Scouting Report: Houston Rockets

Thursday, January 9, 2014
By Robby Kalland

Houston Rockets v Atlanta Hawks

The Houston Rockets (23-13) will bring their high-powered offense led by James Harden and Dwight Howard to Atlanta to face the Hawks (19-17) on Friday night. The Rockets are fourth in the NBA in points per game (105.8) and offensive rating (109.3).

The Rockets, who are on the forefront of using analytics to shape their play on the court, put their focus on getting shots at the rim and three-pointers, the two most efficient shots on the court. 74.5% of Houston’s shot attempts this season have been in the restricted area or from three-point range, and another 10.4% of their shots are taken inside eight feet (but not in the restricted area). The Rockets commitment to getting their shot attempts in these areas has led to the third best effective field goal percentage in the NBA (53%) despite ranking only 24th in three-point percentage (34.2%).

Harden is the catalyst for the Rockets’ offense and is the source of 27.9% of the Rockets’ offense when he is on the court. Harden is coming off of three consecutive 30 point games, bringing his points per game total up to 24.9. Harden creates a lot of problems for defenses  by being able to shoot the three effectively off the dribble and his tremendous ability to attack the rim. Harden attempts 6.4 drives per game and shoots 50.5% driving to the basket, but also has a knack for getting to the foul line. Harden attempts 9.1 free throws per game, and shoots 84.7% from the charity stripe.

Howard’s presence in the paint has been huge for the Rockets’ offense, which lacked a quality scoring option in the post last season. Howard is averaging 17.8 points and 12.9 rebounds per game this season, and gets his looks in three-main ways: pick-and-roll, post-ups, and dump-offs. The Rockets’ offense is very pick-and-roll heavy, and Howard excels rolling to the rim and is a big threat to receive lobs off of the pick-and-roll. In the post, Howard is a strong player that can shoot with either hand on the block and, despite criticisms to the contrary, has a number of effective post moves.

Along with Howard and Harden, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin have been big parts of the Rockets’ offensive success. Parsons is third on the team with 17.2 points per game, and is a terrific spot-up three-point shooter and can handle the ball off the dribble very well for his size. Parsons is in the top 25 in the NBA in drives per game at 6.6 and shoots a terrific 54.8% on drives. Lin is eighth in the NBA with 8.3 drives per game, and shoots 57.6% on those drives (3rd in the NBA among players averaging 4.5+ drives per game). Lin’s resurgence this season after a difficult first season in Houston has been critical to the overall success of the Rockets.

While the Rockets’ offense is one of the best in the league, they are not a strong defensive team. Harden is a notoriously poor defender that has a bad habit of ball-watching and being out of position. Lin is not a terrific defensive point guard, and Terrence Jones, who has been great this season for Houston on the whole, is a very solid help defender but is still young and learning how to defend larger power forwards. Howard is the anchor of the Rockets’ defense, and his presence in the paint can negate many of the mistakes that they make on the perimeter.

The Hawks will have to counter Howard’s defensive presence much like they did against Roy Hibbert and the Pacers on Wednesday night, when they were able to draw him out of the lane by spacing the floor with Pero Antic. If the Hawks can have similar success shooting from the perimeter (the Rockets allow opponents to shoot 35.4% from three-point range), then they can open up driving lanes for Jeff Teague to attack Lin and the Rockets porous perimeter defense.

Defensively, the Hawks will be challenged to keep Harden away from the rim and off of the free throw line. In doing so, the Hawks will have to get great defensive effort from their guards to stay in front of Harden (and Lin) to avoid having to help off of the Rockets’ shooters that will be spacing the floor on the three-point line. The Hawks’ confidence is high after a win over the NBA’s best team, the Indiana Pacers, on Wednesday, and they’ll need that same effort and energy if they are to get their second straight impressive win on Friday.

Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

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