Tanking is Hard for the Hornets

Published: April 17, 2012

The Hornets are winning games and scaring Anthony Davis craving fans, but why?

The Hornets have won four in a row for the first time all season. They’ve won six of their last eight overall. The result in terms of their lottery seeding has been… nothing. Truly. The Hornets started their run in third position, and that’s where they remain today. Not only that, but they still control their own third place destiny.

The problem is that the once comfortable lead they had over teams like Sacramento and Cleveland has been reduced to one and two games respectively, and the chances of the Hornets taking the second seed from Washington have been reduced to next to nothing.

So what’s the deal? Why in a season in which tanking is the hot thing to do are the Hornets struggling so hard to get to the finish line, potentially ruining their chances at Anthony Davis or a top three pick (there’s now less than a 50% chance of their pick winding up top three) in the process?

The answer is complicated. It’s a bit of luck, a bit of skill, and a bit of “finally…”

First off the Hornets have been running into teams not playing very good ball. The Bobcats were 1-16 from three, the Grizzlies shot 35% and couldn’t make a jumper to save their grizzly hair, the Tumblewolves were without their two best players, and the reliable Aaron Afflalo was tricked by Gordon into an uncharacteristic foul with seconds left. I’m not saying that the Hornets haven’t had their share of bad luck this year, but it seems to be turning around lately.

As for that skill/finally thing, the Hornets have struggled all year to close out games. We’ve seen them make play after play (I still can’t get that Jason Smith 3-point attempt out of my head) that just shouldn’t be made by NBA players in crunch time. Repeatedly we’ve watched them close out games similarly to how Jean Van De Velde closed out the British Open years ago.


It’s easy to look at Eric Gordon as the problem reason why the Hornets late game fortunes have improved, but he’s not the only factor that has resulted in the W’s piling up. While Gordon has certainly been the guy that we all thought he would be—an excellent late game player—he’s had some help from his friends.

At some point in a season, guys are going to show improvement. If you give Greivis Vasquez consistent playing time in the most pressure filled moments of a regular season NBA game, he’s going to get better at playing during them. Same goes for Jason Smith. The reality is that there are a lot of players here who have barely, if at all, seen playing time during the fourth quarter and especially the last few minutes of NBA games. It’s no surprise that they were bad in the beginning of the year, and it should come as no surprise that they’ve improved their play in those situations as they’ve become more experienced in competing during them.

Combine a lineup of players who are all of a sudden battle-tested late game players with a star closer (yes, I’m calling Gordon a star closer already) and a coach that’s starting to get figure out the end of games, and you have a team that actually is pretty solid at the end as opposed to a team that couldn’t close the front door earlier this year.

The Hornets have been doing their part to lose games, make no mistake. Okafor has been shelved with an injury that had Monty a bit confused weeks ago (read: tank). They’re sitting out Ariza to give Aminu more playing time (read:tank). Even Gordon, who has looked healthy, has been given considerable time off since he came back (read:let’s not injure him this year). Anymore and he’d probably be upset that the Hornets were costing him the opportunity to demonstrate that he’s healthy and worthy of a huge deal this offseason. Chris Kaman was shelved earlier for a good bit of time (read:tank), and has now been shelved again due to the notorious bone bruise that’s been plaguing the Hornets all year.

You can’t very well sit Landry, who is in a contract year. Same goes for Belinelli. When Stern was the owner I advocated sitting guys to “develop” young players, but Monty has acknowledged the reality that doing that to guys who are playing for their next contract is simply bad business. When it’s the long-term owner’s business that’s being represented and not just the short term NBA ownership, perception matters more. Stuff like that would make free agents less likely to join the Benson-owned team in the future.

The Hornets started Lance Thomas last night. They played Jerome Dyson 15 minutes. They sat Gordon and Ariza. Yet they still won.

Short of telling the team not to try, Monty Williams is running out of options. Jason Smith seems like the big man to sit since he’s really driving victories right now, but can Monty realistically shelve him in favor of giving Lance Thomas and Gustavo Ayon (who seems physically drained) a combined 60 minutes a night to develop?

After rolling over the opposition all year long, this tank just got really tough to drive.


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