The Houston Rockets are going to be one of the youngest teams in the NBA. That’s what happens when you make seven selections over the course of two drafts. And Rockets’ head coach Stephen Silas and general manager Rafael Stone know they have their work cut out for them.
Rafael Stone gets chippy during Rockets media day
Stephen Silas was asked how will he balance who needs to develop and who helps the team win on a nightly basis, and it prompted Rafael Stone to jump in and say, “Our whole team is young.”
Silas started to answer the question, saying, “We have 14 guys who are third year and under so like…,” but Rafael Stone wasn’t having any of it.
He interrupted Silas mid-thought and said, “I think sometimes we arbitrarily decide like this guy needs to be developed and this guy doesn’t. Our whole team, other than Eric [Gordon], our entire team should be improving on a daily basis….I don’t agree with your premise.”
“We have a lot of young players, and I think they’re gonna do well.” he quickly added. “I shouldn’t have jumped in, but it’s our whole team.”
The Rockets are a young team, and Silas and Stone know that patience is wearing thin in the third year of a rebuild for a franchise that has had very few fallow periods since the mid-1980s.
What does age mean for winning in the NBA
Youth brings optimism, but what does it mean for a team’s performance? If the data is any indication, it doesn’t mean a whole lot of winning.
To measure the link between team age and winning I took the average age of every team, divided it by the league average age of 26.12 years, and then multiplied that number by 100. A team with an Age+ of 80 is 20% younger than league average, a team with an Age+ of 100 is exactly league average, and a team with an Age+ of 120 is 20% older than league average.
Last season, the three youngest Age+ scores were the Oklahoma City Thunder (85.76), Orlando Magic (89.2), and Detroit Pistons (90.35). The Rockets came in fifth with a score of 92.27. The three oldest teams were the Los Angeles Lakers (115.62), Utah Jazz (112.17), and Brooklyn Nets (111.41).
I then used the same methodology with wins. Unlike age, there is a much larger variance in wins over average than age. The Rockets had the lowest Wins+ at 48.78 and the Suns had the highest at 156.1. Once I had those two data points for each team, I created a scatter plot, and a clear trend emerged.
Trends aren’t ironclad. The Memphis Grizzlies were the fourth youngest team and won the second most games. On the flip side, the Lakers were the oldest team and were 20% below average in the win column. However, even with those two data points bucking the trend, the data doesn’t lie. In general, being older is better if your goal is winning games in the NBA.
After seeing that age leads to wins, I wanted to see where age shows up the most on the court by comparing offensive and defensive rating compared to league average in relation to age. Here’s what I saw with offensive rating.
And here’s what I found with defensive rating. In this case, the lower the defensive rating the better.
What’s interesting is that there is a sharper trend line for age and offensive rating than for defensive rating. This is somewhat intuitive. Defense takes more energy than offense; as you age the ability to recover and expend energy diminishes.
What the Rockets’ youth means for their season
The Rockets only got younger this offseason and could continue to cut years off the roster if they trade Eric Gordon and Boban Marjanovic. While some fans have been harping for the Rockets to not actively tank, the reality is that a team this young is designed to tank.
Age doesn’t seal a team’s fate on the court. As mentioned earlier, the Grizzlies were both young and great, and the Timberwolves, Cavaliers, and Raptors were all bottom third in age but won more than they lost. However, each of those teams either had an All-NBA lynchpin or multiple All-Stars.
If the Rockets are going to beat expectations relative to their age, some of their young players are going to have to do more than improve. They’re going to have to break out in a major way. All things considered, the Rockets enter the 2022-23 season in a great position as a franchise.
They have an intriguing young core that could help them land another franchise player in the loaded 2023 draft, or they could break out and suddenly have the look of a future contender. Regardless of the season’s outcome, the Rockets are poised to improve as their young core enters its prime.