The Houston Rockets have put up some interesting statistics this season, both as a team and individually. While numbers don't always tell the whole story, a few of these stats are particularly interesting.
The Rockets have improved mightily from the team that crept into the playoffs last year to holding down the fourth spot in the Western Conference this season. Through 67 games in 2013-14, Houston has already matched the 45 wins they notched during 2012-13.
Houston's success is due, in large part, to their dynamic offense (106.4 points per game, third in the NBA) and effectiveness on the glass (45.1 rebounds per game, sixth-best in the league). However, when you take a deeper look at the team, those aren't the only numbers that jump out at you.
Here are four statistics from Houston's season so far that caught my attention.
1. Houston's Impressive Record versus the Eastern Conference
In truth, it doesn't take much for one of the Western Conference's best teams to impose its will on their inferior peers from the East. Regardless, Houston's 20-5 record is still pretty impressive for a team that is a work in progress.
What makes that mark even more astounding is none of the team's five losses to the East came at home. The Rockets even had a stretch from Mar. 4 to Mar. 7 where they pulled off victories against the East's top two teams, Miami and Indiana.
The Heat got their revenge on Mar. 16, but the Rockets gave the defending champs all it could handle before suffering a 113-104 loss to LeBron James and Co.
Now, Houston's dominance against the East will have greater significance if the team can make the NBA Finals this season. Still, the fact that the Rockets have a better win percentage against the other conference than the three teams ahead of them (Oklahoma City 20-6, San Antonio 22-6, Los Angeles Clippers 19-9) in the standings is a nice feather to have in their cap.
2. Terrence Jones' 2013-14 Season
Power forward Terrence Jones has made such a huge leap in his second season that he deserved his own section in this article. After initially sitting behind Omer Asik to start the season, Jones emerged as one of the league's biggest surprises and established himself as the power forward the team has been missing.
Sure, there isn't anything eye-popping about averaging 11.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, but Jones' numbers go beyond that. For starters, those averages more than double his output from his debut last season (5.5 points, 3.4 boards).
Next, there's the 16 double-doubles the former Kentucky star has put up this season. That number is better than the likes of Indiana's Roy Hibbert (14), Detroit's Josh Smith (11) and even Miami's LeBron James (10).
Jones has also improved the range on his jumper. While not a consistent threat from beyond the arc, Jones has upped his downtown conversion rate from 26 percent to 33 percent. That's not exactly Ryan Anderson territory, but it's a nice start.
The 22-year-old is also getting it done on the other end of the court as well. His 1.3 blocks per game isn't far behind three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard's team-leading mark of 1.8 swats a night. In fact, Jones only trails the two-time leader in total blocks by 40 in that category (119 to 79).
The big obstacle for Jones going forward will be consistency. After a monster January (15.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.4 blocks in 12 games), Jones has come back down to Earth a little the last two months. He did have his best performance in awhile by dropping 30 points, five rebounds and four blocks in a win against the Utah Jazz on Mar. 17.
On paper, Jones' 2013-14 season may not look like much, but the numbers are pretty solid for a kid that took over the starting job two weeks into the season and is the fourth or fifth option on the floor most nights.
What's even scarier is he's only going to get better.
3. Houston's Gaudy Three-Point and Free-Throw Attempt Totals
At first glance, it seems rather odd that a team that is so reliant on shooting threes is also very effective at getting to the charity stripe. Yet, the Houston Rockets manage to lead the league in both three-point and free-throw attempts.
The reason for both is pretty obvious. The Rockets roster is loaded with shooters from infamous chuckers like guard James Harden and forward Chandler Parsons to slick-shooting big men like Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones.
Even center Dwight Howard has gotten into the habit by going 2-for-6 from behind the arc. In total, the Rockets have shot 1,730 three-pointers this season. They are one of three teams in the 1,700 club (Portland and Atlanta being the other two).
Golden State, which is led by the game's best shooter in Stephen Curry, has taken 46 less attempts from downtown than Houston.
The most startling fact about Houston's obsession with the three-ball is that they only convert 35 percent as a team. Parsons has been the best shooter currently on the roster, hitting 37 percent of his threes. Harden, unsurprisingly, has shot the most threes with an average of 6.5 a night.
For his efforts, "The Beard" is shooting 35 percent from deep. Point guard Patrick Beverley, whose 4.3 three-point attempts per contest is third-highest on the team, matches the number of his backcourt mate.
As for the team's standing at the free-throw line, the reason behind that is two-fold. First, when Harden isn't launching threes, he's one of the best in the NBA at attacking the basket and drawing fouls. He averages 8.6 free-throw attempts per game, which is fourth-best in the NBA.
The other reason is center Dwight Howard. D12's inability to knock down freebies has made him a target for fouls practically his entire career. Howard averages 9.2 free-throw attempts per game (second only to Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant) and he hasn't exactly made teams pay for sending him to the line.
While his 55 percent from the charity stripe is his best output since the 2010-11 season with Orlando, it's still pretty bad. Among qualified players, Howard has the fourth-worst free-throw percentage in the league.
As a team, the Rockets have shot 2,083 free throws. The Los Angeles Clippers are the only other team to surpass the 2,000-attempt mark. Sacramento is third, but they have a lot of catching up to do at 1,870 attempts.
In the foreseeable future, Houston will continue to get the brunt of their offense from living on the perimeter and at the free-throw line. The reasoning behind the strategy isn't as galling as the actual totals, especially when compared to other teams in the league.
4. Omer Asik's Defense
It shouldn't come as a surprise that one of the best defensive big men in the league is good at, you know, playing defense. However, Omer Asik's defense this year has been particularly impressive when you consider how the first four months of the season started.
Asik spent the early part of the year desperately wanting out of Houston due to the arrival of Dwight Howard and frustration over the Turkish center's new role. The team tried to play Asik and Howard together in the starting lineup, but it didn't work very well.
From there, Terrence Jones stepped in at power forward and the rest is history. By December, general manager Daryl Morey was shopping his disgruntled 7-footer, but couldn't find a deal to his liking. The February trade deadline passed and Asik was still with the Rockets.
Meanwhile, Asik was dealing with thigh and knee injuries that would keep him out for two months. When he returned just before the deadline, it was clear he was still trying to get his legs under him.
Despite all of that, Asik has still managed to be a brick wall to opponents who dare try to score on him. According to 82games.com, opponents are shooting just 45.2 percent against the 27-year-old. For a better perspective for how great that is, check out how he stacks up in comparison to other top rim protectors:
|Effective Field-Goal Percentage Allowed By Top Defenders|
Now, if you want to say the numbers are skewed by Asik only appearing in 34 games this season, suit yourself. However, if there ever was a time where Asik would be vulnerable on the defensive end, wouldn't it be during a season where he's been aloof, injured and slightly out of shape?
Think about it. Asik's numbers are down across the board this year. He's averaging 4.3 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, which are even below his lowly career averages of 5.3 points and 6.9 rebounds a night. He's even shooting under 50 percent from the field (48 percent).
This isn't the same guy that averaged a double-double as a starter last season (10.1 points, 11.7 rebounds) and, yet, he's put a manhole cover on the rim this season.
In Houston's recent clash with Utah on St. Patrick's Day, Asik filled in for the injured Dwight Howard (ankle sprain) and looked close to his old self again. He finished with his first double-double of the season (12 points, 11 rebounds) and threw in a block for good measure.
After the game, teammate James Harden had this to say about the big guy, according to the Houston Chronicle: "We have a really good backup center. We know what he can do. He did it all of last year. I wasn't surprised."
The big test will be if Asik stays motivated once Howard returns to the starting lineup. If he continues to commit himself to the team, life is only going to get harder for opposing offenses. Still, the fact that Asik has managed to salvage a nightmare season by sticking with his bread and butter is definitely eye-opening.
As impressive as these statistics may be, the only number that matters is 16. That's the number of playoff wins Houston will need to bring home an NBA championship. The gaudy stats are nice to look at, but without that title, it's all just filler.