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Last season's Houston Rockets came within one Chris Paul hamstring (well, and 27 straight missed 3s) of toppling Golden State and going to the NBA Finals. It was odd, then, when Daryl Morey signed 34-year-old Carmelo Anthony to a one-year, veterans minimum $2.4 million contract in August. The Rockets and coach Mike D'Antoni reached the precipice by crafting the NBA's second most efficient offense last season, just a hair behind those pesky Warriors; Anthony, meanwhile, ranked 224th in player efficiency rating.
"We'll see how it fits," coach Mike D'Antoni said in September, when discussing Anthony's place in the lineup. At a glance: The pairing looks like a square ball in a round hole. And a deep dive into last season's Second Spectrum data doesn't change the shape of things -- especially as it relates to the play style of last season's Rockets forwards (Melo will in part be replacing the departed Luc Mbah a Moute and Trevor Ariza). But Anthony, a 10-time All-Star, could surprise us yet. Hey, someone thought it was worth a shot.
Known for their dedication to efficiency, D'Antoni's players shoot from beyond the arc or in the paint, and rarely elsewhere. Rockets forwards averaged only 2.3 nonpaint 2s per 100 possessions (lowest in the league). But despite D'Antoni discouraging inefficient midrange shots, Rockets forwards still made 42.1 percent of those non-paint 2s, the NBA's sixth-highest clip.
Anthony, meanwhile, has made his legacy shooting from the elbow, and he averaged 8.9 nonpaint 2s per 100 possessions (fifth among 114 forwards with at least 50 attempts and 6.6 more than all Rockets forwards combined). Unlike his new team, though, he connected on a pedestrian 40.1 percent (42nd in the NBA).
A key Rockets strategy: Get James Harden or Chris Paul the ball and clear out. Houston led the league with 23.9 isolation plays per 100 possessions (LeBron James' second-place Cavs lagged well behind at 20). And the ball-dominant Anthony alone averaged a hefty five iso per 100 possessions (17th among 48 forwards with at least 100 isolation plays). A match! Well, not so fast. Harden and Paul gobbled up 74 percent of those isos, while Rockets forwards barely got any, averaging just 3.6 isos per 100 possessions (25th in the NBA).
Kicked to the corner
Say the iso isn't there and an opposing defense has collapsed on Paul or Harden in the paint. No worries -- no team attempted more corner 3s than Houston. Rockets forwards camp in the corners, ready for a kickout from one of the superstars, and they far outpaced the rest of the league with 8.5 corner 3s per 100 possessions (the second-place Nets forwards had 6.3), with an effective field goal percentage of 59.2.
Melo is not known for waiting around for his shot. He averaged only 1.3 corner 3s per 100 possessions (83rd among 94 forwards with at least 50 attempts). Perhaps more alarmingly, though, his 55.1 eFG percentage from the corner doesn't scream Rockets material.
One upside? Down low
Turns out, Houston's forwards, 3-and-D specialists like Ariza and Mbah a Moute, were awful in the restricted area last season. Despite quality looks (controlled for shot type, location of defense, etc.), they scored on a league-worst 63.5 percent of field goal attempts down low. But Melo can finish at the rim, scoring on 67.6 percent of restricted area attempts, 1.6 percentage points higher than an average shooter. It seems like a small difference, but with Houston shooting down low on 21.8 percent of possessions, it could result in more points on the board. It isn't pretty, but the Rockets will take it.