Top 10 Hawks Matchups – #6: Rockets Come to Atlanta

Wednesday, August 21, 2013
By Robby Kalland

Houston Rockets v Atlanta Hawks

The Rockets were able to lure Dwight Howard to Houston this summer and now look to be one of the most formidable teams in the Western Conference. Their lone visit to Atlanta on Jan. 10 is the sixth game in our schedule countdown.

Last year, the Rockets finished seventh in the Western Conference with a 45-37 record before losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Houston added Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin in free agency and then James Harden via trade with the Thunder prior to the beginning of last season, which laid the foundation for their moves this offseason. Adding Howard this offseason gives the Rockets an elite interior presence on both ends of the floor to compliment the explosive Harden on the perimeter. The Rockets also added Omri Casspi, Marcus Camby and draft pick Isaiah Canaan for added depth.

The Rockets’ offense relied heavily on spot-up shot attempts (23.73%) and pick-and-roll (18.22%) last season with very few post-up attempts (4.3%), per Synergy Sports. While spot-up attempts and pick-and-roll should continue to make the majority of the Rockets’ half-court offense, the addition of Howard will undoubtedly make post-ups a larger portion of their offense. Last season the Rockets were 26th in the NBA with just 0.73 PPP on post-up attempts. 45.2% of Howard’s offense came out of post-ups last season, but he averaged just 0.74 PPP on 44.5% shooting out of the post. The Rockets will be hoping that, in a new system and with a full offseason to get healthy, Howard can be more effective and efficient in the post this season.

Harden’s proficiency as a pick-and-roll ball-handler should also be enhanced by Howard’s presence as the primary roll-man compared to Asik. The Rockets had the best pick-and-roll offense when the ball-handler finished, averaging 0.87 PPP, led by Harden who averaged 1.00 PPP on pick-and-roll plays last year. They were 10th in the NBA at 1.03 PPP when their roll-man finished off of pick-and-roll last year, with Asik averaging 1.00 PPP. Howard, however, was dominant as a roll-man last season averaging 1.29 PPP, good for ninth in the NBA.

The impact Howard has on the offensive end of the floor will be immense due to the lack of production they got out of the center position last year. Howard’s defensive pedigree is well known, and his mere presence in the paint will cause offenses to attack the Rockets differently. Howard is not quite the same kind of shot-blocker he once was (he still protects the rim very well), but he’s become a more complete defender overall. This is shown by his great post-up defense where he held opponents to just 0.58 PPP, good for eighth best in the NBA.

The Rockets will provide one of the toughest tests of the year for the Hawks with their size in the paint with Asik and Howard along with Harden’s speed on the perimeter. The Rockets caused problems for the Hawks last year as they beat Atlanta in both meetings. The Hawks will have to be creative to draw Howard and Asik out of the paint, but have the personnel to do it with Al Horford and Paul Millsap, who can stretch the floor to create driving lanes for the guards. Atlanta will also have to find a way to better contain Harden, who caused the Hawks serious problems as he put up 73 combined points in the two meetings last year. Slowing down the pick-and-roll will be the top priority for the Hawks defense against the Rockets, and will be the key to their success in containing Harden.

Both meetings last year were high-scoring, entertaining affairs and this year’s contests figure to be the same, which is why the Jan. 10 meeting finds its way to number six on our countdown. The Hawks will hope that the end results in this years meetings will go in their favor.

Previously in the Top 10 countdown:

10. Opening Night in Dallas
9. Knicks’ First Visit To Philips
8. Clippers Come To Atlanta
7. Drew and Pachulia’s Return to Atlanta

Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

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