Breaking Down the Rookies and some Random Thoughts

Published: November 17, 2009

There’s a lot of doom and gloom as the team struggles to get some sort of consistency going.  That has, of course, inspired a storm of commentary and crazy on the internet.  There are people trying to suggest trading Paul makes sense. (You never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever trade a top 5 talent.  Ever.) People suggesting the Hornets start tanking after a whopping 11 games have been played.(Sheesh) People suggesting Allen Iverson is the answer. (I’m actually intrigued and would like to see it tried.)

Personally, I think it’s all a bit early to jump ship.   Sure, sound the alarm and try to avoid the oncoming iceberg . . . or fire Byron Scott . . . but keep calm and see what happens before piling in the life raft and rowing away. 

I’m pretty sure Jeff Bower will do just that.  He’s always been a calm, deliberate man, and he’s going to figure out his rotations, evaluate what he has, and then make a decision on what he needs to do.  I don’t blame him either.  He put together a team that he hoped would be played a certain way.  It wasn’t, the obstacle was removed, and now he’s going to make sure it’s played the way he imagined so he can evaluate if the pieces work.  I’d be surprised to see him make any moves until late December – unless he feels he’s got an offer that is too good to pass up.

So, rather than indulge in Hornet-fixin’ trade speculation, (There’s a Memphis-Hornets trade I love, and one with New Jersey, and one with . . .) I’m going to focus on two things in this post:  the rookies, and Paul’s ankle.

The Indefinitely Injured Ankle

You’ll have to excuse me if this is a bit of a rant, but . . . what the hell?  Sources say the ankle has no structural damage, so therefore, it’s a common sprain.  Sprains have degrees which doctors assign to them all the time.  Those degrees have pretty standard recovery times.  No, those recovery times aren’t certain, which is why the are stated as a range.  2 to 4 weeks.  1 to 2 weeks. 

Paul sprains his ankle, and the Hornets call a special meeting to announce that Paul’s ankle is sprained . . . and then give no timetable for his return.  C’mon.  Give me a day to circle on my calendar that I can stare at hopefully.  Particularly since the Hornets get the Suns and Hawks again this week after the Clippers, and I may need something to look at hopefully afterwards.  I guarantee the Hornets have an idea of when he’ll be back.  I’m not sure why that’s classified information.

The Rookies

With all the team turmoil, I haven’t been able to post much about the Hornets statistically, and really, the numbers have been pretty grim anyways.  Still, the rookies have now played in five straight games, so I figure I’d do a post about their production.  That’s at least something promising I can point to.  Keep in mind – this is just five games of limited minutes.  Not a large sample size.

Darren Collison

Collison has averaged 18 minutes a game over his past 5, and though he’s looked like a rookie at times running the offense, he’s shown good instincts about when to put up floaters, takes only open shots from the perimeter, and has willingly pushed the tempo.  His defense has also been waterbug quick and pesky – though he has been posted several times by big guards and it did not turn out well for the Hornets.

Collison came into the league with a rep for being a speedster with a deadly jumper who was undersized and lacked aggression.  Other than the speed, that rep has so far been proven incorrect.  49% of Collison’s offense has come within five feet of the basket, and he’s converted them with a great effective FG% of 57.1.  To put that in perspective, Paul has taken only 24% of his shots near the basket, and converted them at an otherworldly 61%.

Collison also adds to his deadliness inside by continuing to be a remarkable free throw shooter.  He didn’t miss a free throw in summer league, shot 90% in pre-season, and has hit 13 of 14 in the regular season.  Foul him at your own peril. 

It’s a good thing Collison has driven and finished so well, because his jumpshot has completely deserted him.  He’s posted an eFG% of 27.3% on shots longer than five feet, which translates to him scoring .5 points per shot when he takes jumpers.  The good news is he’s been turning down jumpers unless he’s forced to take them, and I’ve also noticed that his long jumpers tend to be on target, but just fall short.  I’m betting they’ll start falling once he gets used to the speed of the NBA and the more distant three-point line.

As for Collison’s floor game, the returns are solid.  His assist ratio isn’t large, but at 18% are some of the best the Hornets have seen from a backup point guard in years.  His turnover rate is also very low(10.2%) particularly when you take into account how much time he has the ball in his hands.

As noted above, Collison is a frisky defender and comfortable with hounding guards all over the court.  He also fights gamely through picks – though his lack of bulk can be taken advantage of in the post.  Regardless, the early returns on his defensive numbers are telling:

  • Opposing point guards post well below average effective field goal percentages(.469, .51 is average for PG)
  • Collison rarely fouls despite his pressure, as he’s only given 5 fouls all season.
  • Opposing point guards turn the ball over at a rate of 6.0 per 48 minutes when facing him.  To put that in perspective: Hilton Armstrong, when he was trying to set a record rate of turnovers last year, turned the ball over at a rate of 3.6 per 48 minutes.

Altogether, he’s proven to be a solid defender – other than helping out on the glass, that is.  Can’t have everything.  Unless it’s Chris Paul.

Summary:  So far, Collison has turned in pretty nice numbers.  His PER is an above-average 16.98, which is pretty remarkable considering his weak shooting numbers resulting from his missed jumpers.  If he finds the range, he’ll be impressive, and defensively, he already has the makings of a very good backup point guard.  That’s rare from a rookie.

Marcus Thornton

Thornton has been getting 16 minutes per game as the designated bench gunner, firing freely and frequently as soon as he enters.   His energy and willing cuts to the basket have been refreshing, and when he and Songaila are out there, it’s been fun to watch the backdoor passes fly.  His free-shooting ways have been exciting, but the game is about a lot more than just shooting, so let’s take a look at what else he’s doing . . . or not doing.

Thornton was a volume scorer in college, and that mentality has continued.  He’s posted a usage rate of 28.8 this season, a number that puts him #1 on the team in usage. In fact, it would put him 4th in the entire league if he’d played more minutes, right above Dwayne Wade.  That’s a lot of shooting.

Two-thirds of Thornton’s offense has been jumpers, and most of those the long-range variety.  Unfortunately for Thornton, he has not been hitting very many of those long bombs, and he’s posting a dismal eFG% of 37% from range.  Stojakovic is posting his worst numbers i n years, and he’s posting a .478%.  So, that part of his offense hasn’t actually been that helpful.  His finishing ability inside, however, has been special.  On close shots, he’s completed them at an amazing eFG% of 66.7%.  LeBron James, probably the best finisher in the game, puts those in at 69%.  That’s not bad for a somewhat undersized shooting guard.

As for the rest of Thornton’s offensive game, it’s been a mixed bag.  His free throw shooting, which was decent in college, has not been that great so far.  His assist numbers are miniscule, as you’d expect from a guy with a hair-trigger.  However, and this is also a continuation of things from college, his turnover numbers are remarkable.  In his last year of college he had a miniscule turnover rate considering how often he had the ball in his hands, and that’s continued.  He is currently 2nd amongst rookies, turning the ball over only 4.9% of the time.  Considering he is on the move a lot when he catches the ball, that’s some pretty smooth ball-handling.

While Collison’s defense has been a high point, Marcus’s is much more of a mixed bag:

  • Opposing players post above average effective field goal percentages(.534, .52 is average for SG)
  • Opposing players, on average, grab twice as many rebounds as Thornton(8.9 reb/48 compared to 4.4 reb/48)
  • Thornton forces a high number of turnovers, about 4.6 per 48 minutes.
  • Thornton also fouls at a fairly high rate, giving up 6.3 fouls per 48 minutes.

In all, his defense is a little on the weaker side, but that’s not something unexpected for a rookie, and he’ll have minutes at least to improve on it.

Summary: Thornton’s PER is a crazy 18.74.  A lot of that is due to PER’s heavy weighting on usage, where it gives players a bonus for taking a lot of shots, without caring about the quality of those shots.   Still, if a few more of Thornton’s three’s can find their mark, he can be a pretty special player. I’m a little worried that his threes may continue to miss while his finishing ability start to fail since he’s finishing at a pretty crazy rate.  That would start to make him more of a detriment than a positive.

Enjoy the game tonight.  The Hornets play the Clippers, who they just played last week.  Is it too much to hope for another blowout?  Yeah, probably.

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