Tanking is Hard for the Hornets

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Published: April 17, 2012

The Hornets are winning games and scaring Anthony Davis craving fans, but why?

The Hornets have won four in a row for the first time all season. They’ve won six of their last eight overall. The result in terms of their lottery seeding has been… nothing. Truly. The Hornets started their run in third position, and that’s where they remain today. Not only that, but they still control their own third place destiny.

The problem is that the once comfortable lead they had over teams like Sacramento and Cleveland has been reduced to one and two games respectively, and the chances of the Hornets taking the second seed from Washington have been reduced to next to nothing.

So what’s the deal? Why in a season in which tanking is the hot thing to do are the Hornets struggling so hard to get to the finish line, potentially ruining their chances at Anthony Davis or a top three pick (there’s now less than a 50% chance of their pick winding up top three) in the process?

The answer is complicated. It’s a bit of luck, a bit of skill, and a bit of “finally…”

First off the Hornets have been running into teams not playing very good ball. The Bobcats were 1-16 from three, the Grizzlies shot 35% and couldn’t make a jumper to save their grizzly hair, the Tumblewolves were without their two best players, and the reliable Aaron Afflalo was tricked by Gordon into an uncharacteristic foul with seconds left. I’m not saying that the Hornets haven’t had their share of bad luck this year, but it seems to be turning around lately.

As for that skill/finally thing, the Hornets have struggled all year to close out games. We’ve seen them make play after play (I still can’t get that Jason Smith 3-point attempt out of my head) that just shouldn’t be made by NBA players in crunch time. Repeatedly we’ve watched them close out games similarly to how Jean Van De Velde closed out the British Open years ago.

 

It’s easy to look at Eric Gordon as the problem reason why the Hornets late game fortunes have improved, but he’s not the only factor that has resulted in the W’s piling up. While Gordon has certainly been the guy that we all thought he would be—an excellent late game player—he’s had some help from his friends.

At some point in a season, guys are going to show improvement. If you give Greivis Vasquez consistent playing time in the most pressure filled moments of a regular season NBA game, he’s going to get better at playing during them. Same goes for Jason Smith. The reality is that there are a lot of players here who have barely, if at all, seen playing time during the fourth quarter and especially the last few minutes of NBA games. It’s no surprise that they were bad in the beginning of the year, and it should come as no surprise that they’ve improved their play in those situations as they’ve become more experienced in competing during them.

Combine a lineup of players who are all of a sudden battle-tested late game players with a star closer (yes, I’m calling Gordon a star closer already) and a coach that’s starting to get figure out the end of games, and you have a team that actually is pretty solid at the end as opposed to a team that couldn’t close the front door earlier this year.

The Hornets have been doing their part to lose games, make no mistake. Okafor has been shelved with an injury that had Monty a bit confused weeks ago (read: tank). They’re sitting out Ariza to give Aminu more playing time (read:tank). Even Gordon, who has looked healthy, has been given considerable time off since he came back (read:let’s not injure him this year). Anymore and he’d probably be upset that the Hornets were costing him the opportunity to demonstrate that he’s healthy and worthy of a huge deal this offseason. Chris Kaman was shelved earlier for a good bit of time (read:tank), and has now been shelved again due to the notorious bone bruise that’s been plaguing the Hornets all year.

You can’t very well sit Landry, who is in a contract year. Same goes for Belinelli. When Stern was the owner I advocated sitting guys to “develop” young players, but Monty has acknowledged the reality that doing that to guys who are playing for their next contract is simply bad business. When it’s the long-term owner’s business that’s being represented and not just the short term NBA ownership, perception matters more. Stuff like that would make free agents less likely to join the Benson-owned team in the future.

The Hornets started Lance Thomas last night. They played Jerome Dyson 15 minutes. They sat Gordon and Ariza. Yet they still won.

Short of telling the team not to try, Monty Williams is running out of options. Jason Smith seems like the big man to sit since he’s really driving victories right now, but can Monty realistically shelve him in favor of giving Lance Thomas and Gustavo Ayon (who seems physically drained) a combined 60 minutes a night to develop?

After rolling over the opposition all year long, this tank just got really tough to drive.

20 comments
Holy Cow
Holy Cow

I feel really awkward saying this, but it's really difficult to watch this team win now. My hope for these last few games is great effort, but falling a little short in the end. Hey Joe, any chance of a season ending watch party for the 4/26 Houston game?

Joe Gerrity
Joe Gerrity

Yeah, we can probably make that happen. I'll talk with the dudes and make sure that it's all good.

NOS-3RD GEN
NOS-3RD GEN

Worst case scenario we drop down to 4th or 5 the pick. Its not all bad I mean we acquired CP3 that year 4th overall besides everyone is bragging and acting like this will the best draft since the draft year of 2003:LBJ,D.WADE,C.ANTHONY. ETC.

Joe Gerrity
Joe Gerrity

Right now worst case scenario we take the 6th pick.

504ever
504ever

We likely have to "lose out" the season to keep our current draft status. Sacramento's only realistic chance at a win is at Charlotte. But if they have to lose that game to be 3rd worst, I would expect them to find a way to lose it. So we can't count on any more help from Sacramento.

Mason Ginsberg
Mason Ginsberg

Unfortunately, the Hornets still have to go to Golden State, a team that is desperately trying to sneak back into the bottom 7 so they get to keep their draft choice. Sacramento at Charlotte and New Orleans at Golden State have the potential to be just as brutal as last night's Hornets @ Bobcats game. Brace yourselves.

cameronismyname
cameronismyname

If we do slip from 3rd to 4th, don't we only decrease our chances of landing the top pick by something like 3.5%?

Mike P
Mike P

5th worst team**

Mike P
Mike P

The % chance for the 1st pick only drops a little when going from 3rd to 4th seed in the lottery, but your chances also drop for every subsequent pick. Since 2006, the best average selection belongs to the worst team, but interestingly enough, the second best average selection has belonged to the 5th pick in the draft. It's a crapshoot and nothing is guaranteed, but you want to get every chance you can to pick the guy you like rather than the guy who is left.

504ever
504ever

It drops by 3.7 percentage points, but that is a 25% drop from 15.6% chance of the 1st round pick to 11.9%.

clef504
clef504

I know tanking seems like the most logical thing to do, but I say just let everything run its course. Lets look at this, yes Anthony Davis is a beast but when you look at drafts the number one player isn't the only superstar. CP3 was not number one, KEVIN DURANT was not the number one pick. My point, I feel like the draft is good enough that with two high picks and dealer Dell, matched with Gordon and our roll players we shouldn't be worried. Let these guys play these last games with all their heart, they might wanna be on our team next year and making that last push to prove themselves. Also we got, Benson.......I believe he will pay for a good free agent and make our New Orleans __________(fill in the blank) an immediate contender.

da ThRONe
da ThRONe

To your point I can a kid like Terrence Jones being the best player in this draft. I see so many players this draft with a really high ceilings of course most of them floor is equally as low.

Dee
Dee

Well, something has to be done. We (The fans) had to deal with these L's all year and all we want in return is more L's to help our draft stock. #RollTank

Chuck
Chuck

Ummm...where does the contract year logic go astray when it comes to Kaman?

Joe Gerrity
Joe Gerrity

I was talking to someone about it earlier and I guess I overlooked putting it in. Kaman is such a known product that a few games at the end of the year for a bad team really aren't going to matter in regard to his payday. Landry, while a known product, is coming off a serious injury. HE has something to prove. Beli got just the QO last season and struggled much of this one, so he's in the same boat IMO. A strong close to the season might be worth millions to Landry or Beli, but I just don't see it that way for Kaman. Just my opinion. You feel differently?

D$
D$

I'd like to see Kaman and Landry both here next year..doubtful but having a team play together for a season and growing together could be better than some random signing who may have a little more talent..now drafting Robinson (who i think the hornets should draft, unless Davis is there) or Davis throws that out the window and you're forced to get the new players to grow together.

usufruct
usufruct

I've got a lunch bet that Kaman's a hornet next season. He can sit all he wants because he knows where he's going to be.

Chuck
Chuck

Also I think that at this point Landry is a pretty known commodity as well

Chuck
Chuck

I mostly agree in that I don't think Kaman sitting out will hurt his stock in free agency, but he could have helped it. He hasn't rebounded well for the second half of the season and has injury troubles, so if he wasn't really injured it seems like he could have proven to the league that he is tough inside and can stay healthy. Besides, we leaned hard on him all season and gave him lots of minutes and (especially) shots, so why stop now unless he really is hurt?