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Houston Rockets: Analyzing Ryan Anderson

Dec 2, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson (33) dribbles the ball as Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) defends during the fourth quarter at Toyota Center. The Rockets defeated the Pelicans 108-101. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 2, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson (33) dribbles the ball as Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) defends during the fourth quarter at Toyota Center. The Rockets defeated the Pelicans 108-101. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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With Ryan Anderson agreeing to join the Houston Rockets they finally land one of their coveted free agents.

After years of courtship the Houston Rockets finally signed one of their most desired players,the stretch four: Ryan Anderson. The agreement is a 4-year, $80 Million deal. Ryno’s contract comes with great expectations from Red Nation who are desperate to once again compete in the top-tier of the Western Conference.

The free agency period is full of surprising endings and plot twists. Who doesn’t remember the whole DeAndre Jordan debacle from last year? Or the LeBron James saga that led to the King joining the Miami Heat?

However, based on the last 3 to 4 years of pursuit there’s never been an easier prediction to make than one day the Houston Rockets were going to sign Power Forward Ryan Anderson. It was just a matter of how and when.

Rockets had talked about sending Asik to New Orleans for Ryan Anderson, but could not get much traction.

— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) June 26, 2014

And after losing Dwight Howard to the Hawks (or perhaps letting him walk?) when Daryl Morey finally had a chance to make his pitch for Ryno this Saturday he definitely made sure to show Anderson how much he was wanted in Houston by throwing huge bucks on the table for the long range shooter and sealed the deal.

There’s no denying Ryan Anderson’s skills and talent shooting the basket or as a big man ball handler. Yet, troubling questions remain regarding his health, general defensive liability or even his role in this brand-new Houston Rockets team orchestrated by Mike D’Antoni.

Injury Riddled

There’s no other way around it and we must address it first. The big issue with signing Anderson is his frailty and tendency to get injured. He is way too susceptible to health issues and season-ending problems.

Reviewing Anderson’s years since he entered the league is probably not a great idea for Rockets fans to get excited with their new addition, nevertheless here is known:

  • Ryan Anderson lost 98 games in his four years with the New Orleans Pelicans more than a whole season (16 last season, 21 in the 2014-2015 season, 60 in 2013-2014 and 1 in 2012-2013)
  • He has never played a full 82-games season in his entire career, even though he came pretty close in the 2012-2013 season with 81 games.
  • His plethora of injuries include a sprained right foot, a neck injury, a groin injury, a MCL sprain in his right knee and most recently a sports hernia.

Going forward with the Rockets, Anderson is expected to take on an even bigger role than the one he was playing in New Orleans. Anderson will likely be Houston’s starting power forward and if Trevor Ariza and James Harden’s minutes are any indication, then he’ll presumably play over 35 minutes per game. Something he’s only done in the 2013-2014 season and for just 22 games.

To put it bluntly, Ryno’s signing for top dollars right off the bat is a huge gamble for the Houston Rockets. It could pay off handsomely provided he stays healthy or it could end up being one of the biggest busts of this free agency.

Is he worthy of the investment? That’s the $80 million dollar question. And while we’re inclined to answer it negatively if taking into account only his injury worries let’s reflect on his impact where it counts: the basketball court.

Fitting In Handsomely

There has been a ton of negative backlash towards Ryan Anderson’s and Eric Gordon’s signing by the Rockets from the media and fans alike. They mostly tackle Gordon and Anderson’s lack of defensive skills (and we’ll delve into that further ahead) and injury problems. Regardless, what they are all failing to understand right now is how insanely great Ryan Anderson fits in the Rockets system.

For starters take a look at Ryno’s shooting heat map:

Check out Ryan Anderson's HEAT CHART #Rockets #Anderson #HeatChart pic.twitter.com/xoNzMcPqUi

— Space City Scoop (@SpaceCity_Scoop) July 4, 2016

And, Anderson’s shot selection chart:

For your perusal: Ryan Anderson Shot Chart #Rockets #Anderson #ShotChart pic.twitter.com/EGH0ymEoMI

— Space City Scoop (@SpaceCity_Scoop) July 4, 2016

Now, even If you’ve followed the Houston Rockets from a distance in the last years you could see that Anderson’s offensive style favors exactly what Daryl Morey wants from Houston since the arrival of James Harden.

That’s long range, and three point shots.

For the last couple of years the Houston Rockets have been living and dying by  three pointers. And, as I’ve even said before: if it’s true that last year the Rockets were driven by treys, this season showed that this same strategy can come back and bite you.

The Rockets simply just didn’t have enough fire power (or efficient fire power) last season to be successful.

For the upcoming season I’m guessing that Mike D’Antoni will be employing the 4-out 1-in motion offense. And instead of clogging the lanes and the paint offensively like Dwight Howard used to do, Clint Capela will be instrumental when setting screens and opening up space for drivers and three-point shooters: Ryan Anderson can also do both those things.

Yet, that’s not even the greatest asset Anderson brings to the table, it’s his ability to create his own shot. That said, I’ll caution you, because everyone got really excited when Ty Lawson arrived last season due to his play maker ability, and because he was a player that could create his own shot. Still, one of the most jarring problems for Houston Rockets offensive game last season was primarily because there was no one to connect or create shots other than Harden. This led to  annoying ISO plays by the Rockets star, which in turn led to turnovers.

For example: Patrick Beverley is shown below frantically looking for Harden to make the final play on a fast break situation. Harden’s isolation instead leads to a costly TO.

Now what Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon will be doing on the offensive end is sharing the load with James Harden. Everyone remembers the impact Michael Beasley had this season when he arrived in Houston. Beasley doesn’t have anything special but he can create his own shot. He was able to create opportunities and knock down jumpers. Imagine Ryan Anderson as a much better Michael Beasley – and one that can knock down three-point shots.

Furthermore – Anderson is aggressive:

He drives the lane handling the ball with the dexterity of a point guard but finishes off with the strength of a full-blown 6’10” power forward.

Now everyone says that the Rockets must improve their defense but that’s based on the wrong predicament that the Houston Rockets offense is not broken due to the team scoring a lot of points.

That said, there were countless times James Harden had to score over 40 points last season, and in some of those games it still wasn’t enough for a victory.

On the other hand, it’s been frustrating being a Rockets’ fan (of which I am) as I’ve writing Game Recaps that show when Harden scores less (20-25 points), and involves his teammates (usually requiring him to get 10+ assists) more often than not the Rockets won. Thus the necessity of surrounding Harden with shooters (like Gordon and Anderson) to share the load offensively and lessen the over dependence on Harden scoring.

In addition, it doesn’t feel like Anderson will interfere with the power forwards already in Houston’s rotation. Michael Beasley will once again provide fire from the bench as a sixth man and Donatas Motiejunas will probably play backup for Clint Capela as Center, the position where he thrived in his breakout 2014-2015 season.

Meanwhile Terrence Jones’ and Josh Smith’s time with the Rockets is likely over.  The former especially because the Rockets opting not to tender a qualifying offer for Jones.

Defensive Liability?

Take a look at the selected tweets following Anderson and Gordon’s free agency decision to sign with the Rockets:

New Rockets Eric Gordon & Ryan Anderson had 2 of the 6 worst defensive ratings among players w/30+ mpg in 2015-16. https://t.co/Ty25cptbus

— StatMuse (@statmuse) July 3, 2016

Bev/Harden/Ariza/Anderson/Capela should be a pretty dynamic scoring lineup. Rox looking for another ball-handler. Defense…….

— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) July 2, 2016

Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon doesn’t solve Rockets’ defensive issues (by @RobMahoney) https://t.co/UDZRCHlZ6Epic.twitter.com/hMcrACX2il

— SI NBA (@si_nba) July 3, 2016

Now if you are a casual NBA fan the above tweets should pretty much give you the general idea regarding both players defensive negligence.

More from Space City Scoop

And truthfully there’s not much you could do about other than have them commit to a role. Add to that the fact H-Town’s has another player with limited defensive skills in James Harden. So, it’s reasonable for fans to believe it definitely doesn’t look prudent for Morey to add not one, but two players with those same characteristics.

Despite that, I tend to look at basketball from a different angle. Never mind the fact that “defensive success” depends a lot more from the collective effort of a team than a single player’s ability. The Rockets for example went from being ranked 6th in defensive efficiency on the 2014-2015 season to 20th place this season. And that’s with effectively the same team. Actually let me rephrase that: This time the Rockets had Dwight Howard,  a 3-time Defensive Player of the Year – playing 71 games, whereas last season he played only 41. How did that happen then?

Chemistry problems, off-court issues, lack of effort: this all resulted in the team playing bad defense.

Those factors alone are enough to discard the argument that Houston’s defense will be dreadful next season.

I, however come from a soccer culture that highly favors offense over defense. Perhaps because  it makes for visually pleasant teams who try to outscore their opponents which I believe will be the case with the Rockets next season.

Having success in Basketball is different from soccer though and thus the old saying that defense wins championships is still true with 15 of the last 16 NBA Champions placing in the Top 10 of  Defensive Efficiency. The sole exception being the 2000-2001 Los Angeles Lakers who were champions despite being ranked 18th in Def. Efficiency.

It’s tough, but it’s not impossible.

Want to keep up to date on NBA Free Agency?

Check out:

Next: Up to date July 4th Free Agent Tracker

And, the Editor’s Free Agency Profiles for all 30 teams:

Next: Free Agency Profiles for all 30 Teams

Next: Eric Gordon agrees to 4-year, $53M Rockets deal

Next: Ryan Anderson agrees to 4-year, $80M Rockets deal

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