Why Isn’t Trevor Ariza the Same Lethal Shooter He Was Last Season?

With his strong defense remaining his greatest asset, why isn’t Ariza the same deadly shooter from last season?

A little more than a year ago, we were talking about Trevor Ariza  and his thriving role as a 3-and-D swingman in Washington. At age 28, Ariza was having a career year as both a long-range shooter and versatile defender, and he was a key piece to the Wizards’ playoff run.

That same play is what eventually landed Ariza his current gig in Houston, when the Rockets signed the free agent last July to a four-year, $32 million deal.

But since the move, Ariza hasn’t been nearly the offensive threat he was in Washington. While his work on the defensive end has remained strong (he has better steal and defensive win share numbers through 49 games), his juicy three-point shooting has reduced to below average, and his current efficiency numbers rank among the lowest of his 13-year career.

2013-14 (77).456.4071134.315.8
2014-15 (49).377.3291041.212.0

As a first reaction, you can look to the players surrounding Ariza with his new team and compare them to those he had in Washington. Surely a point guard like John Wall helped to make Ariza’s job a lot easier, but the Rockets aren’t lacking of a guard who can penetrate the lane and find his teammates on the perimeter -- James Harden is averaging nearly 10 assists per 100 possessions with a 35.2 percent assist rate.

But then again, there’s a different type of play between each team’s primary ball handler, and Harden just so happens to be one of the league’s best scorers; so perhaps there’s fewer shots to go around in Houston?

Team (Season)PACE2P/G3P/GAriza 2P/G (Team Rank)Ariza 3P/G (TR)
Wizards (13-14)95.4563.620.75.3 (7)5.7 (1)
Rockets (14-15)95.750.233.34.5 (7)7.0 (1)

Letting the numbers speak for themselves, through 49 games this season, there’s no blame on Ariza’s lack of shots or involvement in the offense. In fact, his role as a shooter has stayed relatively unchanged. Because the Rockets shoot more threes than any other team in the league, naturally Ariza’s three-point attempts will rise, but his role within the offense as the primary three-point shooter stays the same.

Another nugget to point out is that Ariza isn’t shooting different kinds of threes. According to league stats, a vast majority of Ariza’s bread and butter (aka, his three-point attempts) are open catch-and-shoot opportunities coming from above the break, just the same as they were last season in Washington. The only difference is that Ariza is actually seeing an increase in the number of open to wide-open three-point shot attempts he takes (that is, the closest defender to him at a minimum of four feet), from 44.6 percent last season to 48.3 percent so far this year.

Team (Season)Above Break 3PA/GR. Corner L. Corner % of 3PA w/ 4+ Feet
Wizards (13-14)3.31.331.044.6
Rockets (14-15)4.581.50.8948.3

Luckily for the Rockets, Ariza’s downtick on offense doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot. Houston is 34-15, fending off challengers for third place in the Western Conference, and a near lock to earn a high seed in the playoffs according to our nERD metric. They’re seventh in the league in scoring, and 12th in points allowed per game; and again, Ariza’s defense remains stellar. But that doesn’t mean Houston’s front office doesn’t wish to tap further into the team’s full potential.

If we go strictly off the numbers, attempting to answer questions regarding Ariza’s offensive efficiency this season all seem to lead back to the shooter. In addition to joining a more talented team, Ariza is also seeing more looks from familiar spots on the floor, and playing alongside dominant players who demand plenty of attention.

Perhaps things pick up for him following the All-Star break; or maybe his shooting continues to hover around average and he remains an asset by way of good defense; or maybe John Wall is a requirement. Either way, through 49 games this season, Ariza’s offensive game leaves a little something to be desired.

Trevor Ariza isn't having a bad season. He’s just not quite as threatening from deep as he was last year.