The Houston Rockets and their general manager, Daryl Morey, have arguably gone deeper into the analytics hole than anyone. Possibly they’ve gone too far.
The Rockets are dead last in mid-range field goals made and percentage. It’s one thing to not make the shots because you’re taking the best shots, but it’s another to not be able to. The Rockets aren’t just getting fewer mid-range shots. They have less than half of what anyone else in the NBA has.
They are thoroughly locked into the analytic notion that shots should come from behind the outer arc or inside the inner arc. The two most efficient areas of the court are the three, particularly from the baseline, and the shots inside the restricted area.
It's all true, but only to a point. And sometimes, analysts can get overly myopic on that interpretation.
The concern is that Houston may be avoiding good long twos to take bad three-point shots or bad shots at the rim. If you force challenged shots from efficient areas and bypass open shots from inefficient areas, you might be doing what you're trying to avoid doing.
Now, I know that’s not supposed to be possible. But it is. New tracking data made available from SportVU made available at NBA.com indicates that how a shot is made can make as much difference as where it’s made from.
Allow me a slight tangent using Stephen Curry as an example to illustrate. I use Curry, because he's probably the best pure shooter in the league.
The best catch-and-shoot player in the NBA is Kyle Korver, who has an effective field-goal percentage of .714 on such plays. Curry is second with .690.
Curry also has the best pull-up jumper in the game, but his effective field-goal percentage is only .534 on those plays. On drives, where there are no three-point shots, he shoots .516. That’s a difference of a percentage of .174 between drives and catch-and-shoots.
Curry also has a field-goal percentage of .509 on two-point shots and an effective field-goal percentage of .636 on three-point shots. That’s a difference of .127.
Curry is the best shooter in the game, and even with him, the type of shot he takes makes a bigger difference than where he shoots from.
So with Houston, where are all those open mid-range shots?
The absence of the mid-range is why the Rockets lose when they're not scoring from deep. When they shoot over .300 from deep, they’re outstanding, going 41-13 in such games. However, when they shoot .300 or lower, they are only 13-14.
Sooner or later in the playoffs, you have to face a great defense that closes out hard on threes and challenges shots. What happens to Houston when it faces one of those teams? Does the offense have the versatility to adapt to what the defense is doing and make it defend the mid-range? If not, Houston has a problem.
The Rockets face the Trail Blazers, who gave up the second-fewest threes. They will probably face the Spurs, who gave up the fewest threes, in the second round. And while the Rockets have Dwight Howard in the post, it's questionable whether he has the skills to carry an offense and set up the outside shot by his inside play.
The Rockets could be in for an early exit, and if they are, Morey will have to re-evaluate his entire plan.