New York Knicks Stat Monkey Brief: Knicks/Rockets (12/17/12)

If not Harden, who else do the Knicks have to contain tonight?

On November 23rd, the Rockets manhandled the Knicks in a 131-103 win. That performance in Houston remains the most inexplicable of the season for the Knicks. They’ve shown the ability to win in San Antonio, in Miami, and in Brooklyn, yet it did not look like they belonged on the same court as the Rockets, who are a mediocre 11-12 on the season. Moreover, the Knicks were only outscored by 28 points combined in their other four losses. Yet somehow the Rockets managed to achieve that in one night.

Suffice it to say the Knicks will be looking for atonement tonight in Madison Square Garden. To do so, they’ll have to lock down two Rockets: James Harden, of course, but who else?

Ex-Knick Jeremy Lin?

Up-and-coming Chandler Parsons?

Garbage man Omer Asik?

No, no, and no.

The Knicks must look out for Greg Smith. Who? Read on to find out…

Containing Harden

James Harden dropped 33 on the Knicks in their previous meeting while posting a true shooting percentage (measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, three-pointers, and free throws) of 74.9%, his fourth best of the season. The Knicks cannot let Harden go off again tonight, since Houston is 5-1 when Harden scores 30+.

Harden is among the league leaders in nearly every shooting category, including field goals (15th), field goal attempts (10th), three-point attempts (12th), free throws (3rd), and free throw attempts (4th). Overall he’s involved in about 28.2% of team plays while on the court, which puts him at 10th in the NBA in usage percentage.


Harden’s impact on the game extends well beyond his shooting. Harden is ninth in the NBA with 41 steals, and the Rockets are 5-3 when Harden has three or more takeaways. However, Harden also has 86 turnovers on the year, which is second most in the league, trailing only Kobe Bryant (97). But when Harden is able to limit his turnovers and post an assist-to-turnover ratio of three or better, the Rockets have been unbeatable this season (5-0).

Surprisingly, Harden is not the highest ranked Rocket according to our nERD ratings, which attempt to evaluate the total contribution of a player throughout the season. Harden has an impressive 7.0 nERD score, meaning that over an 82-game season, a league-average team would be expected to win about 7 games over .500 with Harden as one of its starters. However, he trails teammate Greg Smith, whose nERD score of 8.3 is 13th best among centers.

Who is Greg Smith?

It’s not surprising you’ve never heard of him, since he’s only ninth on the team with 14.1 minutes per game. However, Smith’s role is expanding; he’s averaging more than 20.5 minutes over the last three games. If his increased minutes continue tonight, the Knicks better not overlook him. The Rockets are 5-0 when Smith scores in double digits, 4-1 when he records at least one assist, 2-1 when he records at least one steal, and 4-2 when he records at least one block.