The eight seed doesn't matter, right? The Oklahoma City Thunder are the No. 1 team in our statistically-based power rankings, and it's really not that close. The Rockets faltered down the stretch and dropped their final game to a Kobe-less Lakers team. And the one recent eight seed upset - last year's Sixers - ran into a Bulls team sans-Derrick Rose. It's easy to move on a disregard Houston's chances.
But if you're writing off the Rockets already, you haven't looked at the stats close enough.
The No. 9 overall team in our power rankings is for real. And while their shot at the Finals may not be exceedingly large, they are one team that I wouldn't want to play if I were the Thunder, Clippers, or Grizzlies. The stats tell the story why.
The Rockets may not have the best title odds in the world, but that has to do with their road rather than their play. With potential matchups against the Thunder in round one and Clippers/Grizzlies in round two, the Rockets would need to beat two top eight (and possibly two top four) teams to make the Conference Finals.
|NBA Champs||Win Conf. Finals||Win Conf. Semis||Win First Round|
Houston holds the second-worst odds of making it out of the first round; only Milwaukee's 9.32 percent is less of a chance. As the rounds move on, though, Houston moves up the ranks. Their 2.32 percent chance at the finals is the second-highest among the six teams at a six seed or below. Only Atlanta's 4.36 percent Finals chance ranks better.
This puts Houston squarely in that realm of "Not likely, but dangerous". Due to their up-and-down play, Houston could easily be swept in the first round. In fact, we give Oklahoma City a 15.29 percent chance of doing just that. That's almost as good odds of an OKC sweep as Houston's total odds of winning the series.
But inconsistency also swings the other way; the could pull a Florida Gulf Coast and play well above their expected efficiency value. We saw those numbers in action the last time the Rockets and Thunder faced off. Houston played well above its average offensive efficiency, finishing with a 114.3 offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) against the No. 4 most efficient defense in the NBA. The Rockets would win that game 122-119.
Weakness That's Not A Weakness
According to Dean Oliver's Four Factors, turnover percentage accounts for roughly 25 percent of a team's chances of winning. That's not necessarily a good thing for Houston. Their 14.9 percent offensive turnover rate ranks dead last in the NBA, and their 13.5 percent defensive turnover rate (19th) doesn't make up for their offensive inefficiencies.
But is it possible that turnovers are a bit overrated? You look at the Finals participants from the past couple of years and tell me.
|Year||Team||Off. TOV%||TOV% Rank||Off. eFG%||eFG% Rank|
Of the past six Finals participants, only one (the 2010 Lakers) were in the top half of the league in offensive turnover percentage. Notably, though, each one of those teams that had a horrible turnover rate also finished with a top five offensive effective field goal percentage to make up for their inefficiencies. It's a give and take.
What does that mean for Houston? It means that they're right in line with the past couple of Finals participants. Their current .525 offensive eFG% sits No. 5 in the NBA, even while their turnover rate is dead last. In fact, their analytics rate out very similarly to last year's Oklahoma City Thunder squad on the offensive end, (although slightly less efficient on the defensive side of the ball, allowing 2.9 more points per 100 possessions).
In fact, if "high eFG% and high TOV%" is indicative of Finals participants, four teams fit that bill this season: the Spurs (No. 2 eFG%, No. 22 TOV%), the Thunder (No. 3, No. 29), the Clippers (No. 4, No. 18), and the Rockets (No. 5, No. 30). It should be a fun Western Conference side of the bracket, shouldn't it?
The Houston Rockets like to run; that's not exactly a surprise. It may surprise you, though, that the Rockets' pace of 96.1 possessions per 48 minutes is the quickest pace in the NBA over the past two seasons. The last team to run any quicker was the 2010-11 Timberwolves, who averaged 96.5 possessions per 48 minutes.
That quick pace could prove an advantage against teams that like to play a slower tempo of basketball. The Thunder are not one of those teams; their 93.3 possessions per 48 minutes ranks as the 10th-quickest pace in the NBA. That should be enough to keep up with the Rockets. The Clippers' No. 19 pace and the Grizzlies' No. 30 pace, however, might be a different story.
The Rockets went 2-5 against the Clippers and Grizzlies this year, not a healthy figure against potential second-round opponents. However, there was a common thread in the games. In the two victories, the Rockets averaged 95.9 possessions per 48 minutes. In the five losses, the Rockets only averaged 90.2 possessions per 48 minutes, and only one of the games (a Feb. 13 loss to the Clippers) finished above 93 possessions per 48 minutes.
If the Rockets can force slower teams to run, then they'll have a better chance. Unfortunately for Houston fans, they'll need to get past OKC to make it happen. And while the Rockets don't have great odds of being bracket busters, don't be surprised if the Rockets make their opponents sweat a bit during this playoff run.