Hornets are Just One Injury Away From Disaster

Published: January 18, 2011

Sometimes it’s good to take a step back from whatever you believe to be true in order to get a more objective viewpoint. I was recently asked on the Daily Dime Chat what the Hornets biggest concern is the rest of the season. Is it the attendance issue? The NBA owning the team? Chris Paul unhappiness popping up again? All are valid and defensible positions to take. The only problem with them is that something happened when I took a step back, and it isn’t pretty.

Most are probably familiar with PER, but we’ve been getting a lot of new readers lately so here are some bullets about it, directly from where John Hollinger explains it:

  • It’s pretty much a rating of a player’s per-minute productivity.
  • Two important things to remember about PER are that it’s per-minute and is pace-adjusted. Because it’s a per-minute measure, it allows us to compare, say, Steve Blake and Derek Fisher, even though there is a disparity in their minutes played.
  • The league average for PER is set to 15.00 every season.
  • Bear in mind that PER is not the final, once-and-for-all evaluation of a player’s accomplishments during the season. This is especially true for defensive specialists — such as Quinton Ross and Jason Collins — who don’t get many blocks or steals.

PER is held in a pretty high regard by the basketball statistic community, and I personally find it to be as good as any single stat for gauging a player’s value. As Hollinger touches on, it has some shortfalls, but overall it’s great for its purpose.

Back to the Hornets and their potential injury problems. As of 1:00 AM on January 18th, there were 245 players in the NBA who had a PER of higher than 12.00.

That means the average NBA team employs just over eight players with a PER over 12. The overwhelming majority (23/30) have between six and nine. Dallas and Houston have 10.  Denver, Detroit and Toronto all have 11. At the top of the pile is San Antonio, who is ridiculously deep with 13 players recording PERs over 12.

That accounts for 29 teams. Your New Orleans Hornets employ only three players that can say they are performing at that level. When I first saw this number I was a bit amazed. Obviously everyone aside from the team’s big three has been bad, but this was still unexpected. Nobody else is even close to playing at an average level. My first thought was that no other decent team could possibly have a number even close to that low, and after some research I found that my gut was right. The Hornets season, at least on paper, is more likely to be ruined by an injury than any other team.

The Hornets three players who have PER’s above 12 are of course Chris Paul (25.7), David West (20.6), and Emeka Okafor (16.3). Let’s get into the details of what would happen if they were to get hurt.

Paul- As strange as it sounds, a short term Paul injury might be the least devastating to the team. Jack might only have a PER of 11.9, but at least he is a real point guard. The drop off in PER from 25.7 to 11.9 is a whopping 13.8, yet Jack is solid defensively and has experience being the main guy in the back court. He’s started over 200 games. Those are things that can’t be said about backups at the other positions.

West- Jason Smith, the guy who is invisible if guarded and can’t match up against backup big men, would be the starting power forward. Smith is putting up a PER of 11.0 against almost entirely bench players. That number is good enough to make this his best season ever. Sadly, we can’t point to his defense as a bright spot. The offensive game is as good as it gets with Jason. Quick, name a starting power forward in the Western Conference who wouldn’t eat Jason Smith for lunch on both ends of the court. Me neither.

Okafor– Oh boy. An injury to Emeka may be the least likely given how successful he has been at avoiding them since he started new training methods in Charlotte involving yoga (Knock on wood). Since 3/24/2007, Emeka hasn’t missed even a single game, despite battling a number of injuries. If that changes the team is in trouble.

Emeka’s PER of 16.1 may not be that impressive, but his impact on the defensive end would be utterly irreplaceable with anyone on the roster. The drop off to Aaron Gray (8.9 PER) and DJ MBenga (8.8) would be so devastating to the team that it’s more likely they would play almost entirely small ball than trot out either of the backup centers for any real time. That might work against some teams, but against anyone with a real front court the Hornets would no longer stand even a puncher’s chance.

What’s scary about the Hornets situation isn’t that injuries could derail their season, it’s that a single injury would derail their season. On the bright side, the big three has missed only a single start all season. Marco Belinelli missed two games, and those were the second and third missed games by the starting lineup all year. The bench has been remarkably free of injuries as well. Nobody of relevance has missed more than a few random games.

What do you think-

Are there any teams that can less afford an injury than the Hornets?

Which of the three Hornets could the team least afford to go without for a few games?


  1. Pingback: Okafor out 3 weeks « Swarm & Sting | A New Orleans Hornets Blog

  2. Pingback: We All Knew This, New Orleans Depth Is A Concern « Swarm & Sting | A New Orleans Hornets Blog

  3. Pingback: Grizzlies at New Orleans – Jan 19 | 3SOB.com -- A Memphis Grizzlies Fan Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.