Beneath the Screen: Anatomy of a Defensive Breakdown

Published: December 28, 2012

I wanted to switch gears a little bit this week and focus on defense. This season, the Hornets clearly have not played up to the level that their defense-first head coach would expect. The Hornets currently rank 29th in defensive efficiency, giving up 110.1 points per 100 possessions. According to the Hornets rank 28th by giving up .92 points per play. Overall, not too good.

While the overall ranking of the Hornets defense, by almost any statistic, is near last in the league, breaking down the defense by play type doesn’t paint such a grim outlook. The Hornets rank towards the bottom of the middle of the league in many defensive categories. It’s not great by any mean, but hardly ranked near last. But one category jumps out: Spot-up situations.

Against the Hornets, opposing offenses finished their possession with a spot-up shot 22.3% of the time. No other category is above 13% so this is the type of shot the Hornets see the most. When defending the spot-up, the Hornets give up a terrible 1.04 points per play. But let’s dig into the numbers a little more to see exactly why this is so bad.

Overall in spot-up situations, the Hornets hold the opposition to a field goal % of 39.7 which is below the league average of 44.6%. That’s actually pretty good. However, defending the 3-point shot is where the Hornets struggle allowing opponents to shoot 39.4% from deep compared to the league average of 35.6%. That is incredibly bad.

To make spot-ups even worse for the Hornets, the Hornets only foul 2.7% of the time and only cause a turnover 4% of the time. Add that in with the 3-point shooting percentage above and that tells me these shots are uncontested. There is no one even close enough to foul or get a hand on the ball and cause any sort of turnover.

So, how does this happen? Let’s take a look at an example from the other night. To the Madistrator!


The play starts off with the Hornets defenders in good position. Everyone is marking their man well as Nelson passes to the wing.


Still looking good as the ball moves to the top of the elbow.


Again, still looking good positioning-wise. Davis switches onto the ball handler which creates a mismatch with Rivers but the Magic don’t take advantage.


And now the Hornets defense starts to break down by allowing an open baseline cutter. For a young team like the Hornets, this is mostly due to a lack of court awareness and vision. It also falls on the coach staff as well. They need to make prepare their players for what to expect.


Vasquez sprints over to defend, but this causes him to be off balance and allows the ball handler to drive baseline towards the rim. However, the Hornets perimeter defenders are actually in good position.


And then the Hornets defense fully falls apart. After beating Vasquez off the baseline dribble the Hornets defense collapses into the paint. Seriously, count the red and yellow circles. There are 5 Hornets to 3 Magic players in the paint. Which, by a simple mathematical calculation, means there are two uncovered Magic players. The ball handler then makes a quick pass to the outlet man near the corner 3. And you can probably guess how this possession is going to end.

What makes this even worse, and something I saw all too often watching lots of similar plays, is the fact that Lance Thomas, standing at the free throw line, is just staring at the ball handler. He’s not trying to help in the paint or getting ready to close out on a perimeter shooter. He is simply staring which is the equivalent of doing nothing.


With the only defender in position to close out on the perimeter standing in the paint, it leads to an easy pass for an open look for 3.


Thomas tries to contest the shot but he was too far out of position to even bother Nelson.

Ultimately this play started to go poorly for the Hornets when they allowed the back door cut along the baseline. As many of these young players gain experience they should develop the awareness to anticipate and react accordingly. But right now there are far too many of these type of plays occurring.

There has been a lot of talk about the job Monty has been doing. Hopefully he can help his young team figure it out how to defend better.


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