Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Unleashing the Power of Averageness

As I write this, the Hornets have just dropped to 3-11 and with no Eric Gordon, they seem to have no hope in sight. This is a dim time to be a Hornets fan, but this lost season offers a chance to perform a great basketball experiment.

The Hornets play at the second slowest pace in the league; that means that they hang onto the ball for a while before they get a shot off and that they are generally playing half-court basketball. The problem is that this doesn’t make any sense with their current roster; they don’t have any players in the half court who can consistently score. Bleeding the clock down on every possession makes sense when you have Chris Paul and David West, two guys who can combine to consistently get quality shots. It makes a lot less sense when you have Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry in those roles. The statistics back this up; they have one of the least efficient offenses in the league. If your offense isn’t efficient, you need to come up with a way to score more easy baskets. One way to do that is to get more baskets in transition. Get stops, get the ball up the court quickly, and get uncontested shot attempts. Most teams don’t attempt to play at too fast of a pace because they don’t want to tire out their starters. That’s because on most teams, there’s a big talent differential between the starters and their bench players, so the longer your bench has to play, the more of a disadvantage you are put at. Thing is, this assumption doesn’t hold when it comes to the Hornets.

After Okafor and Ariza (if Eric Gordon isn’t playing), they don’t really have anyone else who could start for a playoff team. Don’t get me wrong - they do have NBA talent, just not starting NBA talent. The only player on the roster who looks totally out of his depth is Squeaky Johnson, and that’s primarily because of his height. Players 3 through 11 on their roster are basically all of equal ability at their positions. Think about it, is there really a huge difference between Greivis Vasquez and Jarrett Jack? Is there that much of a difference in quality between a frontline of Okafor and Kaman vs a frontline of Smith and Ayon, or Landry and Smith? There isn’t really a huge difference between Aminu and Summers. When Xavier Henry gets healthy, he’ll give us another young wing player with a solid skill set.

The small amount of variance in skill on the Hornets roster means that to a large extent, it doesn’t matter who is on the floor at any given time. Because the lineups don’t matter, all of the assumptions about a playing at a fast tempo being unsustainable don’t apply to the Hornets. Realizing this fact, I propose that the Hornets play 11-12 players every game and distribute their minutes more or less evenly. Their rotations should be shorter, with wholesale substitutions every 4-5 minutes. This consistent influx of fresh players coming into the game would allow them to ramp up their defensive intensity, create more turnovers and long rebounds and lead to far more points in transition. The Hornets are 11th in the league in (effective) defensive field goal percentage and are a top 4 defensive rebounding team, so they have the personnel and hustle to consistently limit teams to one shot. Between Aminu, Summers, Jack, Henry and Vasquez, they should have enough players to push the ball up the court quickly after turnovers and missed shots and get easy baskets and fouls. The gain in offensive efficiency and free throws would more than make up for the minor losses in defensive efficiency and rebounding that might occur.

We don’t have enough talent to win a bunch of games through skill, but we have enough equally skilled players to win games through attrition. All we need to do is unleash the power of averageness.


Note: Even if this idea didn’t dramatically increase the Hornets’ winning percentage, it would make the games way more entertaining. 14 games in, the Hornets have yet to break the 100 point barrier this season. If we’re gonna go out, we may as well go out with guns blazing.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Marco Polo

The Hornets haven’t shot the ball well in general this year (they’re 25th in the league in true shooting percentage), but Marco Bellinelli has shot the ball exceptionally poorly.  His 3 of 10 performance against OKC last night prompted me to do some digging so I could quantify exactly how bad his shooting has been this year.

Of the 38 NBA shooting guards who play 20 or more minutes a night, Bellinelli is second to last in true shooting percentage, at 45.9%.  He’s capable of playing a lot better than this; last year he ranked 12 out of 49 at 56.1%.  If Bellinelli starts playing the way he did last year, the Hornets would start turning these L’s into W’s.  His performance has been a great predictor of the team’s success this season.  Bellinelli has shot 53% in the Hornets’ 3 wins and 29% in the team’s 7 losses, the worst differential of any Hornets starter.

The good news is that he’s continued to hustle in spite of his poor shooting; Bellinelli is one of the league’s top rebounders among shooting guards.  For that reason and because he’s so central to the team’s success, we should continue to support him and try to cheer him out of this poor shooting streak, even as we eagerly await Eric Gordon’s return.

Sources: and, all stats are current as of 1/11/2012.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Midseason Acquisition

Based on the holes that I've seen in the New Orleans Hornets' play the past week, the team is badly in need of a midseason acquisition. This necessary piece of the puzzle is not a player however, but an owner. Until the Hornets get an owner, they will lack the ability to build a true contender. The rejected Chris Paul-Lakers-Rockets trade is only the most egregious example of the conflict of interest inherent in a team being owned by the league it competes in. As long as any deal makes the Hornets (or any other team involved in a trade) immediately better than a rival team, there will always be the danger of the deal being squashed, not for basketball reasons, but because of pure self-interest on the part of the owners.

Think about it: Why would any self-interested person who is full owner of a team ever allow a team that they are partial owner of (and are paying the bills for) to become a genuine title contender? Even if a proposed deal didn't make the Hornets better, but significantly strengthened another team involved in the trade, rival owners would have a tremendous incentive to kill the deal.  For example, Mark Cuban was one of the most vocal owners in opposing the Paul-Lakers trade; his Mavs play in the same division as the Hornets and Rockets and are one of the Lakers’ main competitors.  In this sense, the NBA was 100% correct in saying that the deal was nixed because of “basketball reasons”.

The Chris Paul trade fiasco will also likely make other teams hesitant to negotiate trades with the Hornets for fear that the deal will be vetoed by other owners; in the case of such a veto, the almost-traded players involved in the deal could be disgruntled and unsettle their almost ex-teams. Lamar Odom's reaction to the Paul-Lakers trade is a great example of this; Odom was so upset by the failed trade bid that he demanded a trade and the Lakers ended up giving away one of their most valuable assets for virtually nothing.

Additionally, because every NBA owner needs to sign off on a deal involving the Hornets, no trade proposal made involving the Hornets will ever really be secret. If no deal can be kept under the radar, the discretion that makes a really savvy trade possible is eliminated. The Hornets successfully making a great trade would be like trying to win a poker game where everyone at the table knows what cards you're holding.

Moving beyond the philosophical, the other reason the Hornets need an owner is that they won't have the financial freedom to pursue any roster moves that contribute significantly to their future payroll until they have an owner. For all of the backward-rationalizing and subterfuge that surrounded the Paul-Lakers veto, the deal with the Clippers did minimize the Hornets' future payroll (relative to the Laker deal) and possibly make the team more attractive to potential buyers. The Hornets clearly need to make some roster moves, but the need to keep the owner-less team's future financial obligations to a minimum will severely limit their ability to do so.

Because of the reasons above, the most necessary midseason move is not for this team to acquire a big-time player, but for a big-time financial player to acquire the team.