The Houston Rockets in 2005-06

Posted on October 10, 2006 by

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Bonzi Wells played only six post-season games in 2006. Although the performance of his team – the Sacramento Kings — was somewhat forgettable, Wells left a very positive impression. He averaged twelve rebounds per game, a mark that is outstanding for a center or power forward. For a shooting guard, it is almost unbelievable. Wells also averaged 23 points per contest while posting a points-per-shot [(PTS-FTM)/FGA)] of 1.27 (or a 64% adjusted field goal percentage). His Win Score per-minute was 0.329. To put that in perspective, Dwyane Wade had a 0.237 Win Score per-minute in the playoffs. Yes, Wade was phenomenal in the playoffs. Wells — for these six games — was off the charts.

Given this performance, Wells expected a lucrative free agent contract. Of course, one might wonder if a sample of six games tells us much about a player. For his career Wells has produced nearly 37 wins, and posted a Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48] of 0.137. This means that Wells is good (average WP48 is 0.100), but hardly the player we saw in the playoffs.

It appears NBA decision-makers focused on the career mark and not the most recent six games. Consequently, although Sacramento offered to re-sign Wells, Bonzi thought the contract was not worthy of his talents. The rest of the NBA certainly did not agree with the Kings. The consensus was that Bonzi was actually worth less than what the Kings offered. In the end, Wells took far less money to sign with the Houston Rockets, the team that is the actual subject of this post.

The Rockets last year, as one can see HERE, did not have a pleasant experience. Most of this was due to Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. The two combined to play 104 games, which would be great if the season was 52 games long. But an NBA season is 82 games long, so for much of the season the Rockets did not have their most productive weapons.

And yes, Ming and McGrady are very productive players. Ming posted a WP48 of 0.280, the best mark of his career and a mark equal to Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic. As noted here, Howard was the 11th most productive player in the NBA last season. So had Ming played a full season, he would have likely been one of the 15 most productive players in the league.

McGrady’s WP48 was only 0.157. A good mark, but easily the worst performance of his career. Coming into last season McGrady had produced 106 wins in his career and had posted a 0.263 career WP48. In other words, McGrady has been consistently great. Clearly McGrady’s health problems took their toll last year.

If the Rockets had a healthy Ming and McGrady last year the team may have won 50 games. Now the old adage is that teams have to be able to overcome injuries. Of course, that adage is silly. Clothes do not win games. Players win games. If you change the players in the clothes, you change the likelihood the team will win. So it is not the case that injuries are no excuse. In fact, injuries are often “the excuse”.

And this is especially true for the Rockets. If we look at players who played at least 1,000 minutes for the Rockets, only Ming and McGrady were above average. In other words, once you move past the two stars, this team did not have much going for it.

In the off-season the Rockets traded its first round pick and Stromile Swift for Shane Battier. Battier posted a WP48 of 0.147 for the Memphis Grizzlies, so he can certainly help.

With Battier and Wells on board, and a healthy McGrady and Ming, the Rockets could be a very good team. Their starting line-up can have an average point guard in Rafer Alston, Bonzi Wells at shooting guard, McGrady at small forward, Ming at center, and Battier off the bench. Or they could go with a line-up of Alston at the point, McGrady at shooting guard, Battier at small forward, Ming at center, and Wells off the bench. Either way, the Rockets have 4/5 of a nice starting line-up.

You will note there is a problem at power forward. Juwan Howard is not very productive. He rebounds at a below average rate. And although he scores, across his career he has scored inefficiently.

Can the Rockets win without much production from one position? If Ming and McGrady are healthy, this team can be very good in 2006-07. One wonders, though, if the obvious weakness at power forward will prevent this team from contending with the top teams in the West.

– DJ

Wins Produced and Win Score are Discussed in the Following Posts

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say