Team Progress this Season – and Bad Wings

Published: April 8, 2013
Jason Smith

In part 2 of the season Moratorium, I take a look at the changes from last year.

Glass Half Full

The Hornets are a better offensive team this year.  A lot better, actually.  After posting the 28th ranked offense last year, the Hornets have improved their shooting to above the league average, jumped into the top 10 at offensive rebound rate, and managed to cut their turnover rate from 29th to 20th.  That has resulted in the 14th ranked offense in the league this year.  A significant improvement.

The reasons aren’t hard to pick out.  Last year only Gustavo Ayon played more than 1000 minutes for the Hornets and managed an eFG% over 50%.  This season, the Hornets have four such players: Ryan Anderson, Anthony Davis, Robin Lopez, and Roger Mason.  Last year, the Hornets had zero players play 1000 minutes (Okafor only hit 781) and post an offensive rebound rate of 10% or better.  This year, both Anthony Davis and Robin Lopez did it.  Almost every position saw an improvement to its turnover rate except small forward, where Aminu got more minutes, and therefore had more time to turn the ball over.

Once again, the offensive weakness for the Hornets came on the wing, where Austin Rivers, Aminu, and Eric Gordon combined to produce well below average true shooting and effective field goal numbers.(And before anyone blames Rivers, none of these three players had an above average eFG%, though Gordon did post a slightly above average TS% due to his free throws.)  In fact, if not for Roger Mason and a few minutes from Darius Miller, the Hornets wing position is a major black hole, negating the scoring efficiency of the Hornets frontcourt and relegating this team to an average offense.

If Dell and Monty are looking for a high-efficiency offense, they should simply add a single efficient scorer/shooter on the wing this off-season.  Even if Eric Gordon doesn’t bounce back, that should push the Hornets near the top 10 in offense.

Glass Half Empty

Of course, it should be pretty obvious that something else has changed with this team – something that needs to counteract the offensive improvements – or this team would be on the playoff bubble.  The culprit is a decline from the 15th ranked defense in the league to the 28th ranked defense, as the Hornets have allowed fully 4.5 more points per 100 possessions than they did last year.

Defense is always harder to quantify individually than offense, but overall the team has some serious red flags.  The team is allowing opponents to average an eFG% of 51.7%.  As mentioned above, only three Hornets who played significant minutes shot better than that this year.  It’s a horrendeous number and easily counteracts the solid improvement in the Hornets defensive rebounding this season.  Pile on top of that the fact the Hornets remain in the bottom 10 at giving away free throws and in forcing turnovers, and you see the anatomy of a slow, bad defense.

So what does Dell need to do to stiffen the defense?  Quite simply, he needs to start chipping away at those players who are defensive liabilities.  This season, the baseline defensive number is 109 – the number of points the team allowed per possession.  It’s a bad number, but even that can be used to look at the major contributors on the team, and determine which players were on the floor when that number got worse – and which players were on the floor when it got better.

Defense Boosters:

  • Anthony Davis – Rating 104
  • Al Farouq Aminu – Rating 104
  • Jason Smith – Rating 108

Defense Wreckers:

  • Austin Rivers – Rating 114
  • Brian Roberts – Rating 113
  • Eric Gordon – Rating 113
  • Grievis Vasquez – Rating 112
  • Ryan Anderson – Rating 111

(The rest of the major players had no real positive or negative impact on the defensive baseline.  That does not, does NOT mean they are good defenders, just that this year they aren’t the main problem or a possible solution.)

Now, by no means should we take these numbers in a vacuum.  Rivers was awful for half the season, and got a lot better by the end.  Still, it points to one dramatic but unsurprising bit of news:  Eric Gordon was rock awful this season.  While he played, the team scored 101 points per 100 possessions as he contributed to the negative production on the wing.  Defensively, the team allowed 113 points per possession.  That 12-point differential is the largest on the team owned by anyone not named Austin Rivers.  The shooting guard position, on which the Hornets spent 15 million dollars and the 10th pick in the draft this last summer, is a gaping, oozing sore.

If Dell wants to improve this squad defensively, at least two defensively capable wing/guards should be brought in – and considering that none of the players on the list that helped wreck the defense were better than average offensively except Ryan Anderson, this alone should not impact the offense as much as it improves the defense.


Here's a quote from Monty and a bit of context from the writer. Monty Williams, the Hornets' coach, has his young team packing the paint more aggressively this season, and opposing offenses have responded by using an inside-out attack to shoot a scorching 37.5 percent from deep on a ton of attempts. Williams says he knew he was risking that kind of long-distance death, because so many of his players are young and don't yet understand basic NBA things — how to rotate on the spot, which shooters demand closer attention, etc. "We just had to get back to ground zero and protect the rim," Williams says. "We're not trying to give up 3s. But sometimes you give up 3s due to lack of experience and mental breakdowns. My first two years, we had guys who had been on teams where they really defended. Now you bring in young guys who played AAU and all these college zones, and it's just a work in progress." Lack of experience + lack of foot speed is leaving guys exposed. This is reflected more in open 3'd than anything else and that's why 4 of the 5 guy on the list are wings. Objectively, I'd say Rivers and Gordon are at least league average for the SG position. Rivers in particular based on how he was playing for the last month before he went down. Aminu also contributes to this lack of perimeter D with his lack of awareness and lower than average B Ball IQ. While he makes some awesome plays, he misses rotations frequntly. Same can be said for Davis. I'd say J-Smitty is our only consistently high performing player on the defensive end. Gordon/Rivers/Davis have potential to be much much better. Aminu, could become a better one on one defender, but it's unlikely he'll ever become a significantly above average team defender and that's probably more imporrtant with the huge amount of help and recover D coaches are asking their players to employ these days..


Nikkoewan, I don't think it's any more (or less) than the ifs for Anderson or (especially) Gordon (or anyone else). Overall, the numbers say that Anderson has been about as productive as Vasquez compared to league average at their positions and both have out produced Gordon. Also, I know it's the internet-webs and all but one question mark is enough.


A few questions: 1. Why use the team's defensive rating as the baseline instead of the actual league average? If the goal is to get better, then we need to get better compared to the league, not with ourselves. Therefore, I think we should compare it to 106 -- the league average DRTG 2. Why use an individual's defensive rating? I've always believed that studying individual defense alone, isn't really good. Individual DRTG therefore, is a very flawed statistic compared to its ORTG because of its inability to reconcile well with DRTG (compared to ORTG). As such, I think it's very flawed to just blurt out player DRTGs and assume that adding 5 average DRTG guys equates into an average team DRTG. Therefore, I think it would have been better had you looked into identifying the team's specific weaknesses and trying to distribute the "blame" of these weaknesses into individuals. Case and point: the Hornets as a team allowed the 3rd worst effective field goal percentage in the league. Who are the main culprits for this huge field goal percentage number? In most of the lineup combinations presented by (5 man, 4 man, 3 man and 2 man), Vasquez has been the biggest denominator in them. He's featured in all of the top 8 worst eFG 5 man combination, in 7 of the top 10 worst eFG 4 man combinations, etc... Other names, Ryan Anderson is another guy regularly featured among the worst eFG lineup combinations. Rivers and Gordon, aren't. Another thing, Hornets are not forcing a lot of turnovers. Vasquez and Anderson are regularly featured in those same combinations. We have reason to believe that Anderson can do better and he can actually still be a player with more positives than negatives particularly because of his 3PT shooting and safety. Vasquez on the other hand, brings a very average offensive game (105 ORTG) while being a huge negative on the defensive end. Bringing in a guard who can alternate with Gordon as a playmaker and scorer while being a demon on forcing turnovers and steal would be a huge help :)