The Hornets Defense – or Why New Orleans is 5-0

By:
Published: November 6, 2010

This morning, the Hornets awake sporting the 5th most efficient defense in the league.  While that sounds good, I want to put it in perspective.  Unlike many teams sporting tough defenses, the Hornets have now played the 4th, 6th, 11th, 15th and 29th ranked offenses in the league.  The average efficiency of those five teams is 103.6 points per 100 posessions.  The Hornets have held them to 97.3 points per posession.  Since the average difference in an NBA game is only 3 points, that’s a telling differential.

So how are the Hornets doing it?  They are employing the classic San Antonio defensive philosophy.

Opponent Shot Selection

For years, San Antonio has limited opportunities at the rim, stayed tight on three-point shooters, and let the other team take as many mid-range jumpshots as they want.  Hornets opponents are getting only 19.8 shots at the rim per game, with the league average set at 22.5 per game.  In contrast, opponents are taking almost 2 more mid-range shots than the league average.

The only concern I have is the 21.8 three point shots opponents are getting against the Hornets each game.  This is about 3 more than the league average, and yes, opponents are converting them at a pace well below average, but I’ll have to review the tape to make sure that’s not just fluke shooting rather than excellent perimeter defense.  Maybe I’ll do a video breakdown.  Whatcha think?

Rebounding

The Hornets have also adopted one other classic San Antonio attribute:  A focus on defensive rebounding.  All the superb San Antonio defensive juggernauts have concentrated less on leaking out after an opponents shot for easy scores, and instead on ending the posession by sending most of the team to the glass for defensive rebounds.  The Hornets aren’t all that great at grabbing offensive rebounds, but they have dominated the defensive glass, gobbling in 77% of available defensive rebounds – which is 3rd best in the league.

One and done.  No easy putbacks.

This style of play puts the team into half-court situations more, but when you have Paul at the top of the three point line in the half court, I like your chances. (in a side-bar, this is impacting Thornton heavily.  He was brilliant last season in leaking out for fast break points.  This season, he’s clearly under orders to come back and clear the glass)

Miscellaneous Defensive Attributes

Besides the types of shots opponents are getting against the Hornets, the team is doing a few other things to give itself little edges here and there.  They have limited opponent free throws, allowing the 8th lowest number of freebie shots in the league.  They also force 1.5 more turnovers per game than they give up.

The Change Demps and Monty have Wrought

With all this said, we should also bear in mind exactly where the Hornets came from.  Last year the Hornets finished with the 8th worst defense in the league, giving up 107.3 points per 100 posessions.  They were at the league average on the defensive glass, and allowed 28 attempts per game at the rim.  Yes.  That’s accurate. Ten more shots at the rim per game than this season.  That’s an amazing turnaround.

What Demps did this summer is not fall into a classic trap.  Many GMs, when they find they have a brilliant scorer and distributor, they  try to find the best damn spot up shooters and pick-and-roll finishers they can to place around them.  Nash’s Phoenix teams.  LeBron’s Cleveland Teams.  Our team the past two years.  That doesn’t really work, though.  You need athletic players who can defend on the perimeter and drive and attack on their own.  Yeah, you need them to be able to shoot, but the Hornets were essentially playing 39-42% three point shooters who couldn’t help anywhere else, and Demps is acquring 35-37% three point shooters who can drive and defend too.  I’ll give up 4-5% on deep shots to have more complete players.

Wouldn’t you?

Some last extra David West Notes:

Nothing illustrates the change from last year to this one more than David West’s play.  Like I said on the podcast, West is playing with energy and passion for the first time in a couple years, and it brings back all the reasons why he used to be my favorite Hornet and I have his jersey.  Last night, he actually filled a lane on three fast breaks, cleaning up one.  He got on the floor, fighting for the ball with Dwayne Wade.  He showed hard on five key pick and roll plays – and then hustled back to cover his guy.

Last year, West wouldn’t cross half-court on fast break plays.  Sometimes, the ball would be loose on the floor two feet from him, and an opposing guard would run ten feet and snatch it up before he even bent down.  This year, he’s having none of that, and I love it.

Let’s hope they keep it up.  5-0, baby!

22 comments
Chownoir
Chownoir

Laker fan here and I have to apologize for other idiot Laker fans. I wanted to chime in on DJ Mbenga based on his last two years on the Lakers. DJ goes hard after blocks and isn't afraid to get posterized so he will challenge a lot of shots. Great for helping contain any penetration. But the problem with that is he tends to leave his man pretty quickly. This opens up a lot of rebounding opportunities for opponents or a dump off pass from the guy DJ is challenging leading to an easy layup. Teammates have to learn to rotate behind DJ pretty quickly when he goes hunting for the block. On offense, once DJ gets comfortable with the system, he is a complete black hole. He doesn't run the offense too much and looks to jack up 12-15 footers pretty quickly. DJ has some value in limited minutes but what stops him from contributing in heavier minutes is his refusal to adjust his weaknesses from above. If he stayed more disciplined within the offensive and defensive system he would be a lot more effective. He would have a lot more value in playing positional defense, hustling on the boards and taking the open jumper when it's in the flow. He can actually hit that jumper decently. But he makes one or two and he thinks its a green light to start jacking it. We'd joke about the over and under of shot attempts vs minutes with him. As a basketball fan, it's great to see Chris Paul playing some great ball again. Trevor Ariza should be a nice fit for the system since it plays to his strengths. Good luck to you guys, NO has a solid team and fun to watch.

John
John

Reality will set once the Hornets face the Lakers..

42
42

That's what the Heat said? What reality, John? Are you imagining something I am not? I imagine around 50 wins. 57 would be killer. Are you thinking people are putting too much stock in the streak? Let's see what sensible people think about a streak. The Rockets won 22 in a row, stopping only at the soon-to-be-champ -Celtics and got bounced by the Jazz in 6, so they didn't sniff a title. In fact there are 7 completed winning streaks in NBA history of 18 games or longer: 18, 18, 18, 19, 20, 22, 33. These resulted in 5 titles, with and 18 and the Rockets 22 ending in failing to appear in the finals. This is about a 70% effective indicator of a championship winning, or competing, team. Since the Hornets have about 1/3 of such a streak built, and giving a generous linearly dependence on streak length up to that point, the Hornets streak show them to have about a 20% chance to win the title at the high end. This is in line with the current power rankings and their performance their last healthy year, perhaps optimistic, but the generosity was noted in the prior sentence. Besides, clearly no rational being (the use my term du jour) would put much stock in a streak, especially one starting the season. So I'm wondering: what exactly is it you are imagining that the Lakers will introduce reality into?

Ron
Ron

The reality that the Bees won't go 82-0 and sweep every playoff series? Don't be stupid. Everyone knows that LAL is top-dog in the West and that 82 games is a really long season.

TopherPrice
TopherPrice

Great work Ryan. Skeets over on the Jones dropped this blog some major love for your work on explaining the D.

johnny d
johnny d

I had no idea the Hornets had a clue with all the changes this year and the pickup of some great perimeter shooters and the d easily the biggest surprise team of this young season we'll see if it lasts but impressive start to the season. Good for NOLA.

L_Reazy
L_Reazy

You can’t look at stats with DJ Mbenga. I have a hard time watching him play like the next fan does, but pay attention to some of the little things he does that might not show up in the stat sheet. He can move around for his size at 7-0. He alters a lot of shots; more than the amount of fouls he picks up. He sets solid picks; more than the amount of moving screens he picks up. He blocks shots from time-to-time. IMO, based on our success thus far, Mbenga is sort-of doing the job he’s been asked to do in his 5-10 minutes of play. Please, before I get criticized … I’m not a fan of DJ Mbenga! The question of “what does he do for this team?” keeps showing up, and I wanted to add my observations, and what Monty Williams might value about him. L_Reazy

jtshoopsblog
jtshoopsblog

Give the hornet props. not many, including myself, expected them to do this well in the start of the season

tyler
tyler

I am, im a die hard hornets fan

tyler
tyler

Now look we can't jus say we won. !st We are tired. Played a great yesterday. 2nd This team wants its revenge on us. 3rd This game is at there house, so they will bring the noise. 4th Did I tell you that we are tired! I want the hornets to win. Good luck

Sportnlife
Sportnlife

Thanks for the excellent post. If Jared Bayless can figure out how to run offense, the Hornets can protect against CP3's minutes creeping upward, and they can keep this thing rolling. Thanks to your analysis I now understand better two puzzling details from the early season: the experiment with Peja at the 4, and Peja being de-activated in favor of Pondexter. I guess the attempt to make Peja a PF was a way of keeping his offense on the floor, while giving him less floor space to cover on defense, keeping the perimeter D tight to the 3-point line. So at some point, Monty basically must have called off the experiment and went with the more athletic, defensive-minded Pondexter, who can guard multiple positions and still score now and then. It's all about the system. Please explain, though, why a high-risk, low-reward player like Mbenga gets on the court before Pops, who at least has a basic concept of the offensive principles of the game. Mbenga has a few blocks here and there, but he's often out of position and arrives late at the rim. Great for opponents' poster collections, but sooner or later, he's going to actually break a backboard with one of those baby hooks.

L_Reazy
L_Reazy

You can't look at stats with DJ Mbenga. I have a hard time watching him play like the next fan does, but pay attention to some of the little things he does that might not show up in the stat sheet. He can move around for his size at 7-0. He alters a lot of shots; more than the amount of fouls he picks up. He sets solid picks; more than the amount of moving screens he picks up. He blocks shots from time-to-time. IMO, based on our success thus far, Mbenga is sort-of doing the job he's been asked to do in his 5-10 minutes of play. Please, before I get criticized ... I'm not a fan of DJ Mbenga! The question of "what does he do for this team?" keeps showing up, and I wanted to add my observations, and what Monty Williams might value about him. L_Reazy

MaxALM
MaxALM

"Thanks for the excellent post. If Jared Bayless can figure out how to run offense, the Hornets can protect against CP3′s minutes creeping upward, and they can keep this thing rolling." What really inspiring is that even when we played the Heat, let alone beat them, CP only had to play 36 minutes (!!!!) when LeBron and Wade each played over 40. WOW! Bayless will come along. I'm not worried about it, he just needs time.

nikkoewan
nikkoewan

would love to watch Ryan Schwan analysis videos :) I remembered your Okafor PnR analysis(it was on a Celtics and Knicks game if i remember correctly)

Dave
Dave

I agree with corndeaux. This is an excellent post. On a random note, i can't believe tonight's game isn't on TV. serious bummer. It is the first of four games this month that are not on TV. Only one of those four is a home game. Cox/CST needs to get their act together. I'm jealous of thechosenuno.

downtowndave78
downtowndave78

Really good post Ryan, and I would love to see some of the video breakdowns that used to be a part of 24/7 during the Niall era. I know they are a lot of work and extremely time consuming, but I think everyone here would really appreciate your efforts. I totally agree with your comments regarding D West. I just hope that his reincarnation is because of Monty and not because this is a possible contract year. But then again, as long as he keeps playing like this it doesn't really matter. Also, could you guys possibly start linking or posting the game's box score to the post game report so we can check out the numbers? Thanks!

corndeaux
corndeaux

Great post, Ryan. Those numbers are amazing. Would love to see a video breakdown.

Ron
Ron

And key to end-of-game preserve-the-victory is that CP3 is a past master at draining the shot clock.

thechosenuno
thechosenuno

For those of you cheering on my impromptu trip to Milwaukee to see some more excellent D and our Bees go 6-0, small hiccup -- a flight cancellation. No worries, though...got on a non-stop flight (who knew there was one from MSY-MKE!?) that gets me in 1:15 before tipoff. Be looking for my jersey!

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  2. [...] his analysis of New Orleans’ defensive success in their hot start thus far, Ryan Schwan of Hornets 24-7 expertly identified a few defensive elements that run parallel between t…. Stylistically, New Orleans is following the San Antonio model, by opting for a limiting, reactive [...]