Anatomy of a Defense and Game On: Hornets @ Thunder

Matchup: Hornets(32-18) @ Thunder(30-17)

Off Efficiency: Hornets 103.3(16th), Thunder 107.4(7th)
Def Efficiency: Hornets 99.0(3rd), Thunder 105.0(17th)

As always, thanks to the estimable Dariusz for the game day banner.

We’ve talked about the Thunder a lot on the podcast, and it feels like we’ve been playing them All. The. Time.  So I’m only going to talk briefly about this matchup.

This would be a tough game at the best of times, but without Okafor, the defense is going to struggle against a good offensive team.  I also don’t expect Jason Smith to be able to roll to the basket like he did against the Wizards.  In fact, should Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee find themselves on a Basketball IQ gameshow, it would be similar to watching one of those SNL Celebrity Jeapordy Skits.

I fully expect Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka to make life painful for Smith – and for us watching.


Hornets: Emeka Okafor is out.
Thunder: None

Anatomy of a Defense

So what do I want to talk about with the Hornets?  Well, a continuing theme.  Their defense.  Last week we pointed out the huge leap the Hornets have made defensively, and how it’s one of the biggest defensive leaps in the history of the NBA.  Today, I’m going to break down just what the Hornets do to limit their opponents.

Controlling Shots vs Contesting Shots

In the NBA, there are two general defensive skills when trying to limit a team’s ability to put the ball in the basket: Forcing bad shots, and contesting the shots that are taken.  So far this season, the Hornets are purely ordinary at the first, and exceptional at the second.  How do we know this? The site Hoopdata com tracks all kinds of information, including where opponents are taking shots against your team – and what the league average shooting percentage is for each of those ranges.  This information is a great tool to evaluate whether your team is forcing bad shots – and whether they contest them well.  For context, here is the expected points per type of shot for an average NBA player this season, ranked by the most efficient sort of shot:

  • At rim: 1.258 points per shot
  • 3-pointer: 1.082 points per shot
  • 2-10 feet: 0.866 points per shot
  • 16-23 feet: 0.788 points per shot
  • 10-15 feet: 0.772 points per shot

So what do the Hornets do defensively?  The shots their opponents take each game have an expected eFG% of 49.6% – in other words, they should expect to score(not counting free throws and and-1’s) 0.992 points per shot.  That number is tied for 15th in the league – or is purely average, so no, the Hornets ability to control what sort of shots their opponents are getting is not exceptional.  What is exceptional is the fact that Hornets opponents only shoot an effective FG% of 48% on those shots, earning 0.96 points per shot.  That is the 6th best number in the NBA.  So the Hornets, despite giving up a decent shot selection, manage to force teams into completing them at a fairly poor rate.

The Rest of the Defensive Enchilada

Controlling and Contesting shots are, of course, not the whole story.  In fact, three years ago, when the Hornets also sported a nice defense(7th in the league) en route to a 2nd seed in the West, the Hornets were purely ordinary at almost everything but one category:  They never gave up any free throws. These things matter.  So how do the Hornets stack up today?


A key part to limiting an opponents efficiency is the ability to control the defensive boards. Each offensive rebound an opponent gets extends the posession and frequently generates high-efficiency shots.  This year, the Hornets are simply owning the defensive glass, and opponents are grabbing only 22.9% of available offensive rebounds.  That number is good for 2nd in the league behind only Orlando.  One and done.


With Paul and Ariza ripping steals at a high rate, you’d expect the Hornets to rank highly here, but this stat actually incorporates a lot more than that.  Scraps for loose balls.  Forced bad passes.  Charges.  The Hornets are good at all of those things but drawing charges, and thus force their opponents into turning the ball over on 14.2% of their posessions.  That number is good for 9th in the league.

Free Throw Rate

So teams can really suck at making shots against you, but if you can’t keep them from getting to the free throw line, you’re pretty much screwed.  Like I mentioned above, this number alone made the Hornets a good defense three years ago – so how are the Hornets doing this season?  Opponents average 0.28 free throws for every shot they take.  That number is 6th in the league.  No freebies.

Anyways, if you made it this far . . . Enjoy the game!

225 responses to “Anatomy of a Defense and Game On: Hornets @ Thunder”

  1. Wow. Ryan. GREAT post man. Loved this information.

    This is what I was talking about earlier in the season when comparing Aaron Afflalo to Marco Belinelli. They are completely different players on defense. Aaron Afflalo is the typical Ben Howlin (UCLA coach) bi product who tries to LIMIT his opponents possessions. Thats how he plays defense. By CONTROLLING SHOTS. Where as Marco openly allows his defender, no matter who it is, to catch the ball, and try to shoot OVER his outstretched hands, or with a hand in their face. Ariza does the exact same thing, and so does Paul.

    Both styles are very effective if executed with the right individuals, and as long as the team defense rotates fast enough to help people. The only players in the league this defense DOESN’T work on? Kobe, and Wade. Ariza has proven his defense works great on Durant, Lebron, and Melo. But Kobe and Wade are the kind of guys you need to try to KEEP the ball out of their hands.

    GREAT Article. LOVED it.

    Hopefully we can get a win tonight though. Looks like a REALLY tough game without Mek.

  2. I was just looking at the league stats this morning and ran across the opponent rebounding stats. I knew we were doing much better than last year in that area, but wow. 1st in allowing offensive rebounds at 9% and overall 2nd in the league in allowed rebounds. Floored, that is what I am. Just as the shift in defensive numbers from last year to this one has been one of the largest corrections in history, I bet this rebounding shift is equally historic.

    If Thibs wasn’t pulling the same story off over in Chicago, Monty would be top 2 for coach of the year. Mad, Mad props to coach Williams and all the guys for buying into the new team philosophy.

    • answer to my question about rebounding shift. Not so historic.

      From 9th to sitting at 1st in offensive rebounding percentage allowed
      From 17th to sitting at 2nd in total rebounding percentage allowed

      Still pretty awesome.

    • It will be an interesting match up once Monty finds himself vis-à-vi Thibs. Both men are in their first year, they’re defensive minded to the core, and they’re the most recent winners of Coach of the Month for their respective conferences. I for one, can’t hardly wait for that game.

      • Yeah, I would imagine that this year has to rank up there with some of the great Jordan years for you. Both your Bulls and Bees doing solid work under not so easy conditions.

  3. Great analysis…We need CP3 and DWest and the BENCH to contribute tonight more than ever and it’s a important game because the Hornets need this one because the Thunder are the first team in their division and NOLA is 3rd 1.5 game behind Dallas and we need this one because it would even the series and then with a better record than them, we would move up on the standings, now we are 1-2 vs OKC and we have a better record, but if we win this one with a better record we can be 2nd or 3rd in the division, but in the conference standings be better than OKC…

  4. I expect Russell Westbrook to have a BIG game tonight. Although the votes are probably in already, this will be his last game before the All Star game reserves are announced and everybody knows he wants to be in that game.

    It would be nice to get an at least decent game from Marco Belinelli.

    As great as it would be, I don’t expect Jason Smith to duplicate what he did last night. I would be moderately surprised if he did though.

      • I agree. Moderately is an understatement. I’d be pleasantly surprised. And if he did it against the Lakers on Friday, I’d be ECSTATIC! LOL!

    • Yah the All Star voting ended last week, which is AWESOME for us because Aldridge went OFF last night and that probably would have sealed a spot above D West but it’s already ended so we’ll see!

    • People generally never comment on my Statistics Posts. This way, I’ll get all the game-on discussion and feel like people are really excited by my numbers.


      • Did you all notice how, during his post-game, on-court interview, J Smitty clearly wanted to have a big grin on his face and generally be really happy with the game he had, but he instead tried to put on a serious face about how he worked hard and it was a great team win? I thought it was hysterical. He almost cracked a big grin a few times, which he should have.

  5. Keeping the Thunder off the free throw line and hitting the defensive glass will be paramount tonight. Best way to do that is to limit live-ball turnovers and turn Russel Westbrook into a jump-shooter. I’d like to see CP control the tempo of this game, and really make an effort an running an efficient, deliberate offense. If this game turns into a track meet, it will be difficult to watch.

    • Keeping the Thunder off the ft line would be huge. However, I don’t think that’ll happen. Surely not IN OKC. This teams gets to the ft line a lot. Especially Durant. I’ve seen him have more free throws in a game than the entire opposing team. Turning Westbrook into a jump shooter is also easier said than done. The dude just barrels himself to the rim. And you’re right, CP has to control the tempo because you just know that OKC will want to run, run, run.

      • “Keeping them off” is a relative term of course. If we can keep the FT attempts at or around 25, I would consider that success. Westbrook is the 2nd most effective PG in the NBA at getting to the rim. You aren’t going to stop him from getting there. The key is to somehow limit his impact. The last time they met in N.O. Arena, the Hornets did more switching on him in the 2nd half, and that seemed to be effective in limiting his at-the-rim attempts. The other way to limit him is to not turn the ball over so much. It can be done, but it won’t be easy. Lucky for the Hornets, in this game at least, is that OKC doesn’t have tremendous size, but they will miss Okafor’s shot-blocking.

  6. Really enjoyed the defensive analysis. I seem to recall you doing something similar three years ago analyzing the Paul-MoPete-Peja-West-Chandler defensive dynamics. Good work!

  7. We just launched the Brazilian blog for the New Orleans Hornets. And of course, relate this blog here on our list to the right. Our blog is still under construction but we are gradually trying to popularize the Hornets in our country. We do this for the sake of time, without any commercial interest:

    Although we improve the blog, make it more beautiful. The New Orleans Hornets deserve.

    • We are developing it. Is that the blog is just beginning. Although we will improve. Anyway, thanks for the support.

  8. Stopping Russell Westbrook:

    CP did a pretty good job on him last game. But in all honesty, I would really like to see Marco Belinelli guard him so CP doesn’t pick up any fouls. This is a game we just CAN’T afford to have him pick up any fouls.

    And, here’s why I think Marco should guard him.

    There’s one person in the NBA who I have seen COMPLETELY shut down Russell Westbrook. That is Kobe Bean Bryant. Last year in the first round of the playoffs, Russell Westbrook TORCHED the Lakers in games 1-4. In game 5, Kobe switched with Fisher, Brown, and Farmar and guarded Westbook. And what he did just completely threw Westbrook off his game.

    Kobe played a good 5-8 feet away from Westbrook every time he guarded him. Westbrook torches people the second he is able to get his shoulder even with theirs, when he uses his quick first step. Kobe NEVER allowed Westbrook to go by him by:

    1. Enticing him to shoot jumpers.
    2. Having the DISTANCE and TIME to read Westbrooks moves to step ahead of him.

    Kobe drew MULTIPLE charges on Westbrook, blocked many of his shots by using his length, and sucked Westbrook into shooting a bunch of threes which he STRUGGLED with BADLY. Yes, he did make some of his outside shots. But when you compare his percentage of inside shots to outside, it’s DRASTICALLY different.

    Westbrook FEEDS off of people playing close to him. The closer they are, the more he can use his quickness and power to get by them by lowering his shoulder and barreling into the lane. But if he has no contact with his defender, he actually STRUGGLES at offense because he doesn’t have the EASY baskets he thrives on.

    If Marco guards him, but plays COMPLETELY off of him, and forces Westbrook to fire away from outside, all Marco has to do is use his length to put a hand in Westbrooks face to alter his view, and shot, and take a step back every time Westbrook tries to attack. Quincy has the length to do this too. But I’m pretty sure he’ll be relegated to Durant to give Trevor a breather.

    • P.S. Kobe did the exact same thing to Rajon Rondo in the finals, and Rondo ALSO struggled to get any rhythm going because of it.

  9. Ryan REALLY hates Jason Smith. I agree that with Westbrook’s history of penetrating easily against us, Smith could have some challenges with rotating and help defense, but do you seriously think Nick Collison is going to abuse Jason? I’m not sure if you got the memo, but Nick Collison sucks. In fact, I think OKC is going to have a little bit of a defensive quandry against US down low, because Collison clearly couldn’t guard West in the last game, so if they switch Ibaka to West, then that will put Collison on Smith. OKC will then have to pick their poison about who to bring for help when they have to double West (which they will. . .even with Ibaka guarding). Collison, leaving Smith open for the cut to the basket or the short jumper, or Durant, who will have to leave the recently hot shooting Ariza open.
    That being said, defense will still be a question mark, but that battle will have to be won or lost by Paul & Ariza. If they can stop Westbrook from penetrating, then Smith won’t be the defensive liability that you’re making him out to be. This is going to be a very exciting game. Monty needs to be QUICK to call a timeout if OKC gets on a run, because with their crowd they can turn a game into a blowout in a hurry.

  10. Liked the stat buffet Ryan- nice work. Only other thing I wanna see in there- Where do we rank in Defensive 3 second violations? Seems like we have given up 50 points this year because of some of the bigs inability to get out of the paint. Conversely, I only recall 5-6 times we got a free throw due to other teams getting that technical.

    As for the game, I will admit that this is one of the few games that I am expecting to lose going into it. Emeka out, OKC mad about blowing the last game against us, 2nd night of a back to back, plus the fact that OKC is a good team and an even better one at home = a small chance to win.

    Having said that, a win here would give us the season series and provide a huge confidence boost going into this final stretch before the break. No matter how it gets done, a win tonight would be a top 3 win for the season IMO.

    Oh, and if Jason Smith has a 2nd good game in a row, I have a huge piece of crow marinating- ready to put on the grill.

      • Thanks for the info. I hate that, I already pay them for league pass only to get blacked out when they show it on NBA TV since I don’t pay them for that as well… oh well the link given above works fine.

  11. How is the rest of the team looking? Are they looking like they don’t know what the hell to do now that CP is in the lockerroom?

  12. I liking DWest effort getting to the rim and offensive rebounding. Same for Ariza, he’s attacking the basket, getting blocked, but still attacking. I’m going to try to stay positive…..>_<

  13. Ok we’re only down by 4…we have to just play with intensity and heart. We still have our secret weapon MT lol. Has anyone heard any update on Paul’s injury yet??

    • no no. we wouldnt be where we are if we didnt trade him. We have jack and hes doing a good enough job. the only reason i would say what you just did is if news comes back that pauls out for the season (god forbid). Im thinking were fine and hes playing about when okafor is

      • Exactly. The Hornets weren’t winning games with Collison. People think that just because he put up nice numbers it’s all good but nice numbers don’t always = wins.

        Anyway, glad to hear CP is back. If the Hornets win this game, I’ll watch the re-play tonight.

  14. Last game Smith now this game Anderson???? With MT and Green as the leading points?? I want Q-Pon to do something!!!

    • That really made me laugh…oh and thanks again Jay Cutler for your playoff performance (choking). He made me some money lol

  15. Just tuned in..Had no idea CP was Hurt..Phew!…And Two letters….DA!!!!!!!…I Fucking love guys who step up!!

    • Wow!!..Cmon Basketball Gods..You see Our Team Defying the odds And Working hard..At least reward us with good Health..PLEASE!!

  16. its called the 1 2 punch. THORNTON AND ANDERSON. im really liking that guy. his jumper is sooo mcuh sweeter looking than smiths

  17. The Stroke is Nasty..I fucking Love Chris Paul..I’m really smacking all opposers to him being the Fucking Best!

  18. Next Hornet Video should star Andersen and Smith……

    The WHITE boys in the Building tonight……. Oh what a feeling, i’m feeling life!

  19. Ok, by the looks of the boxscore, we need to hit the boards a bit more.

    And I’m not surprised to see Durant have almost as many free throws as the entire Hornets team in the 1st half. 😕

  20. Man this game is going Great..They have 12pts in the Paint..And Durant is Not on earth right now..Keep up The D fellas..Durant will be back down eventually

    • Now that would be crazy. Don’t get rattled when CP goes out but get rattled when Ariza goes out. LOL! Come on Hornets!

  21. It’s amazing the lack of respect the officials give to the best PG in the game. I mean seriously, not like a lack of calls or anything along those lines, just when he talks to them. If you see Kobe or Lebron talking to the refs the refs are all smiling and shit; when CP3 talks to the refs they just look at him like he is some piece of shit rookie!!

  22. you can’t do much when they score so many jumpshots and get a lot of good calls.. Let’s hope the momentum changes a little in the fourth

    • No kidding this drives me nuts, especially since one of the announcers says it correctly the other guy just is an idiot about it

    • He’s too nice and Christian. He’s a rookie coach and they don’t respect him. He needs to at least go Popovich on them. I’d probably be ejected by now. LOL! And I’m not even watching. LOL!

  23. oh cmon we were starting to get momentum and then Willie took that stupid three and Jack forced another shot -___- cmon guys play smartly, play the hornets way or we are not going to have a chance


  25. So what happened other than Durant showing how he’s the leauges’ leading scorer? Did Monty wave the white flag? Did CP play in the 4th? Did Belinelli play in the 4th?

    • Green trying to do too much 2-8 from the field….Belinelli had a good first half, but hasn’t been on the floor most of the second half. MT only has about 10 minutes.

  26. Wheres Belinelli at?? Wheres MT at?? Belinelli has longer length than Green and we need some scoring right about now

  27. And now the announcers are chirping Chris Paul for taking a shot in the chest from Durant? Wow do the know anything about basketball? That was like the easiest offensive foul in the world to take!!

      • Haha I don’t know if you’re being sarcastic or not queen but I swear to god sometimes the shit they say just makes absolutely no sense.

      • No, they really don’t know anything. The only thing they know tonight though is the Thunder beat the Hornets. Ugh.

  28. Thunder just seem to want it more, they’re out hustling the bees and it doesn’t help that Durant can’t miss….

  29. Whatever…atleast I don’t have to watch these annoying Thunder again this year. Screw you refs. I can’t believe they talk about CP3 flopping when Durant does that fake under the arm swing ALLLLLLLLLLL game long. I really want to slap that smile off Westbrook face….argh

  30. Wow not much u cud do. Durant had a killer nite but really Monty wat the hell was that keeping willie green in so damn long?

    • So true…I had to mute it at times. The Thunder is a good team, but they act like they have done something. Last time I checked the only thing they have done was lose in the first round in the playoff. whatever.

    • I told you guys you should just mute like I do. Surely you don’t need basketball novices commentating for you do you? We here probably know more than those guys. Put those ******** on mute. LOL!

  31. They’re letting Maynor play some minutes, he’s playing great I’ve always liked him ever since he was in college.

  32. well it was a nice effort. Considering that they shot great from outside, refs’re not ready to officiate a match with this kind of intensity, then their bigs just dominating because ‘Meka’s absence, without ariza on the boards and on D and forced to play willie on Durant (= no opposition = 40point in 3 quarters), with CP3 limping…

    It was a nice effort, i think the Hornets can beat this thunder team during the playoffs if the bees are healty nomatter who has the court advantage. I can’t see the Thunder doing such an offensive exploit against our defense on a daily basis once we have ‘Mek and Ariza healty. So if the hornets are going to score and get some offensive rebound i see this matchup going well.

    I’m really happy to see QPon playing that well evenif it was for nothing. I knew he could play but also knew that he’s simply too intelligent to throw in the air some bad shots just to score something and get everyone’s attention.

    good night guys

  33. Tough loss, Hornets. KD was on fire tonight, and no one was gonna stop him. For the record, we here in OKC don’t really like Brian Davis either. Grant Long is ok though.

    See ya in the playoffs!

  34. From Jim Eichenhofer’s twitter…

    Marcus Thornton is 1st player in NBA history to miss 2 shots in same week that were blocked after ball hit backboard #fabricatedstats

    That’s effed up.

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