Anatomy of a Defense and Game On: Hornets @ Thunder

Published: February 2, 2011

Matchup: Hornets(32-18) @ Thunder(30-17)

Off Efficiency: Hornets 103.3(16th), Thunder 107.4(7th)
Def Efficiency: Hornets 99.0(3rd), Thunder 105.0(17th)

As always, thanks to the estimable Dariusz for the game day banner.

We’ve talked about the Thunder a lot on the podcast, and it feels like we’ve been playing them All. The. Time.  So I’m only going to talk briefly about this matchup.

This would be a tough game at the best of times, but without Okafor, the defense is going to struggle against a good offensive team.  I also don’t expect Jason Smith to be able to roll to the basket like he did against the Wizards.  In fact, should Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee find themselves on a Basketball IQ gameshow, it would be similar to watching one of those SNL Celebrity Jeapordy Skits.

I fully expect Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka to make life painful for Smith – and for us watching.


Hornets: Emeka Okafor is out.
Thunder: None

Anatomy of a Defense

So what do I want to talk about with the Hornets?  Well, a continuing theme.  Their defense.  Last week we pointed out the huge leap the Hornets have made defensively, and how it’s one of the biggest defensive leaps in the history of the NBA.  Today, I’m going to break down just what the Hornets do to limit their opponents.

Controlling Shots vs Contesting Shots

In the NBA, there are two general defensive skills when trying to limit a team’s ability to put the ball in the basket: Forcing bad shots, and contesting the shots that are taken.  So far this season, the Hornets are purely ordinary at the first, and exceptional at the second.  How do we know this? The site Hoopdata com tracks all kinds of information, including where opponents are taking shots against your team – and what the league average shooting percentage is for each of those ranges.  This information is a great tool to evaluate whether your team is forcing bad shots – and whether they contest them well.  For context, here is the expected points per type of shot for an average NBA player this season, ranked by the most efficient sort of shot:

  • At rim: 1.258 points per shot
  • 3-pointer: 1.082 points per shot
  • 2-10 feet: 0.866 points per shot
  • 16-23 feet: 0.788 points per shot
  • 10-15 feet: 0.772 points per shot

So what do the Hornets do defensively?  The shots their opponents take each game have an expected eFG% of 49.6% – in other words, they should expect to score(not counting free throws and and-1’s) 0.992 points per shot.  That number is tied for 15th in the league – or is purely average, so no, the Hornets ability to control what sort of shots their opponents are getting is not exceptional.  What is exceptional is the fact that Hornets opponents only shoot an effective FG% of 48% on those shots, earning 0.96 points per shot.  That is the 6th best number in the NBA.  So the Hornets, despite giving up a decent shot selection, manage to force teams into completing them at a fairly poor rate.

The Rest of the Defensive Enchilada

Controlling and Contesting shots are, of course, not the whole story.  In fact, three years ago, when the Hornets also sported a nice defense(7th in the league) en route to a 2nd seed in the West, the Hornets were purely ordinary at almost everything but one category:  They never gave up any free throws. These things matter.  So how do the Hornets stack up today?


A key part to limiting an opponents efficiency is the ability to control the defensive boards. Each offensive rebound an opponent gets extends the posession and frequently generates high-efficiency shots.  This year, the Hornets are simply owning the defensive glass, and opponents are grabbing only 22.9% of available offensive rebounds.  That number is good for 2nd in the league behind only Orlando.  One and done.


With Paul and Ariza ripping steals at a high rate, you’d expect the Hornets to rank highly here, but this stat actually incorporates a lot more than that.  Scraps for loose balls.  Forced bad passes.  Charges.  The Hornets are good at all of those things but drawing charges, and thus force their opponents into turning the ball over on 14.2% of their posessions.  That number is good for 9th in the league.

Free Throw Rate

So teams can really suck at making shots against you, but if you can’t keep them from getting to the free throw line, you’re pretty much screwed.  Like I mentioned above, this number alone made the Hornets a good defense three years ago – so how are the Hornets doing this season?  Opponents average 0.28 free throws for every shot they take.  That number is 6th in the league.  No freebies.

Anyways, if you made it this far . . . Enjoy the game!


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