The Hornets Big Man Conundrum

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Published: May 11, 2010

With the Hornets looking for a new coach, and the constantly pending sale seemingly no closer to fruition than it was three weeks ago, it’s no surprise that fans haven’t been thinking too hard about what to do with a front court that looked overwhelmed last season. The combination of Emeka Okafor and David West contributed greatly to an interior defense that allowed opponents to make 64.9 percent of their shots at the rim, third worst in the league, and 47.2 of other shots within 10 feet, sixth worst in the league.

Now sure, one can argue that this is the duo’s first season together and that they are sure to improve next year. The problem remains though that they are remarkably bad at defending the pick and roll together. So bad in fact that Bower rarely allowed them to play together late in the game.

Oddly enough, West managed to rank 34th in the league in points per possession against the P+R according to synergysports, with Okafor ranking 68th. This didn’t seem right to me, so I took a more detailed look at a bunch of Hornets plays from last year.

The more I looked at plays when they were both on the court together, the more it became clear why Synergy has both of these guys showing good numbers even though I know they didn’t fare well together. Just about every pick and roll that takes place when they are playing the PF/C spots goes down like this-

West takes the guy rolling. When his man receives the ball he’s already a step behind, so Okafor now has two choices. He either switches over to West’s man, leaving his own mark wide open, or he stays on his guy and hopes that West can recover. Just about every time he chooses the former and it results in his man receiving a wide open pass under the basket for an easy bucket. It’s not considered a pick and roll by Synergy, but that’s the play that resulted in the paint being wide open.

Just writing this is depressing in a sense because I just don’t see a way that these two guys are going to improve on something that went so horribly wrong last year. If your power forward and center can’t defend the pick and roll together, then what good are they? In an age where the pick and roll is a staple in just about every single offense in the league, teams just can’t play a combination of players that incapable of defending it.

If the pick and roll wasn’t enough to immediately disqualify the chances that these two guys can co-exist, these numbers might give you an idea of why I’m a bit pessimistic to be heading into next season with both of them starting in the front court.

 

Individual Player Floor Time statistics (via 82games.com)

Player Min +/- Off Def Net48 W L Win%
Gray 6%   +12  1.06  1.05  +2.2   13   9   59.1
Paul 43%   +9  1.10  1.10  +0.3   24   21   53.3
Hart 0%   1.06  0.94  +0.0   1   1   50.0
Marks 1%   -8  1.01  1.04  -5.1   4   9   30.8
B.Brown 8%   -19  1.09  1.11  -2.8   12   8   60.0
Wright 21%   -21  1.08  1.09  -1.2   31   34   47.7
Armstrong 6%   -34  0.99  1.06  -6.8   7   10   41.2
Stojakovic 49%   -35  1.08  1.09  -0.9   28   29   49.1
D.Brown 24%   -58  1.07  1.09  -2.9   17   19   47.2
Posey 43%   -76  1.09  1.11  -2.1   34   41   45.3
Thornton 47%   -77  1.09  1.11  -2.0   33   35   48.5
Songaila 35%   -90  1.07  1.10  -3.1   32   39   45.1
Peterson 24%   -124  1.07  1.14  -6.1   17   29   37.0
Okafor 59%   -136  1.08  1.11  -2.8   34   45   43.0
West 74%   -176  1.09  1.12  -2.9   31   48   39.2
Collison 53%   -177  1.07  1.12  -4.0   36   39   48.0

As you can see, West and Okafor were destroyed last year, and Songaila wasn’t far behind. Collison I can understand since he was a rookie playing without a backup, but for two veterans like West and Okafor, numbers like that are unacceptable.

So what can be done?

Sign a defensive minded big man to ease the burden

Okafor and West aren’t bad players. They both do certain things well, and more often than not I’m happy to see them on the floor, especially instead of Songaila. The case can even be made that both of them are capable of seeing major minutes on a very good team. The problem is that when certain match ups arise, they are overwhelmed and over matched.

This is where a defensive minded guy like Chris Anderson would be key. It would be nice to have someone capable of defending centers or power forwards, playing good help defense, and providing some interior toughness that the team has so clearly lacked since Tyson lost his legs after the 2007-2008 season.

Who’s available that fits this mold? Just about nobody in free agency that the team can afford,

Trade West

Last year it seemed likely that West would be moved, given the teams luxury tax standing at the beginning of the summer. Somehow though, Bower pulled off a coup and was able to hold onto the Hornets long time power forward.

If the team decides this summer that the West-Okafor duo isn’t working and that there aren’t any big men who can come in and add a new dynamic to the teams interior defense, they might just decide to move their longest tenured player.

I’ve tweaked a popular idea that’s been floating around to make it into something that actually has a chance of happening. I believe this would work under the salary cap, and honestly I don’t see Toronto getting a better deal, unless of course they want to take their chances with an injury plagued Andrew Bynum.

David West, Darren Collison, and Morris Peterson, and the Hornets first round pick (if it’s #11) for a newly re-signed Chris Bosh.

If Bosh decides that he’s leaving Toronto, the Raptors are going to try to get something out of the deal. Bosh will likely want a sign and trade in order to maximize his earning potential, and this is a trade in which just about everyone is a winner. Toronto gets some good young talent and an immediate replacement for Bosh in David West, New Orleans gets a superstar talent in the front court to run the pick and roll with Paul. Bosh also has played a bunch at center over the years, giving the Hornets more options on defense.

Is this the only way that I see West being moved? Not exactly, but the more I think about it the more it makes sense. Bosh has said he wants to be the star on a team, and althoguh he wouldn’t be the only big name in New Orleans, he would be the headlining big man on a championship caliber team.

Enter dream world- The following season, Carmelo decides he wants to win titles, so they let Peja expire, and use the cap space to bring Carmelo in at the SF. Can you say BIG THREE? Back to reality…

Trade Okafor

Straight to the point on this one. Okafor did a lot for the team last year in terms of actual production, but much of it wasn’t positive. He was a wreck on defense against anyone that could be considered a full size center, his help defense was a far cry from what Tyson used to provide, and offensively… well… let’s just say that I wasn’t impressed. After hearing how much of an upgrade he would be over Chandler on that end of the floor, the reality is that he just wasn’t. When looking back it’s obvious why the team made the deal for him, and this year at least the Hornets were better off for it.

What’s making me wonder if he is a part of the future is the four years and 52 million left on his deal. Centers are overpaid, but it’s not necessary to overpay a center, especially if they don’t fit in well with the team.

Choosing to be as realistic as I can be, it’s unlikely that the team can shed Okafor’s deal without giving up some talent as well. Right now there are two pieces that could probably be attached to Okafor in order to send him out of town for some expirings.

It’s either Collison or the 11 pick, and I think that either one would be enough so that the Hornets could find a taker. Okafor is a solid center who can give you 35 minutes a game, 82 games a year. That’s something that can’t be said about most players in the league. He’s a great rebounder, and has proven to be a solid defender if surrounded by the right people. Clearly he’s worthy of starting somewhere in this league.

This isn’t a deal that’s going to improve the team this coming year, but it’s something that would give them even more room to work with in the summer before Paul is slated to possibly become a free agent. Also, with the CBA set to expire and teams losing money left and right, it’s likely that new contracts won’t be as high after next season, giving the team an opportunity to sign a player of equal or greater value for a lower price.

 

Thoughts?

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