After early-season scuffles, the Rockets are getting a pass while the Wizards are getting buried. Do we have the order mixed up?
Soooo….is it time to worry yet?
In baseball, the thinking goes that you can start paying attention to stats and records after Memorial Day. In football, it’s common knowledge that September records should always be taken with a grain of salt.
Basketball is a little different. Yeah, there are outliers, but unlike the other two sports, you generally don’t need to wait a quarter of the season to parse out the good, the bad and the ugly. More than football and baseball, a basketball season is like an angry mob: once it starts going in a particular direction, it’s awfully tough to change course.
History shows that right around the 10-game mark is when you can start crossing teams off, at least in pencil. The statistical evidence is there to back this theory up, and there’s a clear line of demarcation.
Last season, there were seven teams that had a net rating of minus-4.0 or worse after most squads hit double-digits in games played. Only one of them made the playoffs — the Cavs, who decided to start caring around midseason and, luckily, had LeBron James to make that strategy work. The prior year, the Grizzlies were the only team of nine to start out below that number and bounce back as a postseason entrant. Memphis pulled this off in 2015-16 as well, along with the Rockets, with those two teams filling out the bottom quarter of the Western Conference bracket. No teams were able to recover in 2014-15.
That’s four teams in four seasons, or one per year for the non-Mathletes out there. Wouldn’t you know it though that this season, two teams who were supposed to be postseason shoo-ins are not only below the minus-4.0 “get help fast” mark, but can’t even get there with a ladder.
Granted, we’re not quite at the 10-game mark yet, but the net ratings of the Houston Rockets (minus-9.6, ranked 26th) and Washington Wizards (minus-9.9, ranked 28th) are both abysmal.
There’s already been plenty of think pieces written about both but in very different ways. Your Rockets articles mostly have a “they’ll obviously be fine, but they might not be the contender we thought they were” vibe. Wizards pieces, however, have taken on the tone and tenor of an obituary.
Should there be a difference? In terms of semantics, the Rockets have gotten more of the benefit of the doubt. James Harden and Chris Paul have each missed two games, while Trevor Ariza knockoff, er, replacement James Ennis has missed three. They also lost one of their starters in Ariza and another player deemed important to last season’s success, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.
The Wiz, meanwhile, have yet to see Dwight Howard, who despite not playing a game is already the butt of a thousand jokes. Dwight may indeed be a pain in the arse, but he’s certainly better than the alternative. Ian Mahinmi has an unsightly minus-18.7 net rating, the worst among Washington regulars. When he’s off the court, the Wiz sport a minus-5.9 mark, the highest “off court” number they have. That’s still bad, but it’s a level above “dumpster fire.”
Throw in the fact that Marcin Gortat was a master of the pick and roll with John Wall – a play that dominated their offense – and it’s clear that maybe we’ve underestimated the effect of his being in LA in comparison to Ariza and Mbah a Moute (a player injured for much of last season) leaving Houston.
Looking at both teams’ early slates, the Wizards have not only played the top two teams in each conference (the Warriors and Raptors) but had the misfortune of being the East team stuck with a five-game early season west coast swing. The Rockets haven’t had a cupcake yet either, but have played four home games versus just two on the road.
So maybe we should all equalize our dirt throwing just a bit. Washington is a sideshow, but they’ve been a sideshow in the past and have come out of it in one piece. They also play in the East, which is home to five and maybe six good teams. Houston has no such luxury, already looking at having to leapfrog the Lakers, Thunder, Clippers and the “who the hell knows” Timberwolves just to get into the eighth seed.
It’s a long season, but as they say, it’s getting late early. Let’s just be fair about who we’re putting on the clock.