The Missing Piece: Finding the Perfect Small Forward

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Published: December 29, 2012

Earlier this week, Mason and I projected how Eric Gordon’s return would impact this team, and those numbers give Hornets fans plenty of reason to be optimistic moving forward. If Monty makes Gordon the primary ball handler in the pick and roll, both Vasquez and Anderson figure to become more efficient and the Hornets offense as a whole should move from below average to borderline elite. The glaring weakness on this team, however, remains at small forward. So much so, in fact, that we forecasted some minutes for Vasquez at the position, particularly late in games.

While the Hornets could push to be a borderline playoff team next season with the current roster (provided it remains healthy), the only way this team really starts to rise up the ranks in the Western Conference is if they can solidify this position. Before we look at some guys that could be available in Free Agency, via trade, or in the draft, let’s take a look at the specifics of what the Hornets need from this position to excel.

1. Transistion Scoring

The Hornets are actually fantastic in their transition opportunities, as they average the most points per possession in the NBA when they get out and run, in large part due to Ryan Anderson’s three-point shooting on the break. What they lack, however, is a finisher on the wings that can attack the rim when Anthony Davis is not a part of the play. The Hornets have averaged just slightly over one made field goal at the rim in transition in the month of December. If the Hornets are going to increase their offensive efficiency, they will have to get easy points, and easy points came be found in abundance when you get out in transition.

2. Three-Point Shooting

So far this season, the Hornets have gotten a total of 10 three-pointers made from their quartet of young small forwards. That’s right, I said 10. In 28 games. When Ryan Anderson is off the court, teams just collapse the middle and there is less room for Lopez in the post and less space for Davis to rim run or work the baseline. Therefore, the small forward on this team has to at least post a threat from beyond the arc, especially if Monty is going to start Davis and Lopez up front.

3. On-ball Defense

The Hornets perimeter defense is sorely lacking, ranking in the bottom five in defending isolations and spot-up shooters. Gordon should fix some of that, but the last thing you want to do is run Gordon ragged by forcing him to cover the defenses best perimeter player all game. What the Hornets need is another perimeter defender who can cover that player from time to time in order to give Gordon a break.

4. Defensive Rebounding

Last season, the Hornets best units with Eric Gordon featured Al-Farouq Aminu, due in large part to the impact that Aminu had on the glass. Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, and Robin Lopez are below average defensive rebounders for their respective positions who likely won’t improve much in that area, while Anthony Davis is a good rebounder who can someday become elite. The Hornets are in the bottom third in the league in defensive rebounding rate overall at 72.8%, but those numbers include Aminu’s fantastic rebounding contributions. In the minutes that Aminu is not on the floor, the Hornets rebound at a rate of 68%, which would be dead last in the entire NBA. The Hornets are a poor rebounding team even with a good defensive rebounding SF on their roster, but they would be downright lost without one.

Candidates (Pros)

1. Andre Iguodala – 32.4% from three, 1.2 made per game, 14.5 DRB%

Likely Cost: $12-16 million per year

While Iguodala has had his struggles offensively this season, he is still the elite defender that he was in Philadelphia. So far this season, his counterparts are averaging  PER just slightly under 11 in large part due to the fact that Iggy almost never commits a shooting foul. His ability to play aggressive defense on the perimeter without fouling is a major reason why Denver’s defense is drastically better when he is on the floor (-7.8 points per 100). His perimeter defense is fantastic, as he is giving up just .44 points per possession in isolation situations (4th in the NBA) and allowing opponents to shoot just 20% from the field. With regard to his offense, as I mentioned, it has been quite poor this season, but one area where he does excel is in transition, as those opportunites account for over 20% of his offense.

2. Andrei Kirilenko – 27% from three, .5 made per game, 15.8 DRB%

Likely Cost: $8-11 million per year

Kirilenko has never been mentioned in this piece before, in large part due to the fact that I never thought he would decline a ten million dollar option next year, but with the way he is playing it is verry possible that he can opt out in favor of a long term deal. AK47 is stuffing the stat sheet per usual, and like Iguodala, he makes high impact defensive plays without fouling. Per 36 minutes, he is averaging 1.8 steals, 1.5 blocks, and just 1.5 fouls. Opponents don’t isolate Kirilenko much, but when they do, they turn the ball over more than 20% of the time. Where he has really excelled this year, however, is in transition where he is 6th in the NBA, scoring nearly 1.5 points per possession.

3. Luol Deng – 30% from three, 1 per game, 14.2 DRB%

Likely cost: Our 2013 1st rounder and 1-2 other players/pieces

Deng has been asked to carry a large part of the offensive burden with Derrick Rose out, and while you would think that would impact him negatively defensively, it has not so far this year. Deng checks the opposing teams’ best perimeter player every night and even swings over to the four from time to time and he still holds his opponent to 40.3% shooting. He doesn’t get out into transition as much as some of the other guys on this list, but where he does excel is coming off of screens for mid-range jump shots. We have seen Vasquez set some fantastic pin down screens this season for Anderson, and while the majority of Deng’s jumpers are long two’s, he hits them at such a high rate (48%) that it would drastically improve this offense.

4. Chase Budinger (from last season; injured this year) – 40%, 1.5 made, 16.2 DRB%

Likely cost: $4-6 million per year

The reason Budinger remains a viable option is because he brings a very specific skill the Hornets lack- the corner three. With Anderson running the pick and pop, Davis rim running, and Vasquez spotting up on the wings when Godon initiates the offense, it is only logical that the small forward will be positioned in the corner on most of our sets. Last season, Budinger hit 48 out of his 99 corner three’s.  Budinger also excels in transition, where he got nearly 17% of his offense last year. What makes him so dangerous is that he is equally efficient as a slasher and a three-point shooter on the break. He shot 48% from three in transition and 67% from two in transition, averaging over 1.3 points per possession. Defensively, he was average in most areas, but his isolation defense was terrific, as opponents shot just 29% against him in those situations.

5. Corey Brewer – 38% from three, 1.5 made per game, 12.2 DRB%

Likely cost: $4-6 million per year

Corey Brewer is not the sexy name whenever I post options at the small forward position, but a lot of the metrics support the idea that he would be a terrific addition to this team. He has hit the three consistently this season, maintained a high steal %, and he has the lowest turnover % of all the guys on this list. Brewer loves to get out in transition, as it accounts for nearly 30% of his offense. He can attack the rim or stand beyond the arc on a fast break depending on what the situation calls for. Defensively, he is almost as good as Iguodala in isolation situations, surrenduring just .56 points per possession on 20% shooting. And if that weren’t enough, he is also the best player on this list when it comes to defending the pick and roll ballhandler, allowing just .5 points per possesion on 18% shooting. For comparison’s sake, the Hornets crop of small forwards allow opponents to shoot 46% and 44% in those two categories respectively.

Candidates (Draft)

1. Shabazz Muhammad – 48% from three, 1.2 made, 9.6 DRB%

Draft Range: Top 3

The question of whether Muhammad is a two or a three is out there because he measured just a tad under 6’6″, but his 6’11” wingspan and 8’8″ standing reach actually puts him on par with the rest of the small forwards in the league. Add in the fact that he could grow due to the fact that he just turned 19 a month ago, and that he is likely to weigh in around 235-240 when his body fully matures, and he most likely projects as a small forward in the NBA that has the versitility to move down to the two if needed. Muhammad is fantastic in transition and can get to the line practically at will. Defensively, the IQ and willingness to compete are definitely there. He is a good on-ball defender who has above average quickness. The only drawback with Muhammad is that he doesn’t really bring anything to the team when it comes to rebounding.

2. Otto Porter – 43.5% from three, 1 made per game, 22.3 DRB%

Draft Range: 4-12

Otto Porter’s raw rebounding numbers don’t seem that impressive. That is, until you realize that Georgetown’s pace is so slow that there is only about 100 possessions in any given Georgetown game. Total. Not each; total. Georgetown as a team only pulls down about 27 defensive rebounds per game, and Porter logs five of them. He is solid on the offensive glass as well, pulling down about one out of every 7 Georgetown misses when he is on the court. His transition offense is solid, as he averages nearly 1.4 points per shot at the rim, but Georgetown doesn’t get out on the break enough to know what his potential is in this area.In the half court, his mid-range game is excellent but it is still unknown whether he will be able to extend that out to three point range in the NBA. On a final note, he is a fantastic decision maker, ranking 2nd in the NCAA amongst SF’s in assist to turnover ratio.

3, Alex Poythress- 45.5% from three, .5 made per game, 16.9 DRB%

Draft Range: 3-10

Poythress is a bit of a tweener, but he should settle in nicely as a small forward on the defensive end because of his tremendous agility and overall foot speed. As his career progresses, he will be able to shift over to the power forward much the way that Lebron and Carmelo do because he is both ultra quick and powerful. He is a locomotive that can not be stopped in transition and his rebounding is better than the data indicates. His rebounding numbers aren’t exceptional, mostly because Kentucky plays their two seven-footers a lot with Poythress on the floor. If he was on a team that needed him to rebound more, he likely would be able to provide that without much of a problem. The question with him right now is his perimeter game and whether or not he could provide the threat that the Hornets need from that position.

The Missing Piece is a weekly feature that you can find every Saturday only on Hornets247. For past issues in this series, click here.

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