How the Rockets and Spurs are winning in vastly different styles

January 7, 2017 by J.H. Yeh

The San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets are sitting second and third in the NBA with records 30-7 and 29-9, respectively. As of January 7, 2017, both ball clubs are one of four teams in the association to still have single digit losses.

In the previous articles, I mentioned how today’s NBA are trending small, abandoning mid-range shots, and shooting 3-point shots more than ever because of higher returns in points.

We also discussed how teams are strategically running their offense through shooting 3-pointers and tactically avoiding shooting mid-range shots, which expounds why teams value shooters more and are reluctant when it comes to investing mid-range shooters. As a result, this is why players such as Brandon Bass and Rajon Rondo are not viewed as valuable to some teams. This is also the same rationale why mid-range experts like Mareese Speights and Marc Gasol are expanding their range to behind the 3-point line. Click here to read that article.

The Rockets are leading the league in shooting, and making 3-point shots. They are attempting 39.9   3-point field goals per game and are locked in to become the first NBA team to shoot more than 40  3-pointers per game. On the other hand, the Rockets are attempting just 7.6 mid-range shots and making 2.9 of them — both are all-time league low and also are on pace to become new records at the end of the season. To sum up, with the right roster and the talent, and a General Manager and head coach that share the same philosophy, any team in the league can win games like the Rockets by shooting plethora of 3-pointers and shunning from mid-range shots. Attached below is the Rockets’ shooting from different regions on the court. The yellow highlights denote top 3 in the league ranking while the rosy red highlights denote the bottom 3 in the league ranking. This statistics is courtesy of NBA’s player tracking and  is through as of January 7, 2016.

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Not surprisingly, the Rockets rank top 3 in all regions of 3-point attempts and made (except for left corner 3-point field goal made) and rank first in right corner 3 made, above the break 3 made and attempt. With a roster “analytically” built by Daryl Morey and run by D’Antoni, the Rockets are currently ranked first in both 3-point field goal attempts and made and are second in overall field goal made thanks to the massive amount of shots taken and made. And of course, as a veteran team, the Rockets are overall shooting fairly efficient at 46.9%, good for fifth place in the league. As expected from an analytically savvy team, the Rockets are purposely shooting poorly from outside the restricted area and the mid-range but since they are taking and making extremely low amount of these shots, this shortcoming is compensated by their prolific 3-point shooting. As a result, the Rockets are winning big by heavily favoring the 3-point shots over mid-range shots.

On the other end of the extreme is the San Antonio Spurs, who, on paper and by shots attempted, are going against the modern analytics by shooting the most mid-range shots. Not only are they shooting the most from the mid-range, they are also making the most of them. As opposed to the Rockets’ 7.6 mid-range attempted per game, the Spurs are attempting 19.4 and making 11.1 of them — a far cry from Rockets’ 2.9 made mid-range shots. And for 3-point field goals, the Spurs are taking just 22.5 shots per game, second to last in the league. The Chicago Bulls are dead last in 3-point attempts at 20.4 per game. Below is the full statistics that shows the Spurs’ interesting shooting pattern.

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Despite taking the second least 3-point shots and the most mid-range shots, the Spurs, are shooting extremely efficient from almost all regions and are second in the league in overall efficiency at 47.6% (the Warriors are the first at 49.8%). For another word, the Spurs’ make every single 3-point attempt counts by connecting at league-leading  41.3%. Not to mention that they are also first in making shots from both the mid-range and above the break 3. This exceptional performance of incredible efficiency is much attributed to their precise offense and supreme ball movement.

To sum up, both teams are winning in drastically different ways. The Rockets implemented “Morey Ball” to the parquet floor by significantly increasing 3-point shots and decreasing mid-range jumpers. The result is out-shooting and out-scoring their opponents. On the other end of the spectrum, the Spurs, also an analytically savvy team, are making sure they are hitting the most 3-pointers by taking the least of them while ensuring the rest of the shots are also falling through the net with that same accuracy they proudly display when shooting 3s.

— J.H. Yeh

(all tables are created by me, and all sources of stats are courtesy of NBA.com and BasketballReference.com as of January 7, 2017)

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