The Hornets Defense – or Why New Orleans is 5-0

Published: November 6, 2010

This morning, the Hornets awake sporting the 5th most efficient defense in the league.  While that sounds good, I want to put it in perspective.  Unlike many teams sporting tough defenses, the Hornets have now played the 4th, 6th, 11th, 15th and 29th ranked offenses in the league.  The average efficiency of those five teams is 103.6 points per 100 posessions.  The Hornets have held them to 97.3 points per posession.  Since the average difference in an NBA game is only 3 points, that’s a telling differential.

So how are the Hornets doing it?  They are employing the classic San Antonio defensive philosophy.

Opponent Shot Selection

For years, San Antonio has limited opportunities at the rim, stayed tight on three-point shooters, and let the other team take as many mid-range jumpshots as they want.  Hornets opponents are getting only 19.8 shots at the rim per game, with the league average set at 22.5 per game.  In contrast, opponents are taking almost 2 more mid-range shots than the league average.

The only concern I have is the 21.8 three point shots opponents are getting against the Hornets each game.  This is about 3 more than the league average, and yes, opponents are converting them at a pace well below average, but I’ll have to review the tape to make sure that’s not just fluke shooting rather than excellent perimeter defense.  Maybe I’ll do a video breakdown.  Whatcha think?


The Hornets have also adopted one other classic San Antonio attribute:  A focus on defensive rebounding.  All the superb San Antonio defensive juggernauts have concentrated less on leaking out after an opponents shot for easy scores, and instead on ending the posession by sending most of the team to the glass for defensive rebounds.  The Hornets aren’t all that great at grabbing offensive rebounds, but they have dominated the defensive glass, gobbling in 77% of available defensive rebounds – which is 3rd best in the league.

One and done.  No easy putbacks.

This style of play puts the team into half-court situations more, but when you have Paul at the top of the three point line in the half court, I like your chances. (in a side-bar, this is impacting Thornton heavily.  He was brilliant last season in leaking out for fast break points.  This season, he’s clearly under orders to come back and clear the glass)

Miscellaneous Defensive Attributes

Besides the types of shots opponents are getting against the Hornets, the team is doing a few other things to give itself little edges here and there.  They have limited opponent free throws, allowing the 8th lowest number of freebie shots in the league.  They also force 1.5 more turnovers per game than they give up.

The Change Demps and Monty have Wrought

With all this said, we should also bear in mind exactly where the Hornets came from.  Last year the Hornets finished with the 8th worst defense in the league, giving up 107.3 points per 100 posessions.  They were at the league average on the defensive glass, and allowed 28 attempts per game at the rim.  Yes.  That’s accurate. Ten more shots at the rim per game than this season.  That’s an amazing turnaround.

What Demps did this summer is not fall into a classic trap.  Many GMs, when they find they have a brilliant scorer and distributor, they  try to find the best damn spot up shooters and pick-and-roll finishers they can to place around them.  Nash’s Phoenix teams.  LeBron’s Cleveland Teams.  Our team the past two years.  That doesn’t really work, though.  You need athletic players who can defend on the perimeter and drive and attack on their own.  Yeah, you need them to be able to shoot, but the Hornets were essentially playing 39-42% three point shooters who couldn’t help anywhere else, and Demps is acquring 35-37% three point shooters who can drive and defend too.  I’ll give up 4-5% on deep shots to have more complete players.

Wouldn’t you?

Some last extra David West Notes:

Nothing illustrates the change from last year to this one more than David West’s play.  Like I said on the podcast, West is playing with energy and passion for the first time in a couple years, and it brings back all the reasons why he used to be my favorite Hornet and I have his jersey.  Last night, he actually filled a lane on three fast breaks, cleaning up one.  He got on the floor, fighting for the ball with Dwayne Wade.  He showed hard on five key pick and roll plays – and then hustled back to cover his guy.

Last year, West wouldn’t cross half-court on fast break plays.  Sometimes, the ball would be loose on the floor two feet from him, and an opposing guard would run ten feet and snatch it up before he even bent down.  This year, he’s having none of that, and I love it.

Let’s hope they keep it up.  5-0, baby!


  1. Pingback: The Hornets Defense – or Why New Orleans is 5-0 – (blog) | Blogs

  2. Pingback: Hornets’ defensive success cast from the Spurs’ mold | ProBasketballTalk

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