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Daily Rocket Science: The Goat and the Beard

Feb 7, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Former Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon stands while being honored against the Orlando Magic before the fourth quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 7, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Former Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon stands while being honored against the Orlando Magic before the fourth quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
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Basketball is scrutinized more often and more closely now than ever before, and the Houston Rockets are at the forefront in more ways than one.

It’s common knowledge that Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is one of the leading analytics guys in the NBA. He founded the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference and has devised type of basketball nicknamed Moreyball. To play Moreyball, a team must shoot high quality shots. High quality shots must be worth the most points possible (threes), be as close to the basket as possible (layups), or be as uncontested as possible (free throws).

The Houston Rockets play Moreyball better than anyone, understandably, and are therefore winning lots of games. Even before Daryl Morey came around with his revolutionary ideas, though, the Rockets were a winning organization. Today’s Daily Rocket Science will be looking at how the Rockets have been, and still are, winning the analytics game.

First up, a statistical, objective, and unbiased study that pegs Hakeem Olajuwon as the best player of all time. Ben Hinson of Hickam’s Dictum, a site dedicated to business analytics, decided to add his two cents to the GOAT discussion with the help of Microsoft Excel. I won’t go into too much detail here, but check out how he came to the conclusion that the Dream is the best ever.

"I’m going to not only answer who is the best basketball player of all time from a performance perspective, but also show how various players rank against each other using a holistic weighted ranking system I shall create based on NBA playoff metrics."

The Rockets have had stars on the team since Olajuwon’s day, but none have been as great as James Harden. The Beard is an analytical basketball fan’s dream. He scores more frequently from the free throw line than anyone else, and lives on threes and layups.

One way Harden combines two of those three scoring options is by drawing fouls from beyond the arc. FiveThirtyEight’s Chris Herring reported that he draws more fouls on three point attempts than any other team in the league. Love it or hate it, it’s impossible to deny that the strategy is effective.

"Harden has long been great at drawing fouls no matter where he is on the court, but he has taken the art form to new heights on his 3-point attempts this season…Harden has drawn a whopping 108 shooting fouls from distance this year with 11 games left to play. For context, consider that, outside of the Rockets, no team has garnered more than 73 of those calls."

More from Space City Scoop

Nobody would argue that the Rockets play the game of basketball analytically. However, plenty of people didn’t think doing so would work out well for them. The Bleacher Report staff ran a piece that outlines several NBA predictions that they got wrong this season, and the Rockets are the highlight of the list.

"The Rockets are hardly world-beaters defensively, but they’ve been good enough (15th in defensive efficiency) to support an unprecedented three-ball attack that’s produced one of the two best offenses in basketball."

To wrap up, the Rockets are, and have a history of being, a winning franchise. They’ve done their winning with a variety of different strategies, but analytics have always been on their side. James Harden is analytically winning the MVP race right now. The Rockets are statistically better than anyone predicted. Numbers might not win them a championship this year or the next, but it’s hard to argue against the results.

Next: Harden vs. Westbrook: Triple-Doubles and the MVP

Stay tuned to Space City Scoop as the playoffs draw nearer for more news, analytics, and opinions on the Houston Rockets. Follow @SpaceCity_Scoop on Twitter as well!

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