The Hornets’ Broken Defense

Published: April 1, 2013

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!


  1. macs21

    April 1, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    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.

    • Jake Madison

      April 1, 2013 at 8:38 pm

      There is a flip side to this though. Should a coach be using a certain strategy when it doesn’t fit his current players?

      • macs21

        April 1, 2013 at 10:59 pm

        I think he should. The guys who have the potential to fit the strategy are the ones you keep around (Davis, Gordon, Rivers, Thomas, Anderson possibly Miller) and you get rid of the guys who don’t.
        This is a lost season, as intended by the front office, so you may as well start to employ your long term strategy to get the guys you want to keep around used to it and weed out guys who don’t have the ability/determination/whatever adjective you prefer to be succesful in it.

        At least this way when we fill our roster with guys like COrey Brewer, Pekovic, Marcus Smart/Otto Porter etc there will be less guys you have to completely integrate into a new defensive strategy.

        I agree with Michael’s comment below, we just don’t have the personnel to employ arguably the most succesful defensive strategy in the league. I say get rid of the players, not the goals of the team.

      • Jake Madison

        April 2, 2013 at 7:53 am

        I’ve read Lowe’s article it doesn’t say that collapsing is the best defensive strategy–I don’t think such a thing exists. Team’s use a variety of looks to attack offenses. When the Mav’s won a championship they defended LeBron differently than they had defended anyone all year. If one or the other was the best why would they change?

        In fact, Lowe’s article says the Raptors encourage teams to shoot more 3’s which would mean the best strategy would be to take that away from them and defend the perimeter vs. the paint. Toronto also ranks horribly in most defensive statistics.

        I’m fine with getting rid of the players and changing what the team does, but as a coach your job is to put players in the best position to succeed and win. With his defensive strategy you can’t say Monty has done that

      • macs21

        April 2, 2013 at 10:21 pm

        Actually, the article says they should take more three’s not allow more. If you proceed logically from there then the analysts saying they should allow more three’s makes literally 0 sense. Which is why they don;t say it anywhere in the article.

        They say you should help more aggresively in the lane (i.e. collapse the defense) and load up the strong side. They also point out that doing this and then recovering to your mark after helping aggressively is very hard work which is why a lot of players don’t/can’t do it.

        To quote Lowe directly, “Ultra-aggressive help defense is really hard work… …and it’s not a coincidence that the only team that consistently mirrors the help defense of its ghosts is Miami, Rucker says. The Heat have three of the best wing defenders in the league in Shane Battier, LeBron James, and Dwyane Wade, and the latter two are among the NBA’s most gifted pure athletes”

        Also, the Raptor’s suck defensively because as this article points out they don’t help enough in the paint or load up the strong side enough.. That’s literally the entire point of the article.

        As a coach your job is not always to win. In this case Monty’s job is to develop our young roster for the future (both in terms of raw basketball skills and abilities as well as scheme) and in so doing help the front office identify our current weaknesses so it’s easier for them to know which/what kind of players to persue in free agency and which/what kind of players we should get rid of. The fact that the staff were probably aware they wouldn’t have Eric Gordon anywhere near 100% for the season would have only brought that particular directive even more to the forefront of the goals for the season.

      • Jake Madison

        April 3, 2013 at 7:35 am

        Sorry, what I meant was not to allow your opponent to shoot more threes but encourages all teams to shoot more threes on offense.

    • xman20002000

      April 2, 2013 at 11:02 pm

      You forgot Boozer..

  2. Jake Madison

    April 1, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    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?

    • Ryan Schwan

      April 2, 2013 at 9:51 am

      Yeah, but here’s the primary issue I think Monty is facing. Collapsing into the paint is perhaps the simplest possible defense you can execute – and the Hornets aren’t successful executing it.

      You have to have the tools to do the job. I think Monty has a hammer and a wrench but is missing the screwdriver, saw, and tape measure, much less the bandsaw.

      Recognizing his limited tools, I think Monty has decided to simply pound things – despite the fact one of his tools is a wrench and not really suited to that – because he can’t do everything he would really want to do. This way, at least sometimes, his hammer will be effective.

      If he’s got better defensive tools next year and still collapses into the paint all the time, I’d be surprised. The team didn’t do that last year.

      • Jake Madison

        April 2, 2013 at 10:44 am

        More of a Nothing-Is-Really-Going-To-Work-So-I-May-As-Well-Do-This type of approach then.

      • thouse

        April 7, 2013 at 11:27 am

        That’s not really true. Montys teams have been among the league leaders in 3pa against all three years. Were the good defenses because of better defenders or teams still reluctant to embrace the value of the 3?

        I do think you’re right about Monty dumbing it down due to personnel.

  3. Michael Pellissier

    April 1, 2013 at 9:58 pm

    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

    • Jake Madison

      April 2, 2013 at 7:56 am

      That’s certainly part of it but when teams kick the ball around the perimeter by the 3rd pass a guy is far too open because 3 or 4 defenders are in the paint. Almost any team isn’t going to be able to close out against ball movement like that. It’s certainly rotations but even with speed games like the home Knicks game would occur.

      • Michael Pellissier

        April 2, 2013 at 2:40 pm

        That’s a fair point. Pick your poison, I suppose. Without help, we give up easy shots at the rim. With it, we give up easy 3s. It’s a disgusting watch regardless. What would you like to see change besides that?

      • Jake Madison

        April 2, 2013 at 5:57 pm

        I think you’re opponent dictates what you do. You can go in with a plan but when that gets shot up you need to change–the Knicks game was a prime example of that not happening.

        I’d like to see the Hornets run more of a Box and One. You could tweak it so that instead of marking the best offensive player Davis just roams. I think that’d be awesome and effective.

  4. Prince1787

    April 2, 2013 at 4:17 am

    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!

  5. GerryV

    April 2, 2013 at 7:46 am

    “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

  6. ImSorryMonty

    April 2, 2013 at 11:43 am

    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)

  7. ktrufant

    April 3, 2013 at 5:24 am

    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.

  8. NOEngineer

    April 5, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    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.

  9. ktrufant

    April 5, 2013 at 9:40 pm

    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 …

    • ktrufant

      April 5, 2013 at 9:58 pm

      Also, I agree in that I would like to see a faster guy at C but if Lopez (and Vasquez) is what you’re working with, then as a coach, a system has to be adapted to get the best out of them.

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