Speed Kills . . . the Hornets Frontcourt

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Published: December 15, 2009

This started as a response to comments, but it got huge.  So I’ll go full out blog post here, because that’s how I roll.

People are focusing on the end of the game last night, and the two bad shots Paul jacked up.  They should.  They were bad shots.  Honestly, however, those are pretty rare for Chris Paul.  He typically eschews the big three pointer in favor of a two-man game with West that has been very effective over the past few years – or a high pick and roll where he explodes to the basket. Pull up threes just haven’t been common at the end of games.(unless you want to count his game winner against Indiana last year – but that game was tied.  If he missed, the Hornets still had overtime.)

Paul’s a smart player and he knows he’s a point guard.  I have little worry he’ll suddenly morph into LeBron James or Kobe Bryant doing their frequently ineffective hero shows at the end of close games.  The history of the Hornets at the end of close games over the last 4 years have been more about West, Butler  and Peja game winners than Paul dominating the ball.

Anyways, there are two things about last night’s game I wanted to comment on:

The Hornets Starting Frontcourt Ain’t Speedy

In fact, they’re criminally slow.  This thought has been dwelling in my mind for about three weeks now, spreading tendrils of darkness and despair.(perhaps I shall call it Youngfella)  No matter how speedy Chris Paul is, there is little he is going to be able to do in guarding the pick and roll when he is relying on David West, Emeka Okafor or sometimes Peja Stojakovic to hedge on a pick and recover defensively with any alacrity.  The schedule so far has been littered with speedy guards playing way over their head as a result of the Hornet’s struggling to defend the pick and roll.  Jose Juan Barea is not a 20+ per game scorer.  Sergio Rodriguez should not score 24 points on your team.  Tyreke Evans is good, but he shouldn’t look like Dwayne Wade coming off a high screen.

Jeff Bower does recognize this.  He plays Songaila instead of Okafor.  He plays Posey instead of West.(Hmm.  I wonder if that’s an improvement)  He tried Wright out last night.  It’s the only reason Armstrong still gets minutes.

Still, some of you want to know why Okafor is only getting 29.7 mpg, and this is the answer.  West and Okafor have the same problems defending the pick and roll, and the pick and roll is the staple of almost every team in the league during crunch time.  Bower therefore feels he can only pick one or the other and goes with West at center to hopefully take advantage of his offensive talents. 

I see this deficiency as the number one problem facing the Hornets right now.  I’m also not sure there’s a way to fix it without West or Okafor moving somewhere else – though that’s a post for another day.

The 2nd unit didn’t Single-handedly get the Hornets into the Game

Yes, putting out a more athletically mixed lineup did amp up the defense tremendously through the middle periods and help generate the comeback, but it still wouldn’t have happened without one thing:  Chris Paul.  If we’re going to blame him for the end, I have to give him credit for the middle.  Here’s a breakdown of the play-by-play for the 2nd and third quarters.  It becomes quickly apparent the type of impact Paul had on the game once he had a bunch of athletic wingmen to run with:

2nd Quarter

Collison, Paul, Posey, West, and Armstrong start the quarter.  At 10:29 the Mavericks get their biggest lead, 18-39, on a shot by Kris Humphries.  The run starts for the Hornets:

  • 10:07 Paul assists West
  • Julian Wright replaces West.
  • 9:29 Paul assists Armstrong
  • 9:17 Paul steals the ball
  • 9:15 Paul draws foul on Drew Gooden
  • 9:04 Paul assists Posey
  • 8:33 Posey misses
  • 8:06 Armstrong Misses
  • 7:43 Paul draws foul on Barea, hits 2 of 2.
  • 7:33 Posey Steals
  • 7:28 Paul assists Julian Wright

Timeout Dallas, score 29-39, Paul leaves the game for Thornton, having completed an 11 point run.  Paul re-enters the game at 3:03.  The score is 36-45.

  • 2:30 Paul hits jumper
  • 1:51 Paul Assists Hilton
  • 1:19 Paul misses jumper
  • 1:02 Paul assists Thornton
  • 0:01 Paul misses shot at buzzer.  Score is 43-49.

So the bench without Paul cut 2 points from the deficit.  With Paul, they cut 14 points from the deficit.

3rd Quarter
In this quarter, the Hornets tie the game at 60-60 at the 4:31 mark.  The posessions for the Hornets up until that point:

  • 11:49 Paul assists Peja on a three
  • 11:15 West completes a layup and one.
  • West, Okafor, Brown and Peja miss.
  • 8:57 Paul hits jumper
  • 8:42 Paul hits jumper
  • 8:08 Paul misses
  • 8:04 Paul layup
  • 7:18 Paul assists Devin Brown
  • Brown Turnover, West miss, West miss, Peja turnover, Peja miss
  • 4:56 Paul layup
  • 4:31 Paul assists Okafor. Tie game.

Then Paul assists another shot and leaves the game at the 1:47 mark with the Hornets trailing 64-66.  He returns ONE MINUTE later, and the Hornets are down 64-71.  Paul misses once, Collison hits, Paul steals and the quarter is over.  Hornets down five.

So, the bench without Paul was a net -3.  The bench mixed with Paul and some starters was a net +19.  More ammo for shaking up the starting lineup?  Probably.  Was Chris Paul dribbling too much the problem?  If I had a list of the top 10 things wrong with the Hornets right now, none of those items would contain the words Chris or Paul.

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