Can the Rockets’ starters solve their defensive problems?

Houston Rockets v Denver Nuggets
Houston Rockets v Denver Nuggets / Matthew Stockman/GettyImages
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Will regression save the Rockets’ defense?

The first place to start when analyzing small sample defense is opponent 3-point shooting. While there is some skill in limiting how frequently your opponent converts from distance, it is far more subject to luck. The good news is that the five-man unit of Kevin Porter Jr., Jalen Green, Eric Gordon, Jabari Smith Jr., and Alperen Sengun has likely been on the wrong end of streaky 3-point shooting. Their opponents are converting 38.2% of their threes, compared to the league average of 35.6%. 

On top of that, their opponents are hitting 39% of their above-the-break threes, which is far and away better than the league average of 34.9%. What’s interesting is that the Rockets starters actually allow fewer 3-point attempts than the rest of the team. Their 35.8 3-point attempts per 100 possessions are lower than the team’s 36.9. 

Related. Analyzing the Houston Rockets’ defensive changes. dark

Another area where they’ve likely experience poor luck is in the short mid-range. On shots between four to fourteen feet from the rim, opponents are shooting 52.17%. The Warriors lead the NBA in field goal percentage on shots three to ten feet from the rim at 53%, and the Brooklyn Nets pace the league from 10 to 16 feet at 52.9%. Because I’m working with lineup data via PBP Stats and team shooting stats via Basketball Reference, the distances don’t perfectly align, but it’s unlikely that teams will convert their short mid-range shots at such an impressive clip going forward. 

The first way for the Rockets to turn around their defense is just to wait for regression from 3-point range and in the short mid-range. Unfortunately, waiting for regression is like Waiting for Gadot for fans. However, better opponent shooting luck won’t solve everything.