August 4, 2017, 12:01 am
Hoop-Ball’s Post-Mortem series takes a look at the 2016-17 season and what went right and wrong for every team. From coaching analysis to fantasy impact, we dive in to the year that was and make sense of it all. If you’ve missed any, you can find them here.
The Rockets had a messy end to 2015-16 and decided to go all-in on their 3-point pursuits. A new coach and some controversial acquisitions opened the team up to plenty of questions, but they proved the doubters wrong with a fantastic year. Led by MVP candidate James Harden, the Rockets put together a nice playoff run and look poised for bigger and better things. Hoop-Ball’s Post-Mortem examines an exciting year in Houston.
The Rockets were looking to kick things into high gear as the seat beneath GM Daryl Morey grew increasingly warm. A paragon of the analytics movement, Houston’s failure in 2015-16 had people mocking their heavy insistence on playing to the spreadsheet numbers. It seemed like a make or break year for the Rockets, and the front office decided to go for broke. If you’re going to go down, do it your own way.
The team jettisoned some dead weight, allowing Josh Smith, Donatas Motiejunas, Terrence Jones and Jason Terry to walk in free agency. The highest profile departure was of course Dwight Howard, whose relationship with the team and Harden deteriorated over a season in which he felt like a bit part rather than a core piece. The Rockets decided to go all in on low-defense, 3-point threats and signed oft-injured guys Ryan Anderson (four years, $80 million) and Eric Gordon (four years, $53 million) to big deals. They also added Nene Hilario at $2.9 million and drafted Zhou Qi and Chinanu Onuaku with their second round selections. On paper, it seemed an odd strategy. Houston looked even more one-dimensional and had hitched their financial wagon to some risky bets.
Luckily, they hired the right (though equally maligned) coach for the job in Mike D’Antoni. After a few high profile flops, D’Antoni was back in the NBA and finally had a star caliber player willing to work to fit into his system. If this was some sort of test for all parties, everyone passed with flying colors.
Their all-offense strategy continued through the deadline, as the team went out and traded for Lou Williams. Just another gunner with a green light.
The Rockets, under D’Antoni’s offensive wizardry, unleashed a barrage of triples that opponents simply couldn’t keep up with. There would always be doubts about how this team could prevent its opponents from racking up points, but Houston needn’t worry with their potent group blitzing teams with insurmountable buckets from beyond. The Rockets rolled through December, going 10-0 in the month while picking up victories over the Warriors in Oracle, Boston and Oklahoma City. They lost two of their next three (to San Antonio and Memphis), only to follow that by ripping off nine consecutive Ws. They were consistently great all season long, never suffering a losing streak longer than three games and only suffering consecutive losses four times. The only such streak came in late March with Houston sitting pretty at 51-22. and they finished the year 55-27.
The Rockets entered the postseason as the third seed in a high-powered Western Conference and dispatched the Thunder in five games. Unfortunately, they ran into Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs, who were able to close things out in six contests. The season ended on a very sour note as the Rockets were obliterated on their home floor, dropping a 114-75 decision to a Kawhi-less Spurs team. Despite the atrocious end, it was a terrific year for the Rockets who have renewed faith in Morey’s vision, D’Antoni’s leadership and Harden’s otherworldly abilities. They entered the offseason with visions of adding more starpower, and certainly delivered. We’ll get to that later.
Mike D’Antoni replaced sitting duck J.B. Bickerstaff and was supposed to elevate Houston to the next level behind a powerful offensive attack. The man behind the Seven Seconds or Less Suns, D’Antoni had the Rockets raining buckets on helpless opponents pretty much all season long. His play style lends itself well to fantasy success, and the roster he was handed only upped the potency.
Houston was third in the league with a 102.5 pace, trailing only Phoenix and Brooklyn. They finished seventh with a 100.1 number last season. The most obvious change was their huge spike in 3-pointers, as the Rockets attempted a record 40.3 triples per game. Though they were just 15th in 3-point percentage, they still led the league in makes per game with 14.4, a full 1.4 more than the next closest team. Over 46 percent of all their shots were triples, a full six percentage points more than the next closest team’s. Their explosive ability from deep meant that they could survive copious turnovers, as opponents simply couldn’t squeeze enough points out of Houston’s 15.1 turnovers per night to keep up with the 3-point barrage.
Elsewhere, Houston was able to rack up easy points thanks to their elite free throw rate. The Rockets’ .304 mark trailed only the Clippers’ .312 and it helps to have a player like James Harden who is so adept at drawing (or at least appearing to draw) contact. They were also a solid passing team, and their ball movement meant that over 62 percent of their field goals came on assists (good for fourth in the NBA). The story was different, however, from deep, as Houston had the highest percentage of unassisted threes in the league at 22.9 percent. The Rockets also generated plenty of easy shots down low, as they were sixth in terms of points in the paint with 46.7. That points to the obvious, in that they were dead last in points generated from the mid-range; only 4.4 percent of Houston’s points came from that inefficient dead zone.
And yes, their defense wasn’t great. They were just 18th with a 106.4 defensive rating. Luckily for them, they poured in so many points that they still came out with a plus-5.4 net rating on the year, good for third in the league. They were a middling rebounding team and were mostly average in a majority of defensive metrics. At its core, basketball is about outscoring your opponent. Houston’s season represented a Petri dish of sorts where we could see what would happen if a team decided to forgo one half of the scoreboard equation in favor of overloading the other. To their credit, it worked about as well as anyone could’ve imagined.
D’Antoni deserves some credit for getting everyone on the same page, as he’s seen firsthand in the past that star players aren’t always amenable to his style of play. He also should get some praise for making James Harden the team’s point guard, as entrusting him with playmaking and facilitating duties is a far better use of his talents than keeping him off-ball. It wasn’t a groundbreaking personnel move, but D’Antoni did his part to persuade Harden that his total ownership of the offense was Houston’s best bet at winning. The Rockets had always envisioned playing this style, but D’Antoni fully unlocked their potential and took home a well-deserved Coach of the Year award.
ADP: 3 / 3 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 1/5 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 1/7 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 81
Harden was absolutely masterful last season, finishing second in MVP voting while leading the Rockets to legitimate contention. The Beard posted career highs in points, rebounds, assists and threes, delivering a season worthy of his lofty ADP.
His pairing with D’Antoni was a match made in heaven, and Harden embraced the point guard role with open arms. After averaging 7.5 assists in 2015-16, Harden racked up 11.2 dimes per contest, good for the top mark in the entire NBA. It was enough to catapult an already-elite fantasy option into the first overall spot in 8-cat leagues. Harden shot .440 from the field and poured in 29.1 points per game (second in the NBA), knocked down 3.2 triples (his 262 makes were good for third in the league) and pitched in 8.1 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 0.5 blocks to boot. He also led the league in both free throws made and attempted, shooting .847 on 10.7 attempts per night. Watching his box scores come in every night was like staring at a pinball machine, and the fact that he only missed one game meant that he carried owners from start to finish.
To nitpick, the only blemish on Harden’s profile is his 5.7 turnovers per game. It was more or less unavoidable, as he had the ball in his hands constantly on a team that played at a high pace. If turnovers are the price to pay for Harden controlling the game, so be it. The rest of the package is more than enough to keep him in the top-overall conversation.
As for next season, we should expect some changes to surface in the stats. Chris Paul will take the reins as the primary point guard, so Harden should see his assists fall back to earth a bit. Secondly, he might see some better looks as a result of playing with one of basketball’s best point guards, so he could tack a percentage point or two onto his field goal percentage. Paul’s presence will also help Harden limit his turnovers, and all the changes in the aggregate shouldn’t hurt him much, if at all. He’s a surefire top-5 option who might fall a few slots due to the changes around him. Don’t overthink it.
ADP: 56 / 51 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 42/30 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 54/39 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 80
31-year-old Trevor Ariza authored a terrific 13th year in the league and continued to be a steady fantasy play who provides his fair share of cash counters. Owners know the deal with him at this point, and that’s steals and threes at a high volume in a consistent, reliable role. Ariza dropped in 2.4 triples per game, and his 191 on the year placed him 14th in the league. He also finished sixth in the NBA with 1.8 steals per game, and his contributions in those categories are enough to cement him as a top-50 asset that you can set your watch to.
If he were to ever increase his output elsewhere, we could see a top-30 player. Ariza only averaged 11.7 points per game and shot just .409 from the floor. He’s never been a very efficient shooter and his role on the team is more about defense than offense, but even a minor uptick in shooting percentage could lead to an extra round of value. The small forward was also able to chip in 5.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game while only committing 0.9 turnovers, making him an even more valuable play in 9-cat formats.
Ariza will be a safe top-50 bet again next season. He might see fewer shots next year but a dip in scoring won’t make or break him. Locked into mid-30s minutes, he’ll continue to provide sizable contributions in steals and threes and there’s no reason to think he’ll slow down anytime soon. He’s one of the safer, if less glamorous, picks to make in the early-middle rounds.
ADP: 80 / 72 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 122/100 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 127/106 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 72
Anderson joined the Rockets on their quest to rain threes on opponents from start to finish, and defensive qualms aside, it’s hard to complain about the fit. His ability to spot up from way behind the line makes him a lethal weapon, especially if defenders dare help off him to check Harden in pick and roll situations. Unfortunately, Anderson’s reputation precedes him and tricked plenty of fantasy owners into investing a middle-round selection.
In 29.4 minutes per game, Anderson averaged 13.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.2 blocks and 2.8 triples on a 41.8 field goal percentage. The triples are nice but the rest of the numbers really disappointed for someone with such a large role on an offensive juggernaut. You’ll never be getting meaningful contributions in the defensive categories and will usually take a hit on efficiency (though .418 was the third-worst mark of his career, he’s never shot 44 percent from the field) considering he averaged 10.7 shots a night. It’s dispiriting that a sharpshooter like Anderson saw his shooting percentage decline despite a huge increase in the number of catch and shoot looks, up to 53.6 percent of his shots in Houston after accounting for only 34.2 percent of all shots in his last year as a Pelican. Simply put, he’s got to score and rebound more to deliver on the obvious appeal of his skillset and situation.
As for next year, it’s hard to see Anderson improving on these numbers barring a trade. He’ll be in line for even less work as it stands currently, but a trade to another team might allow him to resurface as a second option on offense. Additionally, it’s tough to bank on this many games played from Anderson again. He missed three games with a January illness, another in March with back spasms and then six more at the end of the month with a sprained ankle. The 72 games played are the second-most of his nine year career, and it doesn’t seem like there’s enough here for him to deliver on an inflated ADP. If he’s around into the early-late rounds feel free to take the plunge, but otherwise you’ll be overpaying for someone who tends to settle around the top-120.
ADP: 116 / 109 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 101/89 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 82/73 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 65
Clint Capela was charged with taking over for Dwight Howard and did an admirable job, providing a nice lob-catching, low maintenance option on offense while protecting the rim on defense. It wasn’t all roses as a fractured left fibula sustained in late December cost him 15 games, but he did turn in the finest season of his young career.
His role in the offense is simple — set screens and throw down lobs. Capela’s quickness and length make that an easy task, and he’ll become more dangerous as he improves his screen setting. For now, owners will have to accept his 12.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, 0.5 steals and 1.2 blocks on .643 from the field. He could be even more effective if he surpasses the 23.9 minutes per game he received this season, though that will depend on how the new lineups shake themselves out. His shot profile shouldn’t change, and he might see even more easy looks headed his way with CP3 running the show.
The latest in a long line of blocks and boards big men who post atrocious free throw numbers, Capela makes for a fine late round play. He can’t quite compete with the game’s elite big men but provides a cheap facsimile of their production without necessitating a punt strategy. Mercifully, Capela only took 2.7 free throw attempts per game, so his ugly .531 percentage (a career-high, no less) was palatable if you had a few players who were high quality from the stripe. Perhaps we’ll see teams start to hack him more in the future, but it’s not as though Capela’s presence can completely alter a game’s flow. So long as he stays under the radar there he’ll be a fine late-round play for anyone in need of blocks and rebounds.
ADP: 140 / 118 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 73/67 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 64/58 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 67
Patrick Beverley wasn’t exactly a hot fantasy target as he began the season injured and had ball handling duties taken off his plate. He’d more or less be asked to defend the other team’s best guard and hit the open threes that came to him in the flow of the offense. Fortunately for fantasy owners, Beverley delivered dutifully and pitched in more than his share of ancillary stats in a strong campaign.
After undergoing knee surgery in late October, Beverley was expected to miss the season’s first 20 games but wound up returning nine games ahead of schedule. It didn’t affect his workload either, as he averaged 28.8 minutes per game in his first ten contests. A bruised thigh and sore wrist cost him three games around the start of 2017 and a sore shoulder forced him out of game 81, though that was just as much precautionary rest as anything else. He fought off health concerns to deliver 9.5 points, career-bests with 5.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.5 steals, 0.4 blocks and 1.6 threes per contest. He shot .420 on only 8.1 attempts per game, so he didn’t really crush your efficiency, either.
Next season Beverley will suit up for the Clippers, and it seems like he could be stuck in a timeshare with offensive wizard Milos Teodosic. He’d be an excellent play in the late-middle rounds as a safe bet to return top-100 value given his contributions in steals, threes and out-of-position boards, but that’ll depend on his minutes now. He’s also likely to see fewer good looks in LA, as 60 percent of his shots this year were either open or wide open. We’d feel better about endorsing him if we knew his workload, but for now he’s a late round pick until we can be sure he’ll get the bulk of minutes over Teodosic.
ADP: 119 / 120 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 74/79 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 88/93 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 75
Gordon’s deal was originally treated as a headscratcher, but he turned in his first healthy year in a very long time on his way to Sixth Man of the Year honors. An vital part of Houston’s bench attack, Gordon shot .348 from deep to deliver a game-changing 3.3 triples per contest. He shot .406 overall and was able to provide 16.2 points , 2.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.6 steals and 0.5 blocks in 31.2 minutes per game.
Most important with Gordon, as always, is his health. The Rockets’ medical staff was able to keep him in good enough shape to play in 75 contests. That’s no small feat since he hadn’t topped 64 games in a single season since he played 78 as a rookie back in 2008. He wasn’t totally free of the injury bug this year, as he missed two January games with a sore toe, two more at the end of the month with a sore back and two more in early February with another bout of back soreness.
As for next year, Gordon might see a slight dip in touches and shots, especially if D’Antoni staggers the minutes so one of his two usage monsters is on the court at all times. On the other hand, he saw over 63 percent of his shots this year come in open or wide open situations, and that might go up with Paul and Harden whipping the ball around. You’d think that it’d be a positive for Gordon, though he did shoot just far worse on those looks than he did on tightly contested plays this year. That seems unsustainable so for now we’ll pencil him in for a slight efficiency bump. If the production is in the same ballpark, you’re going to be relying on his health. He’ll be in the top-100 range but anyone who picks him in the middle rounds (as opposed to late-middle) will be opening themselves up to major injury risk.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 46/49 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 68/71 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 81
Williams signed a 3-year, $21 million deal with the Lakers but wound up coming off the bench behind a resurgent Nick Young. No matter, as Lou Will was able to produce a nice year for fantasy owners who grabbed him on the cheap. He’ll always be a steady source of scoring and triples, as was the case this year. In his 58 games with the Lakers, Williams poured in 18.6 points per game while on .444 shooting, adding 2.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.1 threes per game. He saw his numbers dip a bit in Houston despite an increase in playing time from 24.2 to 25.7 minutes per game, posting 14.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.4 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 1.8 triples on .386 shooting. Efficiency issues really hurt him with the Rockets, as he saw his 3-point percentage drop from .385 to .318 after the trade.
Still, Williams was able to post career-best numbers in points, triples and free throw percentage (.880 on 5.6 attempts per game). Expect him to resume his scoring role as a member of the Clippers, as he seems like an easy fit as far as Jamal Crawford replacements go. He might see his shooting percentage fall back to earth a bit, as this year’s .422 was only his second season above .408 since 2010-11, but Williams should still be a steady source of points, threes and steals available in the late rounds.
ADP: 140 / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 191/185 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 197/192 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 67
Though Nene is entering the final years of his career, he was able to produce a solid season for the Rockets. Limited to just 17.9 minutes per contest, the big Brazilian was used as a backup center or as a matchup specialist when opponents proved too burly for Clint Capela. To his credit, the 15-year veteran took advantage of the team’s explosive offense, racking up 9.1 points per game on a career-best .617 shooting. He also notched 4.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.5 blocks. Nene missed 15 games this year, though only three can be directly traced to reported injuries to his groin, back and shoulder, specifically. He isn’t a fantasy option, even if he could dodge all the DNPs.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 222/199 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 268/244 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 77
Sam Dekker showed some stretch four ability and ended up as a viable bench piece this season. He averaged just 6.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals and 0.8 threes in 18.4 minutes per game but did shoot .473 from the field and .321 from deep. Unfortunately there weren’t real stretches of value, though he was able to produce a 30 point, six triple game in January. Dekker was on track to play in every game this season after managing only three games as a rookie until a broken hand in early April robbed him of the season’s final five contests. He also missed the entire first round against OKC, but should be fine for next season. It’s possible that he’ll be a key part of LA’s second unit but he doesn’t warrant a draft pick outside of deeper leagues.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 215/195 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 198/171 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 58
Montrezl Harrell got a real shot at playing time in his sophomore season and did well to fit in, though he was mostly a reserve and found himself in and out of the rotation after the trade deadline. He played in just 13 of the team’s final 25 games and averaged only 14.5 minutes in those contest, and that’s dragged up by the 34:24 he played in the 81st game of the year. On the full season Harrell averaged 18.3 minutes per game with 9.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.3 steals and 0.7 blocks. In his 14 starts, Harrell was able to muster 12.0 points, 5.1 boards, 1.9 assists, 0.6 steals and 1.4 blocks in 26.3 minutes per game while shooting .642 from the field, capitalizing on easy looks generated from Houston’s lethal PnR game. Unfortunately, he’s not going to be a fantasy option with so many players in the Clippers’ frontcourt rotation.
As for the added starpower we mentioned, Houston really swung for the fences. The Rockets will have plenty of new wrinkles to iron out next season thanks to the addition of Chris Paul, whose acquisition rocked the entire league. They’ve significantly bolstered their core with other moves rumored to be on the way, and look even more potent offensively than they were a year ago. While moving Harden off the ball might not be the best thing for him personally, there will be plenty of open looks for him to capitalize on and there’s little doubt that Houston will appear near the top of most offensive categories again. Most teams that trade for a superstar absolutely gut their depth, but the Rockets were able to refurbish their second unit with some strong defenders. After Daryl Morey’s mad science experiment blew the doors off a year ago, they’re on a full-fledged title run now. They might not end up as champs at the end of the year but you can bet that Houston will be among the last teams standing.