The Houston Rockets have more advantages than what's on the surface in the 2012-13 playoffs. These hidden advantages should help to give Houston a fighting chance against the tougher teams of the Western Conference.
As the No. 7 seed, the Rockets will play the West's No. 2 seed in the first-round of the playoffs. That team is currently the Oklahoma City Thunder, though they are just 0.5 games behind the San Antonio Spurs for the top spot in the conference. The Rockets will have to capitalize on every little advantage they have if they want to pull off the first-round upset.
Several of Houston's advantages are obvious. For starters, they have a superstar in James Harden that can take over games. Their offense also ranks amongst the top in the NBA (106.0 points per game), and their bench has the depth necessary to succeed.
It's the hidden advantages that will give the Rockets an edge in the playoffs, though.
Greg Smith and Patrick Beverley
As good as Harden and Chandler Parsons have been offensively this season, Greg Smith and Patrick Beverley have gone relatively unnoticed in terms of their scoring abilities.
Their offensive ratings (ORtg) have been off the charts. Actually, Smith's ORtg (125.7) and Beverley's ORtg (115.7) rank first and third on the team, respectively (Harden's ORtg of 117.7 ranks second).
Offensive rating is simply the number of points a player would score per 100 possessions. This statistic has to do with a player's scoring efficiency (though that is also it's own statistic), though it is effective because it neglects how many minutes a player plays per contest.
Smith and Beverley have been stellar off the bench for Houston. Both players have different roles on the team, even though each player averages under 17.0 minutes per game.
Smith, a low-post player, has been incredibly efficient this season. His player efficiency rating (PER) of 16.2 ranks third on the team. His field-goal percentage of 62.5 is tops on the team. Smith has been invaluable because of the production he gives the team either starting at power forward or spelling Omer Asik at center.
Beverley, the team's No. 2 point guard, is generally praised for his perimeter defense. He's been quite good offensively as well.
This will surprise many people. He's shooting just 39.7 percent from the floor and 38 percent from deep. That doesn't matter, though. He's actually an efficient scorer and is a good replacement for Jeremy Lin when he's on the bench.
Having strong role players coming off the bench is a huge advantage for Houston. While they won't be playing many minutes, Smith and Beverley will be a part of the regular rotation. In the playoffs, every minute is a big minute. Their production will not go unnoticed, but it may not be recognized until after a game or two.
Not Allowing Many Offensive Rebounds
Rebounding in general is a relative advantage for the Rockets. They are ninth in the NBA with 43.3 rebounds per game and a differential of plus-two. That can be seen by simply viewing the stat sheet, however. The Rockets' hidden advantage in rebounding comes from digging a little deeper.
As a team, Houston doesn't grab all that many offensive boards. Their mark of 11.1 puts them 17th in the league. They allow just 10.4 offensive boards per game, however, and this is good enough for fourth-lowest in the NBA.
This is almost entirely because of Omer Asik's dominance on the glass. Asik is the NBA's second-leading rebounder with 11.6 per game. His ability to box out defenders and prevent them from getting second-chance opportunities has been one of the lone bright spots for Houston's defense.
Houston's ability to limit second-chance opportunities for their opponents will prove valuable in the playoffs. Teams like the Thunder and the Spurs cannot be given second chances at scoring. They are almost certain to capitalize on those opportunities given their skills on offense.
Asik can't be the only guy working hard down low, though. Smith, Donatas Motiejunas and Thomas Robinson all have to work to box out their assignments and prevent them from getting position under the glass. Even the "little" guys need to box out their assignments, especially those on the perimeter.
Jump-shooting teams often produce longer rebounds. Allowing opposing guards to grab those long boards can kill the Rockets (or any team, for that matter) going forward.
James Harden's Willingness to Dish the Ball
The ball is in James Harden's hands a lot—28.61 percent of the time he's on the floor, to be exact. While his primary job is to score (obviously), he's also done a nice job distributing the ball to his teammates.
On the season, he sports an assist percentage (AST%) of 25.75. This means that Harden has assisted on nearly 26 percent of the shots made by his teammates per game. He averages 5.89 assists per game, just below Lin's team-leading 6.08.
Harden's willingness to pass gives the Rockets an element that's different from other teams with big-name superstars. Generally speaking, superstars look to shoot much more often than they look to pass. Harden has recognized open teammates this season and that has resulted in his high assist percentage.
Which of these advantages will be the most prevalent for Houston?
Harden's skills at orchestrating the offense will be important to the success of the Rockets in the playoffs. One scorer can't get it done, so he'll have to look to Chandler Parsons, Asik and Lin to help on the offensive end.
If Harden continues to set up his teammates like he has thus far, the Rockets can use that to their advantage.
*Note: All advanced statistics from basketball.realgm.com.*