The Hornets’ Broken Defense

By:
Published: April 1, 2013
broken castle

Welcome to the first part of the 2013 season Moratorium.

The off-season is almost on us – and in just a few months we’ll all be able to gnash our teeth/glow/fume/gush/rage/smirk/dance, etc., over whatever moves Dell makes during the Draft and Free Agency.

Before that, however, it may be wise to understand just what this broken team is doing badly, so that we can decide if Dell has ignored issues, papered over holes, or well and truly repaired them.  Today, I’m talking overall defense before getting into the nitty-gritty of individual defensive areas in later pieces.

Every team has a strategy designed to control the types of shots a team generates in their offense.   Most good defenses try force a large number of inefficient mid-range shots and to keep opponents off the three point line and away from the rim. This season the Hornets have deployed a pretty drastic “Collapse and Guard the Rim” strategy, where they attempt to aggressively help on driving or posting-up opponents, hoping to prevent those good shots at the rim.  It is debatable if this is a good strategy, since open three pointers are effective shots that teams seek – but shots at the rim are the most efficient shot in the league.  So, you could get behind a team trying such a defense, especially if it’s a team trying to paper over some serious footspeed issues at several positions.  The team has to try something, right?

So the Hornets have tried.  And failed.  New Orleans has allowed the 4th most shots at the rim, resulting in the 6th highest number of buckets.  Even worse, those numbers are raw data, if you take those numbers in context with the total number of shots opponents take, the Hornets allow fully 38% of an opponents attempts to come at the rim.  That number is the second worst in the league.

So the Hornets defense is more “Collapse”, and less “Guard the Rim.”

The bad news doesn’t stop there.  Due to the team’s leaden feet at most positions, they are predictably not getting back out on shooters once they collapse into the paint.  That results in a further 26% of opponents shots coming from outside the arc, good for the 7th highest percentage in the league.

Collectively that means that the Hornets are the worst team in the league at controlling shot selection.  Opponents take a a league-lowest 35.7% of their shots from the Dumb Zone – the mid-range area that produces, on average, between .8 and .9 points per shot.  The league average is 41.6%.  Unsurprisingly, the stingiest defense in the league, the Indiana Pacers, force opponents to take 48.9% of their shots from the dumb zone.

It’s a disaster, and one that Dell and Monty will need to address.

So the first thing the Hornets I’d like to see brought in this off-season?  Speed at the defensive point of attack, primarily at the point, but also at the wing.  Then, hopefully, Monty Williams will to jettison an extremely ineffective defensive strategy.

What do you think will help most?  Sound off in the comments!

21 comments
ktrufant
ktrufant

One that plays to their strengths and those of their teammates. One that is effective. I don't think foot speed and arm length are box score stats. If you want to get new players, I think it's better to pick up guys who first do things that show up in the box score. My argument is that an improved defense starts with the coach and the system. Aminu and Davis are great individual defenders, especially compared to the average players at their positions. They gain possessions for their team and regularly turn opponent possessions into 0 points. A better defensive system would make sure the stuck to their man and let everyone else (and them) sink or swim (like the Spurs). It's possible, both guys are coachable. Rotations and help defense kept to a minimum would reduce confusion. Offenses are taking advantage of not being forced to deal with Aminu and Davi's hands and length. Rivers is not a good defender (to this point he has not even been good at basketball). However he played 1418 minutes this season. A better system would not have allowed that. Smith is not a good defender outside of using his height to block shots close to the basket (similar to Lopez just not as good. Maybe he should spend more time as a C.) A better system would keep Lopez and Smith patrolling the paint as much as possible, and everyone else forcing their man into the height down low. I thought that's what the height is for. I think Gordon, Miller and Henry could be good defenders and Anderson could be decent (average). Between Aminu and Davis's talents, Lopez and Smith's height in the paint and the decent abilities of Gordon, Miller, Henry and maybe Anderson, I think the team could be at least a middling defense, certainly not the bottom of the league in efficiency. An effective system (smart defense and plays to the players' strengths) would be the first place I would start ... How do you plan to replace the production you lose going after the guys that (likely) won't even fix the problem they're there to solve? When you say the team needs "an annoying on-the-ball defender at the point" you must really mean "an annoying on-the-ball defender at the point that is also top three in the league in assists" which is to say you want Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo or maybe Ricky Rubio. I don't think any of those folks are options. So who are you thinking of? As far as a "a powerful interior defender who is not slow", if Lopez did not spend so much time trying to cover wings and guards, his lack of speed would be less of an issue but "a powerful interior defender who is not slow" is kind of a vague description in any case so I'm completely sure who you mean ...

NOEngineer
NOEngineer

What defensive scheme are we suggesting would be beter for slow guys with short arms and no leaping ability? As for Aminu, he has good ball-hawking skills and decent on-ball defense but has trouble dealing with off-the-ball defense or strong players. Overall, he's good but not great. Davis is an above-average defender but he is light compared to many of his opponents. He's close to great. Rivers has shown flashes to great defense, but he is also light. Smith is slightly better than average due to his help defense. Nobody else would be classified as above average in my book. Even Gordon is lost much of the time when his man doesn't have the ball. Roberts is quick, but can't track anyone or bother anyone. We need an annoying on-the-ball defender at the point and a powerful interior defender who is not slow. Then we need shooters so we can outscore the teams that rotate the ball well.

ktrufant
ktrufant

Not that it matters but for what's it's worth, I think the William's system is the biggest problem and the first place to start. Defense is a team thing. It's not so much about winning individual battles as it is putting for the maximum effort and employing a system that works. San Antonio, after their implosion last post-season in the playoffs, took their defense from 11 that season too top 3 this season with largely the same roster. They did it/are doing it with a disciplined commitment to a system that works. (For example, players rotate later than sooner, playing their man as best they can, in order to lessen confusion) The eye test is notoriously inaccurate, so what looks like a problem of sloppy rotations and lack of foot speed may actually be a problem with the system. Davis, Aminu and even Lopez are at least fair overall in the defensive stats. Lopez for example, is a good shot-blocker (as is Davis). Maybe Williams needs to keep him at home on his man (and in the paint) while having Vasquez stay as close to his man as possible and if (heh, when) he gets beaten, have him force him into the defenders down low and at least into a less than ideal shot. Aminu is a good (great) defender. He gets steals, blocks well for his position and is a hell of a rebounder (and has brought his foul rate down to average). If he's getting lost on rotations, Williams needs to keep those to a minimum (as they can be confusing in general, it's a part of what offensive systems aim to create in order to create better scoring opportunities) and let Aminu do the things he does best (and what Williams is teaching him to do better). As for effort, obviously Williams is a great player motivator. That's almost inarguable. And apparently guys really like playing for him. Effort is not the issue. This season has been practically stated to be a player development one. Williams has based his rotations and minutes largely on developing talent. I think his system is basic (and if I had to guess, designed to teach as much as to win). When the defense improves (and I think it will, there is talent and Williams has evidenced ability to be a good defensive coach), IMO it will be because the system adapt rather than some influx of talented/fast defenders.

ImSorryMonty
ImSorryMonty

Vasquez and Lopez guarding the pick and roll. It's that simple. Vasquez m2m defense also. Atrocious. Mason and Aminu getting lost on defense, doubling at inappropriate times or just flat losing their man on the perimeter. Davis needs muscle, especially if he's going to be asked to be the lone guy guarding the rim after the opposing team's PGs part Vasquez and Lopez like the red sea. All of these are quite fixable in my opinion. Here's to hoping GV,AFA,RMJ aren't here next year. Rivers getting hurt really screwed up our potential timeline. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who wanted to see what the kid looked like after turning the post-ASB corner. Now we're still not sure what we have in him. To be honest, I'd rather Rivers out there starting at the 1 if nothing else than for the D. At least than we'd be above average on defense. Gordon can hoist up 20 shots a game and play GV hero ball better than GV can anyways. Vasquez has got to go. I hate watching him play basketball in every sense of the word. He's not a PG. He's a SG. The sooner everyone realizes this the better off everyone will be. Arguably the slowest guard on our team is our front line at both ends of the court, woo woo woo. (I'd love to see a RMJ and GV footrace FTR)

GerryV
GerryV

"Your defense in the NBA is only as good as your rotating defenders" My Basketball Bible,page one "Thou must have length and quicks to thrive" Thou must have a rugged sense of playing personality ( timid vs Miami) Scoring does help you enjoy playing defense...making three's..offense feeds your defensive passion. I remain V

Prince1787
Prince1787

I have seen mixed opinions on this subject but I have to go with as a coach u employ what your personnel allows! Why continue something that doesn't work you play to win the game so why not coach the same way! Yes the Hornets are slow but until unmet the players u need why not change scheme. Finally, why agree to sign these players if u knew they weren't fast enough for your scheme so honestly all the blame goes to Monty and Dell no reason why u brought Lopez here and kept Vasquez knowing their to slow to fit the scheme!

Michael Pellissier
Michael Pellissier

I think the problem is fairly simple: we are full of guys who are unable to rotate because they're slow or they're too green to recognize the proper rotations. Couple that with the fact that we can't stop the ball, and you have the makings of a horrible defense. Every possession feels a little bit like this Lord of the Rings scene http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMDv1dwONsA

Jake Madison
Jake Madison

Ryan, this is a most excellent post. I've said before that I'm glad Monty has a defensive strategy even if it's one I disagree with. But at the same time doesn't a good coach need to adapt or change when something isn't working?

macs21
macs21

Zach Lowe does a piece on this for Grantland. Specifically, he's talking about how the Raptors front office has been using the data picked up from the SportVU camera's (they've had them the longest) and they've come to the conclusion that this is pretty similar to ideal defensive strategy. I eprsonally don't think we need a new strategy, we just need better players to fit the strategy. Look at the Bulls, they arguably help in the lane more than any team (also the Heat, but they only turn it up when they have to) and are one of the better defences going around. The difference is they have Noah and Gibson, bigs who can protect the rim and close out on shooters and we only have The Brow who fits that category. They've also got two athletic and fundamentally sound wing defenders in Butler and Deng. It's personnel not scheme that needs to be changed. The article is located here for anyone who's interested/hasn't seen it. http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/9068903/the-toronto-raptors-sportvu-cameras-nba-analytical-revolution