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Blogcat's Take, 10/31

Okay, someone please remind me again why I was excited for the season to begin? Because despite all of the new faces, after 2 games, this already looks like different poop in the same toilet. Over at the Charlotte Observer, Rick Bonnell is harping on the turnovers and transition buckets that have cost the Hornets against both the Heat and Hawks. While I agree that they’ve been problematic, Bonnell’s largely just parroting whatever Coach Steve Clifford is harping on in his press conference. And as I’ve pointed out many a time (side note: why is “many a time” considered good grammar? Has anyone ever explained this?), Coach Clifford always harps on turnovers and transitional defense; he could coach a 5-man unit of in-their-primes Gary Payton, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Wes Unseld, and Bill Russell, and in the press conference you’d think they were a bunch of me-first showboaters. We’re once again ignoring the 2-ton gorilla that’s fondling its enormous genitals in our living room: the shooting.

Through two games, Charlotte’s true shooting percentage is 49.3%, up a whopping—whoops, sorry, down—from last year abysmal 49.4%. Charlotte shot 39% from the field on opening night against Miami and then 40% yesterday against Atlanta. But those are just the surface numbers; shine the harsh light of player tracking stats on them and you’ve got some seriously ugly whiteheads. Against Miami, Charlotte shot just 35.9% on their uncontested field goals, while Miami shot 59.3% (numbers courtesy of stats.NBA.com). The disparity wasn’t quite so great in Atlanta, 37.2% to 43.2%, but it matters just as much in a game in which the difference in turnover rate was actually closer (19.9% for Charlotte, 15.0% for Atlanta), yet no one mentions it.

My pet theory, also voiced last year, is that Coach Clifford doesn’t talk about what lousy shooters he has because it’s more or less an uncoachable skill, especially on a team of veterans. He almost never mentioned it last year, but clearly he recognized it as a problem, judging by the offseason acquisitions. If the poor shooting continues again this year, expect Clifford to continue to go on and on about transition defense. If Clifford were Jeb Bush, transition defense would be burdensome regulations, while poor shooting would be unequal wealth distribution; it’s the real problem that he’d rather not talk about. (And that might be the most unfunny metaphor I’ve ever tortured in my life, so sorry about that.)

Anyway, if we’re going to talk about defense, why dwell on transition defense, when just plain-old defense-defense has been so violently smelly? Against Miami, every single big lost his man at least once in the paint, repeatedly allowing Goran Dragic to dish it to a teammate on a backdoor cut for an easy finish. I lost count of the number of times this happened to, say, Marvin Williams and Al Jefferson, resulting in the two of them looking at each other like they both farted in an elevator and were trying to pin it on the other guy. 3 out of 4 of Hassan Whiteside’s attempts were uncontested, as were 7 of Chris Bosh’s 13. In the following game vs. the Hawks, it was the guards’ turn to reek. Dennis Schroder repeatedly burned Kemba Walker’s ass like an inflamed hemorrhoid off the dribble, so much so that a large part of the Hornets’ late-game comeback was due to the bigs smartly just assuming it was going to happen and cheating over to help—almost as soon as they set up in the half-court. This left the perimeter open, and had the Hawks been more competent at hitting their abundance of uncontested 3’s, things could have gotten even uglier.

I also want to credit Atlanta’s defense. Clifford bemoaned the team’s sloppiness, but I thought that Atlanta was taking every bit as much as we were giving. I haven’t seen that level of harassment since 9 to 5; it seemed like every pass we made resulted in a steal or a near-steal. It also doesn’t help that Jefferson continues to attack the rim with the aggressiveness of Gandhi. His shots have been overwhelmingly contested, and both Atlanta and Miami are no longer falling for his Jedi mind tricks in the post; rather than attack him single-file, kung fu movie-style, they’re swarming him in droves and the empty possessions are piling up like flyers for Chinese takeout food in the mailbox of a crack house. Either his usage rate needs to fall below its current 25.8% or he needs to start rattling some rims, because the current situation is unsustainable.

Speaking of “unsustainable,” Cody Zeller has been mysteriously ineffective in both an individual and a 5-man context. Sure, it’s a small sample size, but he’s got the worst net rating per 100 possessions on the team right now, -34.9. It’s frustrating because I can’t tell what exactly he’s doing wrong. Just to the naked eye he’s been a hell of a lot more active than Marvin Williams, yet Marv’s a +3.3. Zeller’s TS% is better than Williams (53.6 to 52.6), as is his rebound rate (18.2% to 15.4%), and he’s displaying much more versatility and athleticism, but its translating into a blah 13.4 PER to Williams’ 15.0 (per Basketball-Reference.com). Not that I’m against Williams succeeding or that this needs to be a zero-sum game between the two; I just think it’s much more critical that Zeller take another huge leap forward in his progression for this team to amount to something, and it hasn’t been happening.

Man, is anything going well? Even the PR tweets are pissing me off right now. I’m positive that whoever was tweeting on behalf of the Hornets PR on Wednesday night was high. Look at this:

Well, we’ve had a couple nice moments, I suppose. For one, Kemba’s crossover on Paul Millsap last night in the 4th quarter was a thing of transcendent beauty that brought me hope, however fleeting:

For another, Jeremy Lamb had a scintillating 9 minutes in the first half of the Atlanta game. So inspiring was his performance that Coach Clifford had no choice but to play him…about 5 minutes in the second half. Inexplicable as that was, it gave me hope that Lamb is really a Wolf needing to be unleashed. Also, Jeremy Lin is getting toasted just as much as Kemba on the defensive end, but at least a) he recognizes it upfront and plays well off his man, and :cool: as he’s getting passed he’s able to flail desperately over a large surface area, resulting in the occasional odd tipped-pass or trip. Meanwhile, on offense, although Lin’s usage rate is a near Jeffersonian 23.2%, if anything, he’s not being selfish enough. His true shooting percentage is 62.3%, which for a Hornet looks like a typo. He’s passed up multiple open looks, suggesting that if he would get greedier earlier, our comebacks need not be so delayed, dramatic, or even necessary in the first place.

I guess the bottom line is that I trust Clifford to optimize the lineups, and he probably just needs time with all of the new faces to get the mixtures right. I still don’t like our playoff chances any more than I did in my previews, and with the ferociousness that the Scott Skiles-fueled Magic have displayed, I probably like them even less. But the team does have the ability to be better than last year, even though that ability remains mostly latent so far.

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    Basically everyone we acquired this off-season of any relevance is a shooter. They were good shooters before they played here. Clifford's system is just garbage and he sabotages any chance of it working by playing Al, who is one of the least useful players in the entire league.

    I'm still trying to wrap my head around why Clifford gives PJ any relevant minutes at all.


    Coach Cliff thinks the same.


    Hope PJ starting is because of Lamb's ankle, and Roberts can play backup PG.