INSIDER – Defensive Improvement Case Study #5 – Houston Rokets 2002-2003

The final 4 teams left in the Western Conference this year were the 4 best teams in the West in effective field goal % defense. ( Weighs three point shooting.) The top 5 defensive teams all made it to the round of 8 and the New York Knicks were the only team to make the Final 8 with a defense below the top 15 in the NBA. You must play defense to win in the NBA.
For the last three seasons, the Utah Jazz have finished ranked 23rd, 19th and 21st defensively in the NBA. If the Jazz are competing with the best in the NBA they must become a better defensive team.
Last year the Jazz allowed 104.7 pts per 100 possessions. To move into the top 15 the Jazz would need to allow 103.0 and to move into the top 10 they would need to allow 101 pts per 100 possessions.
Therefore, I reviewed the last 20 plus years of NBA stats and found the 16 teams to have made a substantial (about 5 pts per 100 possessions) defensive jump from one year to the next. Over the next few weeks I will look at those 16 teams to see what made their defensive jump possible.
Note: I have not included any lockout shortened seasons.


DEFENSIVE CHANGE: In 2001-02 the Rockets defensive rating was 108.6 (29th) then in 2002-03 it improved to 102.6 (14th).

INSIDE THE FOUR FACTORS: In 01-02 the Rockets were 25th in EFG% def then incredibly improved to 6th in EFG% defense. They were 29th at forcing turnover and stayed very similar at 27th. They were 25th in defensive rebound and improved to 11th and interesting in the worst defensive year they were the best in the NBA at not fouling got a little worse to 6th when they improved defensively. Surprisingly they played a very slow pace of play when they were terrible on defense.

PLAYER MOVEMENT: The 01-02 bad defensive team started Francis, Mobley, Kenny Thomas, Kelvin Cato and a combination of numerous small forwards from Walt Williams to Eddie Griffin. The Rockets drafted #1 in the draft and took Yao Ming. That was the primary change, the guard line was still the same the power forward and small forward were still a mess but they added Yao Ming.

COACHING: Rudy Tomjanovich was the head coach for both seasons.

CONCLUSION: Having Yao Ming makes all the difference in the world. He leads to improvement in defensive rebounding which was a big deal and that leads to improvement in EFG% defense.

The bad defensive guard starting line-up of Francis and Mobley is somewhat similar to Mo and Foye with an undersized power forward in Kenny Thomas similar to Millsap. But the whole issue is Yao Ming.