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Trevor Ariza: The Houston Rockets Defensive Anchor

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When the Houston Rockets opted to replace Chandler Parsons with Trevor Ariza, some were tentative of the direction this season might take.

Many remember the 2009-10 season where the Rockets acquired Ariza after his stellar performance in the previous seasons playoffs, shooting 47.6% from behind the arc for the Los Angeles Lakers. However, upon arriving in Houston and shouldering a much heavier load, Ariza floundered and was traded to New Orleans a year later.

With the help of Ariza, Houston has made unbelievable improvements on the defensive end and rank 5th in defensive efficiency

Last season, the Rockets defense struggled consistently and, according to TeamRankings, finished the season ranked 25th in the league in opponents points per game. This season, with the help of Ariza, Houston has made unbelievable improvements on the defensive end and rank 5th in defensive efficiency, surrendering only 0.99 points per possession.

For his second stint in Houston, Ariza is no longer the center of attention as evidenced by his usage rate dropping from 21.2% in 09-10 to 16.7% this season and he has flourished in his role. He started the season shooting lights out, and while those numbers have dropped throughout the course of the year, Ariza has been a staple in the Rockets revamped defense.

Ariza is believed to have had one of his best seasons with Washington last year, scoring 14.4 points per game, but as a team the Wizards were +3.8 points when Ariza wasn’t on the floor.

This season, the Rockets are +1.9 when Ariza is playing and it’s obvious why – he’s seventh in the league in steals per game with 1.90 and has solidified a Houston defense that leads the league in opponent three point field goal percentage, per ESPN.

When the Rockets went after Ariza this summer, they knew he would make a difference on defense and were gambling that his offense would suffice to fill the void left by Parsons’ absence. While Parsons is more capable at creating points off of the dribble, Ariza specializes in catch-and-shoot situations where 51.7% of his shot attempts have come from per NBA.com.

Ariza shoots his best from the corners, something he’s done 152 times this season, and makes 38% of those shots, nearly five percent higher than his season average 33.3% three point field goal percentage. This allows Harden to attempt to get into the lane, and kick it out to Ariza if nothing opens up, as he does here.

Shooting data from NBA.com confirms that a vast majority of Ariza’s three’s come off assists – 130 of his made 3pt fgs have been off assists compared to a mere 10 unassisted threes. This opens up Harden’s game even more by denying defenses the ability to sink off their man in order clog the lane when James Harden makes his move towards the rim.

Even if Ariza is shooting well from deep, defenses can’t ignore him because, according to ESPN, he’s 4th in the league in 3pt FGA with 427, seven more attempts than Harden has. While he can’t be counted on to score 20 points every night, Ariza has shown he possesses the potential to be deadly from behind the arc.

Ariza’s value to the Rockets comes from more than what shows up in the traditional box score. What he lacks in scoring he more than makes up for on the defensive side of the ball, helping the Rockets win by not only putting points on the board, but by keeping them off as well.

If Ariza continues to play defense at this level of intensity and finds a bit more consistency from deep during the playoffs, the Rockets have shown themselves more than capable of making a run in a stacked Western Conference.

With 20 games remaining for the Rockets, watch Ariza very closely because if he can maintain his lock down defense while finding his rhythm on offense, he will be a key piece in Houston’s postseason.

*All statistics come from Basketball-Reference.com unless noted otherwise.

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