What will the small forward for the Rockets do after a rough year last season?
Trevor Ariza had a bit of a down year this past season, shooting 41% from the field and 34% from behind the arc. These numbers aren’t great and have led many Rockets fans to question whether or not Ariza’s best years are behind him. Even while admitting Ariza’s intangible importance to the Rockets, as he fits the textbook definition of “glue guy,” it is important for us to consider his value to the team in terms of on-court performance.
If you’re reading this article in the first place, you may be familiar with what “contract-year Ariza” means. This idea basically pushes the narrative that Trevor Ariza, like some other players, tends to perform better in the final year of an existing contract. Obviously, this increased level of play, if intentional, is meant to ensure a bigger payday during the ensuing free-agency period. Does Ariza’s play during these specific seasons merit this narrative? Let’s find out.
Trevor Ariza has signed two free-agent contracts in his career, both of which were actually offered by Houston. In 2009, Ariza signed a 5 year/$34M contract with the Rockets. The team used the full value of Yao Ming’s disabled player exception to make the deal happen. At this point in time, Ariza was coming off a Finals run with the Lakers. He had established himself as a high-potential young wing with elite defensive, shooting, and athletic abilities.
If you were a Rockets fan at this time, you probably remember the hype surrounding the Ariza signing. Many fans thought that Ariza had star potential based on his promising complementary role alongside Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. The excitement around his acquisition actually closely mirrored the hype surrounding the Harden trade in 2012. Sadly, Ariza underperformed during the 2009-2010 season. He averaged just 15 points on 39% shooting while attempting almost 14 shots per game.
Obviously, Ariza has not lived up to the wild expectations given to him immediately following his title run with LA. However, he has established himself into one of the most well-respected role players in the NBA. He is an elite wing defender, is a quintessential example of a “glue-guy,” and can shoot the 3 with decent accuracy. After being traded to New Orleans after just one season as a Rocket, Ariza eventually ended up on the Wizards. This is where the second instance of “contract year Ariza” was realized.
In his two seasons in New Orleans, Ariza did not drastically improve his performance compared to his 2009-2010 campaign in Houston. He again shot in the low-30s percentage-wise from behind the arc, and could not shoot better than 41% from the field in either season. It was at this point when Ariza’s value was probably at its lowest. Pretty soon afterward, he was moved to the Washington Wizards prior to the 2012-2013 season.
In Washington, Ariza found a home. He immediately averaged a career-best 36% from 3-point range in 2012-2013 and improved that to 40% the following season. In his 2013-2014 season, Ariza averaged an efficient 14 PPG on 46% shooting and 40% from 3. He had fulfilled his billing as an elite 3-and-D role-player and did it on a quality Wizards team. It just so happened that he was due for a new contract in the 2014 offseason, which ultimately led him back to Houston.
Now in Houston
In the 3 seasons following that stellar contract-year campaign with the Wizards, Ariza’s numbers have definitely fallen off a bit. He fell back to the low 40s in terms of FG%, but this is probably due to the fact that he is now attempting mostly 3-point shots. On about 7 attempts per game over the past 3 seasons with Houston, Ariza has hovered around 35% accuracy from 3. This is a decent percentage, considering the volume of shots. These looks will only increase in quality with Chris Paul in the fold.
If we are to believe the narrative that Trevor Ariza performs better during contract years and also take into account the higher quality shots he will get due to the addition of CP3, then it is fair to assume increased offensive efficiency from Ariza this season. Along with this, the Rockets have added some much-needed wing depth by signing PJ Tucker and Luc Mbah-a-Moute. All the signs point to a revitalized Ariza this season, which is great news for Rockets fans everywhere!