Looking to the Future: Learning From the Playoffs

Published: May 23, 2012

What can we learn from the teams still left standing when it comes to building our roster?

Playoffs!? Playoffs!? You’re talking about playoffs? You kiddin’ me? We’re comin’ off a 21 win season and you’re talking about playoffs!?


Yeah, that’s right, I am talking about playoffs because the regular season is a totally different game, one that an organization should never use to measure what works or does not work in the NBA. In the regular season Pau Gasol is a top 15 player in the league, DeAndre Jordan is a quality starter, and the Pacers depth actually matters. But in the playoffs, none of those things are true, and it is because it is just a totally different game. You aren’t catching a team playing their third game in four nights that hasn’t had a chance to go in depth on the scouting report.

In the playoffs, good teams take away the things you want to do and make you play left handed, and as we have seen, sometimes guys can’t play left-handed; literally or figuratively. You like to catch the ball on the left block? Okay, then we will front you every time you go down there. Hey Chris Paul, you like playing pick and roll with a PF who can’t pop? Okay, we’ll just hedge hard and rotate underneath. Now what? And so it goes.

The final four in the playoffs are set (I am assuming Boston wins), and there is a lot to learn from the teams that made it this far, as the Hornets try to put together a team that can compete at this level in the next 3-4 years. Obviously you want talent, and the Hornets won’t get to the top of the mountain without it, but there is more to the blueprint- such as:

1. Force Turnovers

A cliche from the NFL also holds true in the NBA. People say that the playoffs are a half court game, which is true, but that only makes getting out into transition more important in the playoffs. Look at the OKC/LAL series- one that was much closer than it appears on the surface. OKC outscored the Lakers by 14 points per game in transition and a lot of that had to do with the fact that the Thunder averaged 9 steals a game (compared to just under 5 for the Lakers), and that the Thunder were +20 in the turnover battle over the five game series. And who can forget the turnovers in games two and four that cost the Lakers both of those games, and a chance at winning the series?

The story wasn’t much different in San Antonio where the Spurs forced the normally cautious Chris Paul to turn the ball over 13 times in the first two games alone, taking control of the series from the beginning before eventually getting the sweep. Forcing turnovers comes down to trust in the guys behind you, allowing you to take gambles by jumping passing lanes, trapping ball handlers, or fronting post players. This means that you want to target guys with high basketball IQ’s, exceptional wingspan or athleticism, and an ability to effectively communicate.

Guys who fit:

(Editor’s Note: Anthony Davis does everything well and will be the #1 pick, so no need to waste column space. This is for the other guys.)

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist- Could be an Defensive All-NBA guy by year two. MKG has the IQ and the motor needed to be a constant disruption on the defensive end. He can play passing lanes and can cheat off his man to trap because he can close out so quickly.

Perry Jones III- Again, if the comparisons to Paul George are accurate, Jones can become a nightmare for some of the dominant wing scorers in the league. George was incredibly effective the first few games on Wade and averaged nearly 3 steals per game in the postseason. Jones has the same length and athletisicm.

Dion Waiters- A guy who has been considered a late first rounder all season, Waiters is a guy who could sneak into the lottery and his ability to wreck havoc in the backcourt is a big reason for that. He is lightning quick and has great hands and instincts. The worry here is that he played zone primarily at Syracuse and we have seen prospects like Wes Johnson become exposed defensively once they reach the pros. His own coach said he was lazy on defense, but the potential is there.

John Henson- People automatically put him at power forward, but is it possible that he can play some small forward too? I say yes, especially on the defensive end where he could become one of the only players in the league who can cover Durant in 2-3 years.

Bad Fits:

Harrison Barnes- Good size and wingspan leads you to believe that he can cause havoc, but he never really played with the urgency needed on defense. Not to mention his on-ball defensive numbers, which were well below average. Don’t let his semi decent steal numbers fool you, they were mostly a byproduct of the bigs on his team forcing errant plays.

Austin Rivers- Duke had one of their worst defensive seasons and Rivers was a big reason for that. He tends to gamble a lot and loses far more often than he wins.

Kendall Marshall- We all know I love the guy, but his lack of foot speed forces him to play too far off the ball to force his man into turnovers. Again, like Barnes he averaged over a steal per game, but if you watch UNC you quickly realize it is their length down low that forces players to lose the ball and it sometimes ends up in the hands of Marshall or Barnes.

2. Agile Length

We have always been extremely broad when we say that you need ‘size’ to compete in the NBA. Marc Gasol, Roy Hibbert, and Andrew Bynum all have exceptional size and bulk, but they are all at home watching right now. In the new NBA, teams are built from the outside-in offensively. Back in the 1990’s, the elite teams (except for the Bulls) were built inside-out, with Ewing, Hakeem, Robinson, Shaq, Malone, and Kemp as the focal points that the role guys played around. But now, look at the 4 teams left (I am assuming Boston wins tomorrow) and the 13 elite players  that are divided amongst those teams. Of those 13, only Duncan can be considered a low post scorer. The rest of the guys get their points on the perimeter or by attacking the rim off of picks, and in order to stop that you need agile defenders who can play the pick and roll and guard in space.

As fantastic as Bynum is on the low block, teams took advantage of him in the pick and roll because of his feet. The Lakers used to be able to counter that by pulling Bynum and putting Odom at the four and Gasol at the five, but that obviously wasn’t an option this year. Because of that, we saw an inferior Denver team push them to 7 and the Thunder defeat them in five. The lack of mobility from Hawes and Brand resulted in Brandon Bass going off for 27 in a crucial game 5, sealing Philly’s fate. In the decisive game six, the Pacers pulled Roy Hibbert in the final three minutes because he didn’t have the foot speed to hedge on screens and rotate.

As point guards evolve into scorers and power forwards around the league develop the 17 footer, it is more evident than ever that you need long, agile defenders on your roster to counter this new brand of outside-in basketball.

Guys Who Fit:

John Henson- Momma, there goes that man again. If Henson had another 15-20 pounds and a consistent jumper, he would be a top five pick. But remember what Coach Thorpe said in the podcast when we asked him what two things were easiest for a young player to add? Strength and a jumper.

Andre Drummond- This is where the Hasheem Thabeet comparisons are unwarranted. They might both bust, but it will be for totally different reasons. Thabeet lacked the mobility to play the pick and roll/pop, but that won’t be a problem for Drummond, whose agility is more reminiscent of JaVale McGee.

Tyler Zeller- Those who have’t seen him play will assume he is slow because of a certain physical attribute, but he is actually extremely fast and agile for a seven footer. He should have no problem hedging on screens without picking up fouls and he won’t embarress himself if forced to switch from time to time.

Terrance Jones- I brought up what the Lakers were able to do with Odom earlier, and Jones could fill that same void as a guy who could defend a perimeter four like Dirk or David West. His wingspan is close to 7 foot 3 inches, and that should negate the two or three inches he will be giving up to some of those guys.

Bad Fits:

Jared Sullinger- The comparions between he and David West should not be limited to the offensive end. Sullinger will get eaten alive in the NBA when put into pick and roll/pop situations. He lateral movement is well below average and unless he loses weight like Kevin Love, it will keep him on the bench because it will outweigh his offensive production.

Fab Melo- People love this guy because of his size, but that is the exact reason I want the Hornets to stay away. Guys like this get exposed in today’s NBA, as teams simply pull them out to the perimeter, either by putting his man in a pick and roll/pop or forcing him to cover a guy on the perimeter. Fab Melo has half of Kendrick Perkins talent, and watch what happens to Perkins when San Antonio puts Matt Bonner or Diaw at center.

3. Offense Players that fit the European Style

The NBA has been heading in this direction for the last 5-10 years, and it is more evident this year than ever that Euro ball is a big part of this game. The offensive philosophy in Europe is that you want multi-dimensional guys who can put the ball on the floor, pass, and shoot. It sounds simple, but the NBA was stuck in the philosophy of “positions” for so long, where the point guard was the creator, the two guard shot, the center stayed down low, etc. In Euro ball, all five guys possess these varied skill sets, so the ball moves and there are multiple playmakers on the court.

The Spurs do this the best, but the X-factor for OKC all season (James Harden) is really just the ideal European player in an American’s body- and a pirate’s beard. When the Celtics are at their best, they are playing Euro ball with Rondo and Pierce attacking and creating, while their biggest guy, Kevin Garnett, stretches the defense. Same goes for the Heat. The Hornets have a couple of pieces that fit this model in Gordon (creator), Smith (big man who can shoot), and Ayon (multi-dimensional big who can pass), but they need to find more.

Guys Who Fit:

Bradley Beal- I was talking to a UF grad who is now in the NBA and he told me that, “It was a shame that Beal had to play with Walker and Boyton, because he could have been First Team All-SEC without them and UF could have actually had a better season.” I tend to agree with him and I think Beal had flashes where he showcased his playmaking potential, it was just few and far between because the ball simply wasn’t in his hands enough. That should change in the NBA.

Terrance Jones- A versatile guy who can be a finisher from anywhere on the court, or he can be the guy who sets up one of his teammates. Jones has the potential to be a Swiss Army knife on the offensive end if a coach can just keep him from falling in love with his perimeter shot.

Arnett Moultrie- I am not as in love with Moultrie as some people are, but I do recognize his ability to pull his man away from the bucket with his jumper. If he can become a willing passer as well, the sky is the limit on the offensive end.

Bad Fits:

Harrison Barnes- I have been trying to come up with comparisons all year and have found a couple I kind of like, but I think I have come up with the perfect one for his ceiling- Sean Elliot. And Elliot was a very good player, but he is the old breed in a couple of ways, and I don’t think he would be as successful in today’s NBA. Barnes really can’t create for others and come playoff time, teams will just take away the one or two things he does well, leaving him with….. well, nothing. A semi poor man’s Sean Elliot would be fine at #10, but not with the first pick.

Terrance Ross- Again we have another guy with below average handles that just doesn’t know how to create for others. If he gets hot from the perimeter, he can win you a game or two in the playoffs like Nick Young did for the Clips, but more times than not he will be a no show in big games because teams take away that skill set in the playoffs.

Thomas Robinson- I know there is a video with Robinson swishing a couple of threes in drills, but I only care about what he can do in games, and Robinson has not given us any signs that he can be a consistent threat from the perimeter. He is Blake Griffin when he came out of Oklahoma with slightly less athleticism and a slightly worse jumper.Blake is an All-Star, but that was the regular season. We saw what happened in the playoffs.

McNamara’s Updated Hornets’ Big Board

(Note: This is not the order in which I predict they will be drafted, but how my big board would look if I were the Hornets brass)

1. Anthony Davis

2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

3. Bradley Beal

4. Thomas Robinson

5. Andre Drummond

6. John Henson

7. Jared Sullinger

8. Austin Rivers

9. Harrison Barnes

10. Kendall Marshall

11. Tyler Zeller

12. Jeremy Lamb

13. Terrance Jones

14. Perry Jones III

15. Marquis Teague

16. Damian Lillard

17. Dion Waiters

18. Arnett Moultrie

19. Royce White

20. Scott Machado

Draft Lottery

– Ryan and I will be doing a “What if…” podcast this weekend centered around all of the scenarios that could play out Wednesday night. Feel free to throw up any What if questions below and we will try to answer as many as possible.

– Speaking of next Wednesday, we will be doing a Live Video Chat that will start 30-45 minutes before the lottery and go until we have exhausted ourselves after the lottery. Although, if we do get the first pick, I might pass out from excitement and that will leave Jason Calmes as your host.

Looking to the Future is a weekly column that you can find only on Hornets247.com. For past articles, click here.



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