Analyzing the Rockets’ offense, defense: What works and what doesn’t


Kevin McHale staples so far as Rockets head coach: dominant offensively off the pick-and-roll ballhandler; dominant defensively against isos.

Last night I was devouring more advanced stats, looking for more rhyme and reason into who the Houston Rockets are, particularly in regard to what first-year coach Kevin McHale feels most comfortable with schematically and how he fares against stuff as well.

I wanted to find out what the Rockets run, how often and how successful it was. Also, I wanted to see how they fared defensively against some of the more popular sets in the league, specifically isolations and post-up play.

All stats and data come via, and are representative through the Rockets’ first 53 games of this season. The league rankings are how the Rockets fare, either offensive or defensively, with a particular action in points per possession. So the league rank is based off efficiency.

Let’s take a look.


The Rockets garner most of their action off spot-ups. Not unusual. When you don’t have a go-to threat, you have to generate open looks, and spot-ups are some of the best looks you can afford. It also makes sense considering the wealth of perimeter shooters at Houston’s disposal.

Houston ranks 11th in the NBA offensively in spot-up situations, which it runs 21.7% of the time. It gets its second-most efficiency (0.97 points per possession) off this action, and scores 39.3% of the time off it.

The Rockets score 55.2% off transition, an action they run 12.5% of the time and which they produce a healthy 1.13 points per possession off of, their most efficient offensive action (along with cuts). Houston ranks 14th in the league in getting offense off the break.

The third-most production of offense is that constructed by the pick-and-roll ballhandler. No surprise here. The Rockets use this 11.2% of the time and score 40% of the time off it. The action produces 0.84 points per possession. However, here’s the interesting part: Though the pick-and-roll ballhandler is not utilized as a first or second priority, it is where the Rockets are, in the words of Ralph Wiggum, “Vikings!” Houston ranks 4th in the NBA in this area, and come playoff time, with the rising stars of Goran Dragic, Courtney Lee and Chandler Parsons, I expect this to jump transition on the offensive priority list.

Houston’s fourth preference of offense is the post-up, but it’s what you’d expect: Not at all encouraging. The Rockets use post-ups 10% of the time, but only score 39.8% of the time off it. Only 0.77 points per possession are scored off the block. Houston’s post-up offense ranks 22nd in the NBA, or eighth worst.

The Rockets run isolations only 9.3% of the time, scoring 37.9% of the time off it, and produce 0.81 points per possession, surprisingly good for 10th in the NBA, remarkable considering Houston has no premier iso threats.

Houston scores off cuts 57.8% of the time, but that action only accounts for 8.9% of the offense. Houston garners a healthy 1.13 points per possession off cuts.

So, to wrap up:

Offensive actions for the Rockets (% of time it’s used and league rank in parentheses) – 1. Spot-ups (21.7%; 11), 2. Transition (12.5%; 14), 3. Pick-and-roll ballhandler (11.2%; 4), 4. Post-ups (10%; 22), 5. Isolations (9.3%; 10), 6. Cuts (8.9%; 24), 7. Offensive rebound (6.3%; 2), 8. Pick-and-roll man (6.1%; 16),  9. All other plays (5%, 7), 10. Off screen (4.5%, 28), 11. Hand off (3.6%, 21).


Ah, good ol’ defense. Let’s see who’s running what, and how effectively, against the guys in red and silver.

The action most run by opponents against Houston is spot-ups, which account for 17.4% of opposing teams’ offense. Foes score 0.94 points per possession off spot-ups, and score 37.9% of the time off it. The Rockets are 15th in the NBA in defending spot-ups.

The second-most action run against the Rockets is offense generated by the ballhandler on the pick and roll, which accounts for 0.81 points per possession, though foes only score off it 39.2% of the time. The Rockets are 17th in the NBA in defending against that. Not good, considering it’s a staple of this league.

Transition offense is run 12.2% of the time against Houston, and 1.15 points per possession are produced. This is another area of weakness by the Rockets, as they rank 18th in the NBA in defending the break.

The Rockets also struggle defending post-ups, which opponents utilize 11% of the time and which 0.83 points per possession are attained. Opponents score off the post-up 42.3% of the time, most against the Rockets only behind transition opportunities. Houston is 17th in the NBA in defending against the post-up.

Now, finally for some good news. Great even, specifically considering Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Oklahoma City is a probable first-round opponent should Houston make the playoffs. The Rockets are downright stingy in isolation situations. Chicago-like, even. Isos are run 9.3% of the time against Houston, but only 0.74 points per possession are produced. Even more impressive: opponents only score 36.8% of the time off it, another testament to the fact that it’s Houston’s team defense that is a weakness, not individually. And here’s the kicker: Houston ranks 4th in the NBA in defending the iso, which explains why it’s been so successful against the likes of Oklahoma City and the Lakers.

And, to summarize:

Opponents’ offensive actions against the Rockets (% of time it’s used and league rank defensively in parentheses)  – 1. Spot-ups (17.4%; 15), 2. Pick-and-roll ballhandler (12.9%; 17), 3. Transition (12.2%; 18), 4. Post-ups (11%; 17), 5. Isolation (9.3%; 4), 6. Cuts (7.3%; 14), 7. All other plays (6%; 17), 8. Offensive rebound (5.9%, 24), 9. Off screen (5.5%, 24), 10. Pick-and-roll man (5.4%, 25), 11. Hand off (2.7%, 30).