And then it's to Houston to play the least entertaining good team and great player in the league.
After all the accolades Rudy's gotten lately, I wanted to bring up another. One of the more interesting stats out there, to me, is the Wins Produced. Andy Larsen and I had some interesting discussions about it a couple years ago (he doesn't like it, I did, but I've cooled on it now ... I don't think it reflects stuff as well as it claims). Anyway, it's based on box score stats and we can all love it right now because of this:
Of all the players in the NBA who have played 360+ minutes, Rudy Gobert is the 9th highest ... this means that according to their measurement, Rudy is the 9th most productive player in the NBA right now.
Related: Of all players, regardless of minutes played, Elliot Williams is #1. He had an incredible first two minutes of play in the NBA.
Related to my snide remark about Houston—Grantland recently posted an article by Kirk Goldberry about the Rockets, James Harden, and hypothesized they are the front-runner in what the league will look like in the future.
How can such an "average" shooter translate into one of the league's most ferocious offensive players? To really appreciate Harden, you need to recognize the three things that don't show up on shot charts - the three things he does as well as or better than anyone else playing the game right now.
1. Getting to the Line
Where's the best place to score in the NBA? The free throw line, where Harden goes to subsidize that average shooting efficiency. As I wrote about last season, he's the league's free throw master. This season, he's getting to the line a league-best nine times per game, with an average of eight of his 27 points per contest coming at the stripe. When you shoot almost 90 percent from the line, drawing a shooting foul - or any free throws, for that matter - elevates the value of a possession to 1.8 points. Considering the average NBA possession is worth about 1.04 points, that's a big upgrade.
2. Functional Misses
Most people know about Harden's Eurostep, which creates new, awkward angles as he drives to the rack.
But even when his attempts fail, they have a chance of succeeding. The entropy from his slashing drives, which scramble defenses, enables his teammates to slip into great rebounding positions. Not all missed shots are created equal, and sometimes they function a lot like inadvertent passes or shot-clock reset buttons.
As of January 1, Harden's close-range field goal percentage ranked a mediocre 21st within a group of 27 NBA players who had attempted at least 200 shots within eight feet of the hoop. But a closer examination reveals that, incredibly, the Rockets retrieve a ridiculous 55 percent of Harden's close-range misses, which is by far the highest share for any volume shooter in the league. Put another way: Harden converts only 54 percent of his interior chances, but when you consider that freakish offensive rebounding rate, a whopping 79 percent of his close-range attempts result in either a bucket or a fresh 24 for his team.
Within this same group of 27 basket attackers, Harden has the lowest assist rate, which means he also creates his own close-range shots at the highest rate in the NBA. In an era increasingly defined by basket-attacking wings, it's not hard to argue that Harden - especially with LeBron James currently on the shelf - is the most devastating attacker in the league right now.
3. The Arc-hitect
Despite those hidden efficiencies as an aggressor, Harden's ball distribution is probably the most overlooked part of his game. Over the past few years, he has evolved into the perfect catalyst for Houston's 3-happy offense. He currently ranks 11th in assists per game - but again, that deceptively undersells him, as he also ranks sixth in the NBA in points created via assists. Why the jump? Harden leads the NBA in assists that lead to 3-point shots, and he's especially great at finding open teammates in Morey's happy spot: the corners.
Just look at how much defensive attention he draws here before finding Nick Johnson open in the corner ... and then stick around for the excited fan in the golf shirt. This is just the kind of joy Harden brings to Polk Street.
I've expressed my doubts before, and I'll do so again: I'm not sure that Houston's offense is going to work in the playoffs. No matter how good a team's offense is, I can't see it as unbeatable if they are only capable of taking two types of shots. Good defenses and coaches will be able to create and implement a plan to stop it when they have a 7-game series to work with.
I could be wrong, of course.
I also hope I'm not ... because the Rockets are very unfun for me to watch.
Do you think the Rockets and Harden model is sustainable? The future? Or do you see/want to see a different model? Is Quin Snyder 's where's it's at?
I'm going to wax poetic here, for a moment, and talk about life, the universe, and everything.
One of my students came in today to show us a photo—it's a picture of him at a Jazz game with a couple of players posing with him. Nothing out of the ordinary—if you go to a game early enough, you'll see people in the corner seats getting a couple photos almost every night.
But when my student showed it, everybody got all excited. Even me. And my student suddenly felt like a superstar.
I think this is, in the end, why we love sports. Somehow, just being a fan, getting a photo, cheering at a game ... somehow it lets us touch and be a part of something inexplicably wonderful and great. It's a way that people relate to each other and a way we connect with others we don't otherwise do.
Despite all the fun lately, the Jazz are still not likely a playoff team this year. This means that the team still needs more work ... more improvement from its young players in the next couple of years, plus likely some roster moves. So, thinking about the team continuing to improve, and likely roster changes that will probably need to happen, we are now strategically led to today's poll: