Game on: Hornets @ Rockets

Published: November 14, 2012

It’s early, but five games in, the Hornets are giving indications as to what sort of team they will be.  Ryan unloads a bundle of advanced stats about both teams, points out why the Hornets have a good defense, and gives the key to the game.


Once again, the Hornets are the slowest team in the league, averaging 89.1 posessions a game.  This is slightly faster than last year, but still ranks at the bottom of the league.  Much of this is a side effect of the struggles the Hornets’ guards are going through – the ball frequently doesn’t cross the three point line until 8 seconds remain on the clock.

Every second used.  Slow pace.

It also doesn’t help that the Hornets are forcing the 8th lowest number of turnovers in the league, with only 13.3% of defensive possessions ending in an opponent turnover.  That limits fast break opportunities.

Still, Pace gives you nothing definitive about the quality of a team’s offense and defense.  So . . .

The Offense

Now, every year offenses start slow and get better as the season moves on.  Still, the Hornets’ 99.0 offensive rating  – which indicates the Hornets average 99 points for every 100 possessions – is the 24th worst in the league right now, and would have ranked second to last last year.

In almost every phase of the offense the Hornets have struggled.  Their effective FG%, which incorporates three pointers, is 16th in the league.  Their Turnover rate is 20th in the league, and their Free throw rate (number of free throws earned compared to field goal attempts) is 21st in the league.  Only their offensive rebounding is above the league average – barely squeaking in at 15th overall.  None of this is terrible – and with the youth this team sports, I expect some of it to improve, but for now, the team struggles to be efficient.

At least, the Hornets struggle to be efficient at one end of the floor . . .

The Defense

Stocked with young players at every position, the Hornets have still managed to tie for the 7th best defense in the league, improving on their 15th ranked finish last year.  Though the Hornets force few turnovers (as mentioned above) and rank an abysmal 25th on defensive rebound rate, the Hornets have two things they excel at:  Opponents are posting an eFG% of .457, good for the 6th best defensive mark in the league – and at the same time the Hornets are giving away the lowest number of free throws per shot of any team in the league.  Opponents are only earning 0.14 free throws per attempt as the Hornets, led by Anthony Davis’s amazing .9 PFs a game, simply do not get suckered into fouling their opponent.  (By the way, if that 0.14 rate continues, it would be the 2nd best mark in league history.  So I guess that means we should expect it not to continue.  Outliers!  Grumble.)

The Rockets

The Rockets shot themselves in the foot this season and almost manage to negate everything they do well.  They crush the offensive glass, posting the 3rd highest rate of offensive rebound – but also turn the ball over at the league’s 5th highest rate.  They draw free throws at a rate in the top 10, but shoot at a rate in the bottom 10.   The end result is the league’s 11th ranked offense, scoring 101.7 points per 100 posessions.

Defensively, the Rockets are eerily similar to the Hornets in a lot of aspects of the game.  They allow the 4th lowest number of free throws, rank in the bottom 5 in defensive rebounding, and force turnovers rarely.  The big difference, however,  is the Rockets exactly average performance defending opposing shooters.  Where the Hornets excel at forcing bad shots, the Rockets are ranked 15th.

Key to the Game

The battle in this game will really be decided on the free throw stripe.  The Rockets earn what efficient offense they can by drawing free throws.  If the Hornets remain true to form and keep the Rockets from easy points at the stripe, I expect this game to swing the Hornets way.  If Lin and Harden get the benefits of calls in Houston, then the Hornets will go down.

Prediction:  Rockets by 3, since it is in their house.


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