‘Houston, We Have a Problem!’
Let’s face it the Houston Rockets have a problem. After spending the entirety of the 2014-15 season without ever losing 3 games in a row they’ve had two 3-game losing streaks in a matter of 10 games. Their All-Star, MVP runner-up James Harden is shooting the worst percentage of his career. Specifically, Harden is shooting 37.% from the field and 24% from behind the arc, both well below his career averages of 44.1% and 36.1% and worst of any season.
While the Rockets were one of the best defensive squads last season and boasted the best perimeter defense they’ve plummeted to a rank of 29th defensively and 26th ranked perimeter defense.
As for the league leading 32 three point attempts they take per game, as a team they are connecting on just 28.4% also ranking 29th. In fact a look at individual performances shows the only players who have a decent shooting percentage are primarily players in the front court who don’t or rarely shoot the 3-ball. The exceptions are Jason Terry and to a certain extent Marcus Thornton though his game has somewhat fallen off these past few games.
Team Offense Suffering
Looking at the numbers shows how poorly the team as a whole is performing specifically the guards and wing players. The players who are excelling are all front court bigs: Dwight Howard, Terrence Jones, Clint Capela and Montrezl Harrell who cannot be saddled with the blame for the Rockets offensive issues.
Lawson Not Adapting
A closer look at Ty Lawson’s performance shows how much he has trailed off this season in major categories:
Notably his field goal percent (both from two and three) and free throw percent is the lowest of his career. He is scoring the lowest points per game since his rookie season. Lawson was brought to Houston to help with ball handling and distribution yet even his assists are the lowest of the past 5 seasons.
Certainly there is the natural time frame of integration to expect, but Lawson is surrounded by much more talented players than he’s arguably ever had the privilege of having at one time on the court.
And while we can point to Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer and James Harden’s struggles there is a difference:
- James Harden is still scoring though his iso-ball dribbling is confusing and frustrating. Not to mention his lapses on defense and apparent lack of interest at times (though, that’s a topic for another day).
- Corey Brewer is known to be a streaky shooter and comes off the bench
- Trevor Ariza is still contributing rebounding and in fairness isn’t far off his averages of last season and has improved in some categories. Factor in how much more Ariza is having to do defensively especially with the loss of Patrick Beverley who was a key contributor to stopping fast breaks and helping with transition and perimeter defense. It’s no wonder his numbers have fallen given how much more he’s hampered with having to do defensively especially when Dwight Howard is in and out of the line-up.
@TTOTambz JH: 37% FG%, 24% from 3 Ty: 32% FG%, 28% from 3 Ariza: 32% FG%, 30% from 3 Brewer: 30% FG%, 12.5% from 3 Bev: 34% FG%, 33% from 3
— Curtlow!!! (@SWHTown30) November 16, 2015
Diving deeper into the numbers showcases how detrimental Lawson’s time on the court is to the team. The chart below shows his turnovers are the highest of his career while his usage rate is the lowest. Further, Lawson’s wins shares (both on offense and defense) as well as his box plus/minus and his value over replacement player are all the lowest of his career.
Incredibly the Rockets are better without Lawson offensively and a wash defensively. His offensive plus/minus is 5.5 points worse than last season with Denver and Value Over Replacement Player is perhaps the most telling given he registers as a negative also a first in his career.
A comparison of Ty Lawson’s shot chart over the past two seasons albeit though early into 2015-16 is telling: (charts via NBAsavant.com):
2015-16 Shot Chart:
2014-15 Shot Chart:
Again, though it’s early in the season there are notably drop offs specifically from 2 point range other than directly at the basket and on the left side of the court.
Time For a Drastic Change
All of this brings me to my point. Shouldn’t the Rockets be looking at moving Ty Lawson to the bench and returning Patrick Beverley to the starting line-up? Sure, Beverley’s numbers aren’t much better on offense, however they aren’t that far off from his typical output. Moreover by inserting Beverley back into the starting rotation there is the possibility to address the overriding issue which is the Rockets fall off defensively. It would resolve Harden’s greatest issue, which is adapting to not being the primary ball handler or being in charge of initiating the offense.
With Lawson coming off the bench it still would allow Harden time to rest and McHale could surround Lawson with court mates who could benefit from Lawson’s speed and offer a change of pace and style from the starting five. He’d also be facing other bench opponents where perhaps he could shine as opposed to the obvious pressure the entire team is having integrating him on both ends of the court. Lawson has a history playing with Brewer and he could run the pick and roll with Capela.
Let’s not forget at some point Donatas Motiejunas will return and that will give Lawson the potential of playing with a reserve unit in a hockey style line-up change that would feature himself, Terry/or Brewer, Thornton, Motiejunas and Capela. Let’s face it those 5 could rival some starting line-ups in the Association.
Some might consider this as a knee jerk reaction, but at what point do the Rockets recognize there are too many holes to plug all at once? Sure it generally takes time to integrate a new player, but it’s rare for this much adversity to coincide with the addition of a quality player. The fact the team is suffering negatively on both sides of the court screams for a change to be made immediately.
It just feels like the right move to kill a bunch of birds with one stone:
- Allow Harden to get into his natural game flow by being the primary ball handler to start the game
- Allow the team to return to a defensive unit who spent the majority of last season ranked top 5
- Relieve pressure from Lawson to “have to” fit in and perform while also offering a change of pace of the bench
- And no one says Lawson can’t be on the floor at the end of games (think Manu Ginobili) but this change would allow both Harden and Lawson to get into a natural rhythm while possibly offering a solution to the Rockets defensive woes.
If this was a young team looking to grow they would have time to work through a solution. If the Rockets were still performing on the upper end defensively they could possibly afford to wait.
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And if the franchise player as well as half the team weren’t experiencing their worst production compared to last season, let alone in their careers then patience would be a virtue. The reality is the Houston Rockets play in the Western Conference where there are any number of teams who can make the playoffs with young rising teams just waiting for the opportunity to knock off a perennial contender.
Now is not the time for patience, it’s time for immediate action. Take my note Kevin McHale and move Ty Lawson to the reserve unit while returning Patrick Beverley to the starting five.
Houston will still reap the benefits of having another ball handler and you’ll have 72 games to work on integrating him back should that be the ultimate goal. At the end of the day winning is what matters and making this one change could pay the dividends the Rockets are so desperately in need of!
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