Through the first 22 games of the season, the Rockets defense has been awful, deplorable, atrocious, and embarrassing. At least, that’s been the narrative from fans and media, and who doesn’t love a good narrative. Problem is, it isn’t true.
Yes, it’s true the Rockets have given up 101.2 points per game this season, and it is also true that is the ninth worst number in the league, but that stat is very misleading. If you dive deeper into the numbers, you’ll see that the Rockets aren’t a bottom 10 defense, but instead one of the 10 best. All of these numbers can be found on NBA.com’s excellent stats page.
The Rockets play at the league’s 5th fastest pace, averaging over 99 possessions per game. The more possessions there are in a game, the more chances teams have to score. This is where DRtg, also known as Defensive Rating, comes in.
Defensive Rating is the number of points allowed by a team over 100 possessions. A possessions ends on a made basket, a missed shot without an offensive rebound, a foul that leads to free throws where there is no offensive rebound on the last shot, or a turnover. It puts everyone on equal footing and tells you how many points a team allows every time down the floor. It also shows the Rockets defense has been pretty good so far this season.
Despite being in the bottom 10 in the league in points allowed per game, the Rockets have a top 10 defense, according to Defensive Rating. They are allowing 100 points per 100 possessions, 7th best in the NBA. Indiana is the best at 93.1, Utah the worst at 108.2. Over the last 15 games, the Rockets have a DRtg of 99.4, and there are reasons to think it will get better.
Houston is in the bottom half of the league in Defensive Rebounding Percentage, meaning teams are getting a lot of offensive rebounds against them, in fact they’ve given up a league-high 277 of them. Teams have scored 321 2nd chance points against them, 2nd most in the league. The Rockets are allowing opponents to shoot 42.2 percent from the field, the NBA’s third lowest mark, but giving opponents second and third chances is wasting that. Rebounding, however, isn’t where the biggest defensive improve can lie, for that, look at the offense.
After 22 games, the Rockets have committed a league worse 402 turnovers, over 18 a game. The two teams with the second most turnovers (Utah and Philadelphia) are bottom 5 defenses according to DRtg. The Rockets have allowed a league-high 436 points off turnovers, which is more than 19 a game, most of those coming on fastbreaks. The Rockets sloppiness on offense is creating too many easy opportunities for opponents. Cleaning this up will force teams to have to score on them in the half court, and team’s have had trouble doing that this season.
The Rockets defense hasn’t always looked pretty, and it has had it’s fair share of breakdowns, but contrary to what people may say, the Rockets defense has been good through the first quarter of the NBA season. What should be scary to other team’s is that it can get better.Follow @AdamSpolane
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