• Print


Tuesday February 1, 2011 9:57 AM

Stealth No More


Chuck Hayes leaving no doubt about value to the team

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com

LOS ANGELES - The invisibility cloak has come off. The secret is out. Chuck Hayes is the Rockets’ stealth MVP no more.

Quibble all you want about the identity of Houston’s most valuable player through the club’s first 49 games; strong cases can certainly be made for Luis Scola, Kevin Martin and Kyle Lowry, and let’s face it, the notion of MVP has always been difficult to define and open to interpretation. What should not be up for debate, however, is the fact that Hayes deserves a prominent place in the discussion, too.

In his sixth season in the NBA, the Chuckwagon has taken his game to new heights, as he’s on track for establishing career highs in points, blocks, field goal and free throw percentage, assists and PER. But impressive as that might be, it’s another set of numbers that truly reflects precisely how important Hayes has become in Houston. The Rockets’ record when Hayes is in the starting lineup: 17-13. Their mark when he’s either coming off the bench or unavailable due to injury: 5-14.That’s one heck of a trump card for the California native’s candidacy.

The fact of the matter is that Hayes’ value to his team has never been clearer. And if he’s not the Rockets’ most valuable player, he may very well be their most indispensable because there’s simply no one else on the roster who can do the things he does on the defensive end.

Despite being woefully undersized at the center position, Hayes is Houston’s defensive anchor in the low post. His combination of quick feet, intelligence and a base that’s nigh immovable allows him to overcome his vertical limitations and consistently frustrate opponent’s best bigs on a nightly basis. Fans have been treated to constant examples of this over the years – most recently during his superlative showings against New York’s Amar’e Stoudemire and the Clippers’ Blake Griffin – but here are a few numbers which reveal just how dominant a low post defender Hayes has been this season:

According to Synergy Sports Technology, Hayes has held his man to 34.1 percent shooting in post up situations in 2010-11 while allowing a measly .672 points per possession (the average NBA team scores about 1.01 points per possession).

When defending spot ups, Hayes has limited opponents to just 33.9 percent shooting from the field and .771 points per possession.

And when placed on an island in isolation situations, Hayes once more masterfully holds down the fort, allowing his man to shoot just 35 percent from the field, for an average of .723 points per possession.

No one else on the Rockets’ roster can come close to boasting such eye-popping defensive numbers. Heck, very few players in the league can, period, which is why Rockets Head Coach Rick Adelman has been so adamant in recent weeks that his undersized and underappreciated forward deserves to be included in the NBA’s end of year All-Defense conversation.

Now combine those uncanny defensive skills with the subtle gifts Hayes brings to the table at the offensive end – talents such as his high post passing, solid board work on the offensive glass, a surprisingly effective post up game and vastly improved finishing around the rim – and it starts to become clear why the Rockets have been able to outscore opponents by an average of 4.6 points when he is on the floor manning the center position (statistic courtesy of 82games.com). That 4.6 number, by the way, is by far the best of any Rockets starter this season when taking into account the position at which they have played the most.

So any way you slice it, the truth is clear: Chuck Hayes has emerged from the shadows this season and left no doubt about his true worth to the team. The stealth MVP ship has sailed. Qualifiers are no longer necessary. The Chuckwagon has carried his club this year. Sounds like an MVP to me.

Got a question for Rockets.com? Send it to Jason Friedman. And for up to the second news and injury updates follow the Rockets and Jason on Twitter.