Game On: Hornets @ Thunder

Published: December 12, 2012

The Hornets make their first trip of the season to Oklahoma City for their third meeting with the Thunder overall.

After falling to the Thunder twice at home over the past 30 days by 15 and 21 points, the Hornets will attempt to avenge those losses in Oklahoma City, which would also snap a four-game skid.

Consider me skeptical.

As a coach, I have to imagine that the most frustrating thing about an opponent like the Thunder is that, as a team, you can do so many things well against them and yet still not only lose, but get totally blown out. For example, if I gave you two unnamed teams, and told you that team A posted better totals than team B in offensive rebound rate, defensive rebound rate, turnover rate, and free throw rate, it’d be tough to imagine team B having much of a chance to win. Surprisingly enough, in the first of the two New Orleans vs. Oklahoma City games so far this season, the Hornets qualified as team A and the Thunder qualified as team B, and the Hornets came within half a percentage point in turnover rate from achieving the same designation in the second.

So how did the Thunder manage to average a net rating of a whopping +20.3 over the course of those two games? There is really only one explanation – deadly shooting accuracy. Thus far this season, the Thunder are 2nd in the NBA in effective field goal percentage (field goal percentage adjusted for the added value of a 3-pointer) at 54.1%, with the Hornets coming in 16th at 48.4%. However, when you isolate the teams’ two meetings this season, the disparity is far more telling. The Thunder absolutely crushed the Hornets in effective field goal percentage in their two games combined, totaling an eFG% of 59.2% compared to just 43.7% for the Hornets.

Obviously, the difference between the two teams isn’t as simple as “the Thunder shoot way better.” Oklahoma City’s ball movement is excellent; the team ranks 6th in the NBA in assist rate, with 17.5% of their possessions resulting in a score coming from an assist. This strong team passing allows them to find open looks with ease; the Thunder rank in the NBA’s top three in both field goal percentage at the rim (69%) as well as beyond the arc (42%). Oh yeah, and they also have some guy named Kevin Durant who’s pretty good too.

So, what do the Hornets need to do to have a chance to win?

  1. Keep out-performing the Thunder in every facet of the game that they did in their first two games. If New Orleans gets out-rebounded (especially on the offensive glass) and turns the ball over more than OKC, forget about it. I don’t need to see the shooting numbers, because unless the Hornets shoot 75% from 3-point range on 15+ attempts, this one’s over.
  2. Rotate well on defense and contest 3-pointers. Doing so appears to be against Monty’s interior defense-heavy system, but at some point he’ll have to make adjustments based on past results. The Thunder have made 21 out of 45 threes in their first two meetings combined, and if the New Orleans continues to give them up in favor of packing the paint, the same thing is going to happen.
  3. Create fast break opportunities. Despite a slight turnover edge for the Hornets in games 1 and 2 of this four-game series, the Thunder have outscored them 31-12 in fast break points. Given the fact the Thunder have the worst turnover ratio in the league, the Hornets should consistently look for opportunities to get out in transition for quick buckets.



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