Beneath the Screen: The Extra Pass

Published: February 8, 2013

Despite the win the other night, the Hornets have looked pretty bad on the court over the past week–with Saturday’s loss to the Timberwolves the worst. After that game Monty Williams had a very interesting quote.

“We had 100 possessions, but only had 164 passes. That’s not how you’re going to win games. Typically you have three passes a possession, at least. You’d like to have 300-plus passes a game in your offense. We were at 164. That’s not something that young guys can be allowed to do. That falls on my shoulders. I’ve got to coach a lot better than I did.”

Honestly, that’s a slightly eye-opening quote in a number of ways:

1) I had no idea the organization places any emphasis on metrics like that. Some teams have openly embraced advanced stats, others have had special cameras installed in their home arenas to track player movements and data. Tracking the number of passes doesn’t exactly fall into the same category exactly, but it’s certainly nice to hear that the coaching staff pays attention to factors such as this.

2) That Monty seems aware his offense isn’t playing well. My biggest criticism of Monty is that while he shows flashes of fantastic set plays and offense, he breaks it out far too inconsistently. Instead he has consistently used a horribly conservative playbook. On twitter (@nolajake) I’ve consistently come up with excuses for Monty’s offense, but deep down I’ve been worried that this is what he is looking to do on that side of the ball. But now that I saw that quote, I feel better that Monty is looking to do more on offense.

And it go me thinking about ball movement on the offense.

I’ve watched almost every Hornets game and plenty of hours of film outside of that, but it doesn’t take that to see that the Hornets struggle with ball movement. The Hornets run the pick and roll 25.8% of the time in their offense. This doesn’t allow for many passes. Often times you’ll see the Hornets complete only one once their offensive set gets started, and that’s the pass to the roll man. Forcing the defense to rotate by making an extra pass or two creates not only space for shooters but lanes to drive to the rim. Unfortunately the Hornets do not do that well.

It reminds me of a bit of a hidden stat: the ‘hockey assist.’

A hockey assist is when a player completes a pass which assists the player who assists the player who scores. It’s a little confusing but it’s basically the pass right before an assist occurs. Not every team tracks it as a stat but many do either by hand or through the cameras I mentioned earlier. Though there isn’t exactly tons of data on it, it’s not hard to understand that the teams with a higher amount of hockey assists have better ball movement.

So how does this fit in with the Hornets offense? After the Suns’ game we managed to ask Monty about it, and then of course the video of his response got corrupted. But to paraphrase, Monty said the team does place a high emphasis on the pass leading to the assist.

That’s a good mindset for the team to have, obviously. Slower paced offenses need to be highly efficient since they will have fewer possessions to make up wasted offensive trips. For efficiency, one of the most important aspects is shot selection. And that where the hockey assist comes into play: Passing up a good shot for a better shot.

I haven’t been able to really dig into the film due to some technical issues, but over the past month this seems to already be occurring. Recently, Aminu’s shot selection has been far improved and he’s also attempting fewer shots that he did during the first quarter of the season.

Since the Janurary 2nd loss to Houston, the game where Aminu’s minutes really increased, the Hornets have gone 9-9 with Aminu only hitting double digit shot attempts once. It comes as no surprise that Monty said Aminu is the best hockey assister on the team.

Monty also said that front court is where most of these extra passes come from. That is something which gives me great faith in the front court. It’s part of a big man’s job to kick out to shooters and restart the offense if there’s nothing there in the post. Part of the lack of hockey assists for the Hornets comes from the fact that Anderson is usually wide open for a kick out. Same with Gordon, Mason and even Vasquez. There simply doesn’t need to be a extra pass to find an open shooter.

I know many people have been frustrated with Monty’s rotations this season, but I really do believe he is just trying to evaluate the talent on the team. His post game comments show he’s looking for certain skill sets in players and really wants to see if his team possesses those traits. Monty said he plans on rewarding players who move the ball well (which could explain the sporadic playing time Brian Roberts has received of late). Look for the rotations to solidify after the All-Star break and the offense to look better as Monty finally starts to put all the pieces he has into the correct order. But until that fully kicks in, keep an eye on how many passes the Hornets complete on every possession.

Beneath the Screen is a reoccurring series throughout the season run on Fridays. See past editions here.


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