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The Rockets won't have Yao, but they return several players coming off above-average seasons.
Jeff Gross/NBAE/Getty Images

StatsCube: Rockets have reason for optimism in post-Yao era

Posted Dec 2 2011 7:03AM

To get ready for the 2011-12 season, StatsCube breaks down the critical numbers for all 30 teams.

After playing just five games in the last two seasons, Yao Ming has retired. Now, the Houston Rockets have to move on without the man they drafted No. 1 just nine years ago, as well as the coach -- Rick Adelman -- who led them to the conference semifinals in 2009 and kept them together despite continuously dealing with injuries.


Even with Yao playing only five games, the Rockets managed to post back-to-back winning seasons and last season, they were actually better than their record. Sporting a good amount of cap space this summer, the Rockets have a reason for optimism.

2010-11 Basics
Pace: 96.9 (7)
OffRtg: 108.0 (6)
106.2 (18)
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions

Despite a lack of top-line talent, and despite ranking just 21st in field goal percentage, the Rockets had one of the most potent offenses in the league. And it was the third-most improved offense from the previous season, behind two teams that underwent serious roster upgrades.

Most improved offenses (OffRtg)

Team 2009-10 Rank 2010-11 Rank Diff.
Miami 104.5 19 109.3 3 +4.7
Chicago 100.8 28 105.5 12 +4.7
Houston 104.5 18 108.0 6 +3.5
New York 105.2 15 108.3 5 +3.2
Oklahoma City 105.8 12 108.6 4 +2.8

The Rockets ranked ninth in 3-point percentage, 11th in offensive rebounding percentage and 14th in free throw rate. But the thing they did best was take care of the ball, turning it over just 13.8 times per 100 possessions (the second-lowest rate in the league).

Of the top 50 players in usage rate, Luis Scola and Kevin Martin had two of the 11 lowest turnover rates. Starting point guard Kyle Lowry also had a relatively low rate.

But creating turnovers were one of the Rockets' problems. They forced just 14.0 turnovers per 100 possessions, the sixth-lowest rate in the league. Houston also was a poor defensive rebounding team, and its transition defense was lacking as well, with their opponents' fast-break points disproportionate to the amount of live-ball turnovers they committed.

Coming up short in 'clutch'

The Rockets had a below-average defense and were just four games over .500, but they outscored their opponents by 1.8 points per 100 possessions. Statistically, they were seventh best in the Western Conference (better than Portland and New Orleans) and the 11th-best team in the league. But their point differential did not match their record, in part because 31 of their 39 losses came by 10 points or less.

Though they had the sixth-best offense overall, the Rockets had just the 22nd-best offense in "clutch time" (the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with a score differential of five points or less). Their biggest drop-off was from the 3-point line, where they shot just 23-for-102 (22.5 percent).

The only Rocket who shot threes decently in clutch time last season was Shane Battier, who was dealt at last seasons trade deadline to the Grizzlies.

Rockets clutch 3-point shooting

Player 3PM 3PA 3PT%
Kevin Martin 5 22 22.7%
Kyle Lowry 4 21 19.0%
Shane Battier 6 16 37.5%
Brad Miller 2 13 15.4%
Aaron Brooks 2 12 16.7%
Chase Budinger 2 8 25.0%
Courtney Lee 2 8 25.0%
Other 0 2 0.0%
Some solid combinations

Houston's 102 3-point attempts make for a pretty small sample size, and you could argue that the Rockets would have made the playoffs had they had a little more luck in close games. If you see the glass as half full, you disregard the standings and focus on the point differential.

The team's plus-minus numbers are more reason for optimism. The six Rockets who started at least 20 games last season all had a net plus-minus of plus-109 or better and all finished in the league's top 75 in that category. Lowry was the only player on a non-playoff team in the top 30 in raw plus-minus, ranking 22nd at plus-309.

Further, the Rockets had nine lineups that played at least 60 minutes, and eight of the nine had a positive plus-minus. Their two most-used lineups were both very strong.

Rockets' most-used lineups

Lineup GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Lowry, Martin, Battier, Scola, Hayes 44 796 96.3 113.4 104.5 +8.9 +156
Lowry, Martin, Budinger, Scola, Hayes 24 298 97.7 114.8 104.4 +10.3 +61
Lowry, Martin, Battier, Scola, Hill 31 200 96.6 97.9 104.9 -7.0 -26
Lowry, Martin, Battier, Scola, Miller 18 145 97.4 108.7 104.2 +4.5 +28
Lowry, Martin, Lee, Scola, Hayes 17 115 96.9 117.6 111.7 +5.9 +8

All five lineups above include Lowry, Martin and Scola. And the three best include Chuck Hayes, the 6-foot-6 center. In 1,229 minutes with those four on the floor together, the Rockets outscored their opponents by 8.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only two four-man combinations -- one from the Celtics and one from the Lakers -- were better than Lowry, Martin, Scola and Hayes in as many minutes. And of the 107 four-man combinations that played at least 500 minutes together, only three were better offensively than the Rockets' group.

Highest offensive efficiency, four-man combinations

Team Combination GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg EffDiff +/-
DAL Kidd, Terry, Nowitzki, Chandler 60 522 93.8 116.4 99.7 +16.7 +202
LAL Fisher, Artest, Odom, Gasol 75 972 94.1 114.3 100.8 +13.5 +270
MIA Arroyo, Wade, James, Bosh 38 673 93.1 114.2 98.5 +15.7 +198
HOU Lowry, Martin, Scola, Hayes 59 1229 96.6 113.9 105.4 +8.5 +214
LAC Davis, Gomes, Griffin, Jordan 39 617 94.9 113.8 106.8 +7.0 +98
Minimum 500 minutes

Lowry and Hayes brought some defense to the group. When the two were on the floor together, the Rockets allowed just 104.1 points per 100 possessions, which was better than the league average. Also neither was an offensive liability, with the Rockets scoring 112.2 points per 100 possessions in their 1,627 minutes together.

The only two-man combinations with a better NetRtg than Lowry and Hayes (+8.1) in at least 1,500 minutes of playing time came from the Celtics, Bulls, Mavericks, Lakers, Heat, Magic or Spurs. The next best two-man combination on a non-playoff team (other than the Rockets) was Steve Nash and Channing Frye, who were a plus-6.0 per 100 possessions in 1,899 minutes for the Suns.

Stumbling over a few hills

Of course, if you failed to make the playoffs with several effective players in your starting lineup, you must have had some ineffective players coming off your bench.

For the Rockets, Jordan Hill was the lineup killer. Hill was a minus-149 in 1,124 minutes, with the Rockets scoring just 103.1 points per 100 possessions and allowing 109.8 when he was on the floor.

The two teammates Hill played the most minutes with were Chase Budinger and Courtney Lee. The three-man combo of Budinger, Lee and Hill were a minus-65 in 447 minutes together, but Budinger and Lee were a plus-129 in 589 minutes without Hill.

Aaron Brooks, who the Rockets traded at the deadline, was also a serious defensive liability. Houston allowed over 113 points per 100 possessions when Brooks was on the floor, a serious drop-off from the solid Lowry.

The McHale effect: What will it be?

After agreeing to part ways with Rick Adelman, the Rockets hired Kevin McHale to be their new head coach, even though he has just two partial seasons of head coaching experience under his belt.

Because he's never had the opportunity to run a training camp, it's hard to determine what kind of effect McHale will have on the Rockets. When he took over for Flip Saunders in February of 2005, the Wolves improved defensively, but regressed offensively. And when he took over for Randy Wittman in December of 2008, they improved offensively, but regressed defensively.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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