December 16, 2017

The Houston Rockets have the second-best record in the NBA, just one win behind the Boston Celtics. They have the largest margin of victory of any team in the league. Based on Basketball-Reference.com’s “Simple Rating System” (a statistical measure which combines the strength of schedule and margin of victory), Houston is the best team in the NBA right now.

In fact, they are on pace for the fifth best SRS in the history of the NBA. The four teams who finished better all won the NBA Finals.

Highest SRS in NBA History
Miscellaneous Team Opponent
Rk Season Tm Lg G W L W/L% MOV SOS SRS Pace ORtg DRtg eFG% TOV% ORB% FT/FGA eFG% TOV% ORB% FT/FGA
1 1970-71 MIL* NBA 82 66 16 .805 12.26 -0.34 11.92 .509 0.226 .424 0.210
2 1995-96 CHI* NBA 82 72 10 .878 12.24 -0.44 11.80 91.1 115.2 101.8 .517 13.1 36.9 0.217 .482 16.1 28.9 0.222
3 1971-72 LAL* NBA 82 69 13 .841 12.28 -0.63 11.65 .490 0.260 .432 0.177
4 2016-17 GSW* NBA 82 67 15 .817 11.63 -0.28 11.35 99.8 115.6 104.0 .563 13.2 22.8 0.204 .486 13.5 25.1 0.198
5 2017-18 HOU NBA 21 17 4 .810 10.81 -0.04 10.77 99.3 114.7 103.8 .560 14.5 22.6 0.238 .517 14.3 18.3 0.177
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/30/2017.

Does that get your attention?

These Rockets aren’t just good, they’re historically good, and they’re only getting better.

Let’s just run through some things bullet-point style, with hyperlinks.

  • They have the second-best offensive rating in the NBA (112.4) only 1.2 behind the Golden State Warriors.
  • They have the seventh-best defense rating int he NBA (101.6). The Warriors (sixth) and Toronto Raptors (who are 10th in both) are the only other two teams top-10 in both.
  • Their true shooting percentage (60.0) is second, again, only behind the Warriors. The same goes for their effective-field goal percentage (56.0). They’re also sixth in assist percentage.
  • They have made at least 11 three-pointers in all but one game this season and 15 or more in 14. That’s five more than any team in history through 21 games. In fact, only two teams (last year’s Rockets with 24 and the 2015-16 Warriors with 15) have even done that in the first 41 games. And if you really want your mind blown, only seven teams have done that in an entire season. 
  • The Rockets have already made 340 three-pointers this year after 21 games. That’s 48 more than anyone in history with last year’s Rockets being second. Last year’s Cavaliers are third. If they don’t make another shot from deep for the next three games, they’ll still have the most through 24.
  • They have won 12 games by 15 points or more. Only one other team has that many convincing victories to start the season, the 1969-70 New York Knicks, who won the title.

That’s the season numbers. But they’ve been more impressive as the season progresses. They had to incorporate three new pieces in Chris Paul, P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute into the lineup. If you’re expecting regression, it’s regressing upward.

  • They were 12-1 in the month of November with the best offensive rating (117.5), fourth-best defensive rating (100.3) and best net rating (17.2). That’s 3.9 points better than the Warriors, who were No. 2.
  • They had a 62.3 true shooting percentage (1), 58.5 effective field-goal percentage (1), 53.4 rebound percentage (2), and 61.2 assist percentage (6).
  • They averaged 17.8 3s per game (1), shot 40 percent (4) from deep, and averaged 119.8 points per game (1), winning their games by an average of 16.8 points (1).
  • On defense, they were third in steals (9.8) 12th in blocks (5.0), sixth in defensive rebounding, sixth in opponent free-throw rate, eighth in opponent turnover percentage and 11th in opponents effective field-goal percentage. They were no. 1 in points off turnovers.

Since Chris Paul returned, it gets even better. He’s played seven games now. The Rockets have won all seven.

And this is what he’s’ done.

Some factoids about what the Rockets have done since Paul came back:

  • The Rockets have the best offense (118.3) and defense (97.2) in the NBA. Obviously, with that is the best net rating (+21.1).
  • They also lead in True Shooting percentage (62.4) and effective field goal percentage (59.0).
  • They are averaging 18.8 3s per game (first by more than five) while shooting 42.4 percent on them (third).
  • They’re averaging 120.7 points and winning games by an average of 21.3 points.

And what of Harden and Paul playing together?

  • While Paul isn’t qualified for the leaderboard yet, he and Harden are first (10.3) and second (9.8) in assists per game respectively.
  • Since Paul returned, he and Harden are averaging 19.4 combine assists.  Their passes result in 53.7 points per game.
  • In the seven games Paul has played, he and Harden are combining to manufacture 88.1 points. Over the last six, the Rockets are yielding just 99.3
  • Since he returned, the Rockets have a 96.3 defensive rating with Paul on the court.
  • The Rockets have a 71.1 effective field-goal percentage off of Paul’s passes.
  • The Rockets’ net rating since Paul’s return with both Harden and Paul is +13.3. With only Paul, it’s +42.6. With only Harden, it’s +31.0. It’s arguable that the most frightening thing about the tandem is what they do apart from one another with the persistent, relentless pressure of having a Hall of Fame-caliber point guard always on the court.

If you look at the FATS calculator at NBAMAth.com, the closest  team to them according to Dean Oliver’s “four factors of winning” is last year’s Golden State Warriors.

 

And the thing is, things could be even better for them. Eric Gordon is only shooting 31.6 percent, well below his career average, and is due to regress. Paul also has yet to get his shot going, with his effective field-goal percentage down from 55.5 last year to 51.5 this year. Both should be able to see an uptick in their shooting as the season progresses.

The recent schedule has been somewhat favorable, and that plays into things, but it also has shortened the games for the Rockets, who have been putting in a lot of garbage time down the stretch. They do need to do it against better competition, and they need to do it for the remainder of the season as well as the postseason.

But as far as every possible indicator tells right now, they’re looking very much like a legitimate team and a valid challenger to the Warriors.

Kelly Scaletta

Kelly Scaletta writes for Vantage Sports, Bleacher Report and BBALLBREAKDOWN. He has the crazy notion that watching games and understanding stats are not mutually exclusive.

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