Hornets @ Suns Preview and Analysis

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Published: November 11, 2009

Matchup: Hornets(3-5) @ Suns(7-1)

Off Efficiency: Hornets 105.0(15th), Suns 110.6(3rd)
Def Efficiency: Hornets 107.7(22nd), Suns 106.0(20th)

The Suns have defied expectations and came storming out of the gate so far this season.  In a flashback to three years ago, they are blitzing teams with a fast pace(100 posessions per game) and a storm of threes.  Like all those great Phoenix teams, the secret to their attack is fielding five players who can shoot, and letting Steve Nash make the decisions on who should get the ball and finish.

The result is a sweet, balanced attack, where all five starters share shots.  Grant Hill and Channing Frye, the two starters who get the least number of shots, each take 11.3 a game.  Nash gets 12.4, Amare gets 12.5, and Jason Richardson puts up 13.2 shots per game.  Unsurprisingly, that shot distribution exactly mirrors the efficiency of each player so far this season, with the most efficient shooters getting the most shots.  That’s something that is frequently not the case, attesting to Nash’s skill as a point guard.

Now, there is some question about whether some of their shooting is sustainable.  Frye and Richardson in particular do seem to be way over their heads.  A return to normalcy for Richardson will shave a point or two off the Suns efficiency levels – and Frye will probably continue to descend, though I’m convinced he can still be a good shooter from deep.(He’s always had a 20-footer.  23-foot shots aren’t a stretch when they are wide open.)

Regardless, Toronto was on the same sort of shooting high when they encountered the Hornets – and we all saw what happened there.  Relying on a shooter cooling off is a fool’s game.  Instead, the Hornets should try and take advantage of what the Suns do poorly:

First, and foremost, the Suns will make mistakes.  They are the 6th worst team in the league when it comes to holding on to the ball.  New Orleans remains in the top five.  If the Hornets can maintain their mistake-free style of basketball and  force those available Suns turnovers, it will go a long way to narrowing the gap between these two teams.

The other thing the Suns have been terrible at doing this season is matching opposing Power Forwards.  According to 82games.com, power forwards have been carving them up for PERs of 23, Suns’ centers and small forwards are playing their opponents to a standstill, and the Suns’ have won their games by destroying opponents at the shooting guard and point guard positions.  Unfortunately for the Suns, Paul destroys Nash at the same level that Nash destroys other point guards – so one of their primary strengths is not a strength against the Hornets.  If West gets his game going, like the numbers say he should be able to do, the Hornets will be in this thing easily.

Injuries:

Hornets: Diogu is out. Sean Marks is having his feelings hurt by not playing over Hilton Armstrong.
Suns: Barbosa is hurt, but he’s been playing anyways.  Robin Lopez is out.

Positional Analysis

PG: Chris Paul v Steve Nash
Advantage: Hornets
These battles are always fun to watch, particularly for me because Paul almost always wins them.  Nash typically shoots better and gets a couple more assists, while Paul scores more, rebounds more, and gets steals all over the court.  It’ll be fun.

SG: Devin Brown v Jason Richardson
Advantage: Suns
Richardson is flying high right now, but even at his normal levels, he’d eat Brown for dinner.  I do want to point out one thing about Brown after that crazy Clippers game: over the course of his career Devin Brown has actually been about an average three-point shooter.  The last two years, though, he was down and that makes a trend.  I don’t expect Devin to buck that trend, but we do have one bit of hope:  He played against Rasual Butler the other night – and maybe the Phoenix inhabiting Butler moved into Brown’s body.  Butler is shooting at his career levels of 38% and 30% from three, indicating something has changed.  Perhaps it’s Brown’s turn!  Yeah, I vote for us pinning our hopes on a mystical firebird posessing Devin Brown.

SF: Peja Stojakovic v Grant Hill
Advantage: Suns
Grant Hill does a little bit of everything for the Suns.  Despite his age, he still retains his athletic ability and provides nice defense on the wings, solid rebounding, nice passing, and serves as a great fifth option for scoring, though his efficiency is predictably down.  Peja’s efficiency is up a little from last year, but is far from good or consistent, and he does little else on the court – other than play solid defense at times and stretch the floor for Paul.

PF: David West v Amare Stoudemire
Advantage: Suns
Personally, I see Frye as more of the power forward for the Suns, but whatever.  While we pan West for being a bad rebounder, Stoudemire challenges him in that regard, and with a lot less room for excuse considering his natural talents.  So far, its been a down year for Amare, as he’s turned the ball over a lot, taken less shots than usual, and managed to play even worse defense than normal as he fouls everyone and everybody who approaches him.  He’s still deadly on a pick and roll, however, and capable of knocking down the open mid-range shot.  We’ll see if the Hornets go to West tonight to take advantage of his poor defense.

C: Emeka Okafor v Channing Frye
Advantage: Hornets
Frye may be a deep threat, but his defense is terrible, his rebounding is pathetic, and his foul numbers are high.  Okafor should be able to punish him inside, and Frye’s only hope is the Hornet’s reluctance to get out on sweet-shooting big men.

Bench
Advantage: Suns
I can’t be certain who Byron Scott is going to roll out on the second unit tonight other than Hilton Armstrong(sigh) and Darius Songaila.  I would hope the Hornets will also roll with Thornton and Collison again.  They didn’t play great last game, but they need to be given more of a chance, and Byron typically gives a player a set of 6-10 games to prove if they belong.  I expect to see them out there tonight, but who knows, they are rookies, and Byron loves to jerk around rookies. 

For the Suns, they use mostly a four-man rotation with Lopez out:  Leandro Barbosa is still a dynomite 3rd guard, capable of going off any night and hitting shots from all over the court.  Dudley and Amundson will ratchet up the front-court energy and defense when they hit the floor, and Goran Dragic . . . well . . . he’ll play some minutes.  Their unit is more established and better than the Hornets right now – unless Posey or Thornton get their strokes going.

Enjoy the game.

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