Houston vs San Antonio

The Spurs’ last seven losses have come with some pretty epic fourth quarter collapses. Pop probably won’t need to worry all too much about that this go around – his squad is at the end of an incredibly difficult road trip and squaring off against an absolute juggernaut. There is a legitimate case that the Houston Rockets are the title favorite right now – they are 34-2 when Chris Paul, James Harden and Clint Capela play, which would put them on pace for a 77-win season!

It’s no surprise that a Mike D’Antoni-run team is more than capable of scoring. But how crazy is it that it’s a legitimate question to ask if this is

The greatest offense ever?
This isn’t hyperbole by any stretch. Houston currently posts the highest offensive rating ever, despite playing without Chris Paul for more than a quarter of the season. There are several metrics that reflect just how absurd they are. The two craziest are:

1. They shoot more threes than twos.

The 2017-18 Houston Rockets are not only on pace to shatter records for most threes made and taken in NBA history, but also the fewest twos attempted. No team has ever taken more threes than twos. The closest was last year’s Rockets squad, who took 540 more twos than threes. Houston GM Daryl Morey is often dubbed a pioneer of basketball analytics. This stat is something else. This is modern basketball on steroids.

2. They are the highest volume and highest efficiency isolation team in the NBA.

As much as the first stat represents the present and future, this one feels like an antiquity. It has long been established that isolation sets are one of the least efficient offensive options, yet Houston opts for it more than 14% of the time, far more than any other team since this stat has been measured (last year’s Cavs are in second, using it 11.9% of the time). If the Rockets have set the paradigm for modern basketball, why are they running so much iso?

I’d argue that this is the exact definition of modern basketball, which is about taking the most efficient shots based on the composition of your roster. Houston happens to have two of, if not the, best isolation scorers in the game. It makes sense for them to run iso, and the results show it; they score 1.14 points per possession on such plays. That efficiency – especially considering the high frequency with which they run iso – is absolutely unreal. For perspective, transition plays are often considered the most efficient playtype in basketball, but only four teams score at a higher rate in transition than Houston does on isos.

As formidable as the 2016-17 Rockets were, they were handicapped by their below-average defense. This team is a whole lot scarier because

The Rockets had several marquee victories during their 17-game win. The two most impressive were their wins against the Jazz and Bucks. Both of these games were road SEGABABAs, and the revamped defense was able to hold their opponents to 85 and 99 points, respectively. These games showed that Houston doesn’t need to rely on their offense to carry them like they did last season.

Houston’s defense has improved dramatically in two key facets since last season. Offensive rebounds and second chance points hampered an already mediocre defense. A team-wide focus on crashing the boards has moved the Rockets from 21st in the league in defensive rebound percentage last season to 3rd. They also make a more concerted effort to keep their opponent off the foul line, moving up from 10th to 5th.

Overall their defense has performed better, decreasing their defensive rating from an abysmal 109.0 (18th in the league) to 107.0 (9th). If the Rockets sustain this defense, their defensive rating would finish as the best rank a D’Antoni team has ever had.

The addition of pesky defenders in Chris Paul, P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute has launched the Rockets into the top tier of team defenses. Is it enough to beat the Warriors in a 7-game series? Maybe, maybe not, but it is certainly a fair question to ask.

Matchup to watch: Dejounte Murray vs. Chris Paul. The Spurs’ best prospect has looked more and more comfortable at running the offense since usurping the starting job from Tony Parker. Tonight, he’ll be tasked with guarding the Point God, as tough a job as any in the NBA. These two matched up against each other recently, just a week and a half into Murray’s starting role, where he managed just 6 points and 3 assists (but 11 rebounds!). Let’s see if the young guard can muster a bigger performance to propel our ever-injured team to a shocking upset.