Team Progress this Season – and Bad Wings

Published: April 8, 2013

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.


  1. nikkoewan

    April 8, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    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 🙂

    • ktrufant

      April 8, 2013 at 10:19 pm

      I agree with your points about Ryan’s argument. However I have a question for you about your case in point. Does the fact that Vasquez and Anderson have played the most and second most minutes on the team (by at least 350~ minutes) make any difference?

      Also, Vasquez has been much more productive than Gordon over the course of the season. He’s an average scorer in efficiency, and elite assister and turns the ball over a little too much. If he cut the TOs down, got to the line a bit more and improved his percentage from 3 just a little, he would be very good on offense, IMO and I think all of those improvements are possible. On defense he underachieves in blocks and steals but he’s a great rebounder. Right now, to me he’s not as bad or nearly as hopeless as the ‘eye test’ and fans cum writers try to make him out to be. I think guys like Vasquez with productive skills (rebounds, assists) are just as likely to improve on those skills (and in other areas) as guys who have been more productive in the past but have been less productive in the present are to “return to form”.

      • nikkoewan

        April 8, 2013 at 10:29 pm

        That’s a lot of ifs don’t you think??

        Also, no he doesn’t underachieve on defense — he sucks at it. Plain and simple. By the stats and by the eye test. he doesn’t put a lot of ball pressure on ball handlers. I think that’s the most important individual defense a perimeter player can do. And he can’t do it.

        About the minutes — yes, it’s an issue. i did peg it the lineup combos as “at least 40 minutes played” which is approximately a game, which isn’t enough (I mean, even at 1000 minutes, it probably won’t be enough) so that’s an obvious limitation of a study such as this

    • Ryan Schwan

      April 8, 2013 at 10:23 pm

      Hey Nikko – the reason I didn’t use the league average is because we’re comparing individual against the overall team performance on that team. Put Vasquez on the Pacers, and I have no doubt his number would be lower. It doesn’t make him better, just less exposed. These numbers let you say “This team was bad, but this guy made them horrendous. Can we afford to have him?”

      So when you are looking at how THIS team performed, then you use these numbers to see who had the biggest negative impact. Prune away a couple of those players and replace them, and your overall number will improve – as will all the players on the team. Maybe not having to help Vasquez will make Lopez better. So which do you move? The one with a worse rating could be the answer.

      • nikkoewan

        April 8, 2013 at 10:51 pm

        “Put Vasquez on the Pacers and I have no doubt his number would be lower” — it doesn’t indicate skill. Unlike observing ORTG — where you can actually deduce how he’s getting a high ORTG (since it’s deduced from his field goals, assists, offensive rebounds and turnovers), observing DRTG doesn’t give you much of anything — either with his performance or his ability (one of our main concerns with analytics).

        But assuming individual DRTG is reconcilable with team DRTG, it wouldn’t matter as much if for example we’re getting individuals who are “better” than the team DRTG if they are still worse than the league average DRTG — we’re still going to be bad on defense. That’s why I think it should be with regards to “league average”.

        But that’s a moot point since I don’t agree with using DRTG as a way of analyzing defense

      • Ryan Schwan

        April 9, 2013 at 9:07 am

        ORTG doesn’t give you anything DRTG does, there are just other statistics kept that you can then use to explain ORTG. Just because there aren’t other stats available to prove doesn’t mean that DRTG is somehow useless.

        It’s a starting point, like all stats.

        Fact: The Hornets are a bad defensive team
        Fact: The Hornets play even worse defense when certain players on the floor

        Armed with those facts, you look at those specific players first when you are considering replacements, weigh their offensive contributions, study their defense more closely with gametape, and make decisions.

    • xman20002000

      April 8, 2013 at 11:33 pm

      Nice rationale… especially the part expanding the analysis to league averages in lieu of team… Comparing one self to it self doesn’t measure anything, in reality… Further, its interesting everyone hates on Gordon but in reality who is he playing with and we weren’t closing games with just Vasquez… Leadership is a problem at the player level… But this isn’t the team it will become… a work in progress…

      Besides all the analysis this team with Monty Williams appears to be going places depending on who they add… Otto Porter would be nice if we consider the draft and we have no game in the paint… Lopez doesn’t dunk nor does he have a reliable shot… Note testing methodologies need to pass the validity and reliability test… plus can I conduct an analysis on every player getting sound results…

  2. ktrufant

    April 8, 2013 at 10:50 pm

    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.

    • nikkoewan

      April 8, 2013 at 11:37 pm

      haha sorry it’s a habit of mine.

      I don’t actually agree with comparing players to “position specific” league averages.. (I’m assuming you’re using WP, yes?)

      Vasquez has below average TS, eFG, his OREB isn’t helpful plus he has an enormously high TOV% for someone who uses so many possessions. Those are 4 of the 5 important offensive statistics (along with assists, the only place he’s good).

      And yes, both have out produced Gordon.

      • ktrufant

        April 9, 2013 at 8:14 pm

        Okay, I see where you’re coming from. I’m kind of the opposite. I always compare to position specific league averages. And yes for individual players I use WP but I hardly ever quote the WP48 figure as comparing a player’s box score number averages per 48 minutes gives a more detailed picture of where they are going right and where they can improve.

        With Vasquez, on offense, I find his eFG% (per 48) to be average and his assists are very, very high. His TOs are high too. When I look deeper I think it’s possible for him to become an efficient scorer which if he maintains his assist levels, even with the TOs would make him a net positive on offense. Defensively I don’t think he has much where he can improve other than fouling less. (But as I said before, I think improving team defense starts with the system.)

        My main point is that Vasquez isn’t some hole at his position, he’s productive albeit at an overall average rate. Could another player be better? Definitely but I think’s possible that he could be (a little better) too and the team has bigger needs/easier fixes at other positions.

    • xman20002000

      April 8, 2013 at 11:41 pm

      You make a good point.. both Vasquez and Anderson produce competitive numbers from a league analysis perspective… But they play on a losing team… Chris Paul and DWest carried the Hornets for years… Suppose those two were on this team… and both are free agents.. Then a corollary to poor defense is good scoring…

      So we have productive players and others in important areas who aren’t considering LeBron and Carmello are small forwards… Amundson I like but we have too many players trying but not getting there… We can dump a goodly number of these guys and be pretty good…

  3. macs21

    April 10, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    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..

    • ktrufant

      April 11, 2013 at 1:04 pm

      I like the Williams quote – makes since – but everything else sounds like a series huge assumptions based on little to no information. I mean Aminu and Davis lack basketball IQ? And Aminu will never develop it but Rivers has high potential? And Smith is the team’s only consistently high performing defensive player?

      I don’t understand how you can make assertions like that. (And that thing about Smith is just flat out false.)

      Watching games very often leads to making false assumptions and judgments about players and their ability …

      I feel you looking to Williams to provide some clarity to whats happening on the court but the direction you went in is a little misguided I think. I just don’t see (and haven’t seen) the numbers to back them up …

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