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.