A Mediocre Bench isn’t Going to Cut It

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Published: March 10, 2009

During the Hawks preview I pretty much killed the Hornets bench, and a few of you pointed out that the Hornets don’t really have the worst bench in the league  like I was implying.  That’s true, but there is a reason why I’ve soured on our bench so much – and it’s not just the fact that we lose the 2nd quarter by an average of 2 points every game.

In terms of efficiency, the players in the Hornets second unit have a collective Offensive Efficiency of 101.5 points scored per 100 posessions.  Now, last year the Hornets second unit posted a similar number, but they also posted a deadly defensive efficiency that actually allowed them to outscore their opponents over the course of the season.  This season, the 2nd unit’s defensive efficiency is about 103.7 points given up per 100 posessions.  Defensively, that’s not bad – but it is bad when combined with an offense that poor.

So where does the Hornet’s bench rank?  Defensively, they rank 11th among second units.  Offensively, they rank 22nd.  Overall, they are 16th in the league, which means they are just about average.  At first look, that sounds fine, but here’s the real problem:  Other than Dallas, the Hornets have the worst bench among the current 8 seeds in the West, and the Hornets and Dallas are the only seeds that have a bench that is outscored by its opponents.  That means that when the Hornets hit the playoffs, we can expect the second-quarter meltdowns to become even more pronounced.  It’s pathetic, because the Hornet’s starting five is the seventh best in the league, despite all the nagging injury issues they’ve had.  If the Hornet’s bench could provide even a little boost, or even just play the other team more evenly, it would make the team infinitely stronger and get the starters more rest.

So is there a way to fix the bench?  I’m a bit of a pessimist, but here is an idea that several people have already proposed in our comments, and that I agree with: turning Stojakovic into a sixth man.

During the series of games where Paul, Chandler, and West were all out of commission, the Hornets turned to Peja to be their primary offensive option, and he did a pretty solid job in that role.  The past three games with Julian in the starting lineup, the Hornet’s starters have produced a slightly worse offensive efficiency of 108.0 and a much nastier defensive efficiency of 84.0.  Granted, that is a very small sample size, and there is no way I expect that defensive efficiency to continue, but it is extremely promising.  The Hornets could start Julian, sub him out for Peja around the 6:00 minute mark of the first quarter and let Peja warm up.  At the start of the second quarter, they can start running the offense through him.

Making this change will entail curtailing Posey’s minutes some – but I really think he’d be better served as a 20-22 minute man anyways, not the 29 minute man he’s been all season.  There are 144 minutes available between the power forward, small forward and shooting guard spots – give West 38, Peja 28, Wright 24, Butler 34, and Posey 20 minutes.

It would be something interesting to see tried.  I have no idea how Peja would respond to coming off the bench for the first time in years.  He has the personality that I think he’d accept it without question, but I can’t be sure, and I don’t know if coming in cold off the bench would impact his shooting at all.

If it doesn’t work – I’d explore sending Butler to the bench in a sixth man role.  The biggest concern there is that Butler has to get minutes to be effective.  For his career, if he gets 25+ minutes, he shoots 43% from the field and 38% from downtown.  If he gets less than 25 minutes, he shoots 37% and 30%.

The Coaching staff have 20 games to figure something out, and happily, Byron Scott sounds ready to try anything.  After the Atlanta game he said:

“The second quarter was awful, as simply put as that,” Scott said. “I thought our guys in the second quarter did a terrible job of defending those guys. Whatever we could do wrong in the second quarter we basically did.”

“It’s putting too much pressure on our starters,” Scott said, adding he plans to make adjustments to his second unit.

“I can’t sit there and continue to watch this,” he said.

Here’s hoping that whatever he tries works – and that it’s more than just inserting Devin Brown and Ryan Bowen back into the second unit again.

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