A Fresh Start
The departures of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah A Moute left many wondering what the Rockets would do to fill such a big hole on the depth chart. Both players were seen as catalysts to the Rockets successful 2017-2018 campaign. After the success of last season, both were seen as players who would be back with the team to hopefully be back in the position they were in last season; one game from the NBA Finals.
Mbah A Moute and Ariza, both of whom did not have had memorable postseasons, left for a combined 19.3 million dollars, while the Rockets were able to find their replacements for a mere $5.8 million. Those replacements were future Hall of Famer, Carmelo Anthony, and journeyman, James Ennis.
Replacing A Slasher
Tale of the Tape
Effective Field Goal % (2017-2018 Season)
James Ennis: 54% Career High------Next Best: 51.6% (16-17 MEM)
Luc Mbah A Moute: 57.2% Career High------Next Best: 56.2% (16-17 LAC)
By the stats, it would seem as though Mbah A Moute is a much more effective player than Ennis, so I decided to dig a bit deeper than that.
The table above is a comparison of the two players based off the heat map from the 2017-2018 basketball season.
Based off the heatmaps shown above from both of their 2017-18 seasons, Ennis and Mbah A Moute are even regarding percentages on the court. In Game 7 of Western Conference Finals, the Rockets missed a record 27 straight 3-pointers, which led to them making an unfortunate exit from the series with the Golden State Warriors. Missing in that game was the slasher that was Mbah A Moute, as his confidence was absolutely shattered, and the mid-range game of Chris Paul, which would have allowed the Rockets to at least get a rhythm if the 3-ball isn’t going down. I believe Morey is now trying to implement players who can bring a mid-range game to the team this season, as both Ennis and Anthony have shown they are comfortable taking mid-range shots unlike Mbah A Moute and Ariza.
According to NBASavant.com, Ennis hit the mid-range/short corner at 46.5% which was 5.9% above the league average. He also was more effective down low at 65.2%, which was 2.1% above the league average. Ennis hit a 42.3% in the left corner which the Rockets love to go to on kick-outs, but he was poor around the arch at 30.3% compared to Mbah A Moute’s 41.1%. Working with the two’s, Ennis could be used much like Mbah A Moute as they will test his shooting early on to figure out if he can also fill in the shots Ariza would have taken as well. Two things that stand out was Ennis’ ability to score close to basketball and make mid-range shots were better than Mbah A Moute. Players have come to Houston with deficiencies in hitting the 3-ball, but playing in the system D’Antoni currently has in place will improve Ennis’ shots from beyond the arch where he was a combined 46 of 143 (32.2%).
It would seem as though Carmelo Anthony’s arrival in Houston is just seven years late, as he was rumored numerous times to be on Houston’s radar until he ultimately ended up with the New York Knicks. One thing many Rockets fans would highlight would be the relationship between Mike D’Antoni and Carmelo Anthony and whether the two can work together again.
”Former Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni admitted to the worst-kept secret of his departure — he resigned on March 14, 2012, because of Carmelo Anthony.” D’Antoni ultimately admitted this in 2017, five years after his departure from New York and a little over a year later, Anthony joined the Rockets.
One would assume that the relationship was tainted forever, but the two have now reunited in Houston. With Chris Paul and James Harden as the primary ball handlers on offense which is centered around iso-ball, that wasn’t the case in New York, nor in Phoenix for D’Antoni. In New York and Phoenix, the offense was all about on-ball and player movement, and the open player would take the shot.
In Houston, it is almost always just flowing through just two players with them finding the open guy when they are getting doubled-up. “As for clashing styles that played a big factor in clashing heads in New York, D'Antoni says that will no longer be the case between he and Anthony, thanks in part to advances in analytics.” Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey is supremely known for his use of analytics and has been a reason for a lot of the Rockets’ winning formula.
In 60 games with D’Antoni (February 23, 2011-March 14, 2012), these were Anthony’s stats.
Worth noting in his second season with D’Antoni, where the two ultimately split, Anthony’s numbers dipped significantly. Though I am optimistic, the two can coexist with a leader in Paul captaining the ship, and with Harden providing the support through his magnificence on offense. Combining Paul’s ball handling, IQ, and passing with Harden’s driving ability, shooting, and IQ should enhance Anthony’s game and avoid further decline in his game.
Notably, Anthony had Career Lows in Min. Per Game, Field Goals Made Per Game, Field Goal %, Free Throw %, Assists Per Game, Steals Per Game, and Points Per Game.
Trevor Ariza: 54.2%------Career Best: 54.8% (2007-2008 LAL)
Carmelo Anthony: 47.6%------Career Best: 51.1% (2007-2008 DEN)
According to the heat map provided by NBASavant.com, Ariza bested Anthony in the Corner 3s and took a much larger volume of his shots from there. He was significantly better than Anthony, especially from the left side at 42.7%, while it was the opposite for the Mbah A Moute-Ennis matchup where Ennis was the better of the two from that spot. In the post, it is quite surprising to see Carmelo Anthony well below the league average of 63.1%, and he is at 55.6%. Much like Ennis, what Anthony does bring to the table is his ability to hit the mid-range shot much better than that of the tandem of Mbah A Moute and Ariza. Anthony can hit a pull-up jumper off the dribble and can post-ups players with his big frame near the basket.
“I want as much effort on defense---maybe more---as on offense…That was never going to happen with Melo.” George Karl on Carmelo Anthony.
I worry if things do not go Anthony’s way, then he will be the nuisance he was in New York and cause a rift inside the organization, but for some reason, I feel the leadership of Chris Paul and James Harden will stifle any of that from happening. Anthony brings much more offensive power than Ariza, but the hope is that he accepts whatever role he is given and do it efficiently.
Try and guess what numbers belong to which player regarding their 2017-2018 ORtg (Offensive Rating per 100 Possessions) & DRtg (Defensive Rating per 100 Possessions)
*Higher ORtg number=good
*Higher DRtg number=bad
To my surprise, the player out of the bunch with the highest ORtg and worst DRtg last season was James Ennis. Player 2 is Trevor Ariza, 3 is Luc Mbah A Moute, and 4 is Carmelo Anthony. Though James Ennis was with the Grizzlies, a lottery team, and the Pistons, he was in systems that let him run wild within a below par team, it should bring some hope that he can produce just as well in a high-powered offense in the Bayou City. Mbah A Moute being the player with the highest DRtg is no surprise as back in 2016 Doc Rivers proclaimed Mbah A Moute as the “best defender in the NBA.” He did prove it in his lone regular season with Rockets that Rivers was kind of right as Mbah A Moute was their best defender until the injury bug struck. Anthony’s low ORtg and 2nd lowest DRtg is very indicative of the overall season he had. Lows in many categories across the board would scare any team away, but the Rockets are taking the risk with the hope he could regain his offensive prowess working with Chris Paul.
Hopefully, the mid-range will be an added element to the Rockets as the “you live by the 3, and die by the 3” motto cannot be the case again this season. When that was the case, the Rockets certainly were buried, and if you are ever going to going to beat the Warriors, you cannot be one-dimensional anymore; if last years’ road to the Western Conference Finals was steep, then this season’s will much tougher.
The hope is James Ennis can pick it up along the way because his numbers suggest he won’t be an exact clone to the player Mbah A Moute was for them last season. He does bring better ball handling and a mid-range game that Mbah A Moute did not have. Carmelo Anthony is a top 10 basketball player in the league in his prime, but those days are gone. He is still a volume shooter who has a good mid-range shot and ability to get rebounds with his big frame. Ariza is not the scorer that Anthony is, but he provided much more defense than we can expect from Anthony. It’s a scoring league, and at the end of the day, it will always be about who makes more buckets at the end. With offensive playmakers like Harden and Paul doing a bulk of the work, they will only go as far the ones around them allow them to, and hopefully, Ennis and Anthony provide just enough to avoid a major collapse that ended the Rockets’ 2017-2018 season.