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Blogcat's Take, 12/5

Just when I thought I was done talking about Al Jefferson, he’s gone and strained his calf. So now I’ve got to talk about him again, because somehow this is estimated to be a 2-3 week injury, which seems excessive. I mean, if he’d gone and strained an actual calf—as in a baby cow—I feel like that calf would be right back up and sucking on the mother cow’s teat within a day at most. Surprisingly, the team doctors seem unpersuaded by this logic, and so 2-3 weeks it is.

How should the Hornets—or at least the fans—handle Big Al’s absence? Let’s start with what we shouldn’t worry about, which is the rebounding. As I mentioned in my previous article, the team has been better defensive rebounders without Jefferson on the court (actually I did quite a bit more than mention this; I practically spat it in blood like Sean Connery’s death scene in The Untouchables). Now it is true that in their first game without Jefferson the Hornets had a bad defensive rebounding performance. However, that was against the Golden State Warriors, who a) have the 4th best offensive rebounding percentage in the league (and the #1 best over the last 6 games), and :cool: are on an all-time tear right now, such that every game has a charity exhibition/Harlem Globetrotter feel to it. That Wednesday night circus was some Bugs Bunny-on-Yosemite Sam shit, so I’m not going to draw too many conclusions from the Hornets. (I’m also tempted to blame the sleeves we were wearing; such is my contempt for shirseys)

But I digress. Big Al is second on the team in rebounds per game right now, with 6.4, so one is tempted to say that without him the team is going to suffer on the boards. But one should suppress that temptation like it’s a desire to have sex with a tree. Because in terms of the team’s overall rebounding rate—which is really the most important metric, because it captures the team’s ability to get the available rebounds in the form of a percentage and thus controls for pace—the Hornets are worse off when Jefferson is on the court. In fact, rebounding rate as a concept is so important, obvious, and simple to look up, that I’ve seen the stat actually start to creep into Rick Bonnell’s articles for the Charlotte Observer, which is a little like seeing climate change statistics showing up on Fox News—I never thought I’d see the day. While I’m thinking about it, kudos to whoever finally pointed out to Bonnell that there’s this thing called NBA.com with user-friendly buttons that let you easily toggle between “Traditional” and “Advanced” statistics (even though there’s nothing particularly advanced about a rebounding percentage). Whoever that person is, he or she deserves a medal; I almost can’t picture it without seeing Bonnell being strapped into a gurney with eyeballs propped open, Clockwork Orange-style, and forced to see images from Basketball-Reference.com.

Sorry, I digressed again. I’m just endlessly frustrated by an NBA writer who seems so uninterested in/incapable of doing a better job of analyzing the NBA. Call me crazy. Okay, so even taking into account that Golden State game, for the season the Hornets have captured 47.8% of all available rebounds when Jefferson’s on the court and 49.9% when he’s off the court. Also, the difference is mostly on the defensive end: the Hornets are 1.5% better without Jefferson when rebounding on defense, as opposed to just 0.3% better when rebounding on offense. Just out of curiosity, I ran those numbers again but filtered out the game vs. Golden State, and sure enough, that one game brought us down quite a bit: we were almost a full point better in rebounding without Jefferson, 50.7%. This is actually encouraging, because we’re not going to have to play them very often, thank god. So the conclusion, after two rambling digressions, is that Jefferson’s rebounding numbers so far have come at the expense of the team’s as a whole, and therefore we should not necessarily expect the Hornets’ rebounding percentage to drop as a whole over these next few weeks.

As far as the rest of the team’s play without Jefferson, that’s also not necessarily going to be worse. Charlotte’s been +1.9 points per 100 possessions with Jefferson on the court so far, but that’s actually 4th worst on the team. I need to pause here and just acknowledge how amazing that is, because last year—Christ, most years, in this shattered, pestilence-ravaged, famine-racked, plague-ridden hellscape of Charlotte fandom—we barely had anyone with a positive net-rating at all. But anyway, when Jefferson’s been off the court, the Hornets have been +5.0, so technically we’ve been better without him playing (and again, this is even after the Golden State detonation on Wednesday).

Now, it should be noted that a) this general trend of having a better net-rating applies to most of the starters, not just Big Al; and :cool: comparing Jefferson’s +1.9 net-rating to, say, Frank Kaminsky’s +10.3 is not apples-to-apples, because it’s not taking into account quality of opponent, game situation, etc. So to get a better idea of Jefferson’s impact, I took a look at crunch-time numbers, which NBA.com defines as being within +/- 5 points of an opponent with 5 minutes or less to go in the game. This should make for more of an apples-to-apples comparison, because by definition it’s high-stakes and presumably against the opponent’s best lineup. The player with the most crunch-time minutes so far this year is Nic Batum, interestingly, with 40 (and he leads the team with a +18). Batum is followed by Kemba Walker (35 mins, +17), Marvin Williams (31 mins, +5), and Mr. Linsanity himself (27 mins, +18) (side note: Steve Clifford: pretty, pretty smart—might know what he’s doing). It’s not until we get all the way down to 5th place that we get to Al, who’s played 21 crunch-time minutes and is a mere +1. Now here’s where it gets interesting and/or encouraging: guess who’s above Big Al in crunch-time plus/minus? All three of his potential replacements: Cody Zeller (+17), Frank Kaminsky (+13), and even the much-maligned Spencer Hawes (+4).

Granted, these are very small sample sizes. Hawes has actually only played 1 minute of crunch-time this year, and here’s the funny part: it’s over 5 different games, which means his crunch-time is probably entirely accidental; it was just the random few seconds in each game before Coach Clifford had a chance to call timeout and yank him. Similarly, Kaminsky has played just 7 minutes of crunch-time, and it was all in the same game vs. Sacramento, who if you recall had to play without an injured Boogie Cousins. But Zeller has put in 21 minutes of crunch-time to get his +17, and while he individually hasn’t put up a lot of numbers during that stretch (just 4 points and 7 rebounds total), he must have been doing some seriously glue-guy stuff. Coach Clifford should seriously look at a semi-small ball lineup with Zeller at the 5.

Finally, the best overall non-Jefferson lineup so far this year has been Lin-Lamb-Batum-Kaminsky-Hawes, who’ve played 52 minutes together and are a +32. But for multiple reasons, that’s obviously not a realistic lineup that’s capable of playing bulk minutes—with the primary reason being that it doesn’t include Kemba. The best Kemba/non-Jefferson lineup has been Walker-Lin-Batum-Williams-Zeller, and they’ve played 17 minutes together and are a +4. So again we’re dabbling in small sample sizes, and you can’t take too much away from this, but it’s certainly not discouraging, and it corroborates the small-ball lineup I mentioned before. The truth is, there isn’t a lot of evidence either way for how Walker performs without Jefferson, because the two of them are paired very closely with each other (Walker’s played with Jefferson more than double the time he’s played with the next closest big, Zeller; and more than triple the time with the next closest, Kaminsky).

In conclusion, I certainly don’t want this to sound like I’m happy that Jefferson’s hurt. Even if our replacement starting lineup does well without him, his absence will have to have a negative cascading effect on the second unit…right? For instance, we are now almost certain to see much more of Kaminsky and Hawes together, and while they’re +24 in 119 minutes this season, I’d be nervous about playing them extended minutes together if they were +a billion. We’ll also have to unlock Tyler Hansbrough from his gimp box and watch him lurch around, which—talk about negative cascading effects—aside from being unpleasant to watch, will also result in multiple annoying Charlotte Observer columns that point out his grittiness and the fact that he went to UNC. Moreover, Zeller seems to be the key variable in determining the team’s success without Jefferson, and—crunch time aside—he’s been objectively lousy this year. He actually is the one guy on the team with a negative rating (-4.0 points/100 possessions), his PER is down almost a point from last year (14.1 to 13.2, per Basketball-Reference.com), and his defense has just thrown itself out the window and committed suicide. The kid was the 7th ranked PF last year in defensive RPM with a 3.23, and this year he’s all the way down to 50th at 0.83 (trailing Mike Muscala, whom I’ve seriously never even heard of). He also somehow hasn’t made a 3-pointer yet this season, even though the whole team has been making it rain. However, I’m still hopeful that he’ll snap out of it, because his effort is always there—he remains a joy to watch—and perhaps the increased minutes will get him back on his previously established trajectory. It’s a hope, though; not a plan.

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    Just the right timing!  Best game of the season from Cody!

    (timing of posting the article wasn't so good tho, ~lol~ so long and right before the game)


    Did Cliff change something? (the rotation did change)  Or the team has adjusted to play without Al?  Or they learned something from the GSW game?


    Hawes played bits in crunch time mainly for his inbounding ability I think.



    With several pretty big/good centers coming up, we'll see how Cody copes. 

    That was a delightful win, but there was some real rim luck involved. The Bulls had some bizarro misses, headlined by Mirotic's shaqting-a-fool layup flop. Gasol also always seems to vanish for long stretches and Noah is one of the worst finishers in the league; he can be counted on to miss from point-blank multiple times every game. He would drive me crazy if he played for us. On the other hand, the Hornets shot like feces from 3-point land for most of the game, so I don't think we got overly lucky.  


    Regardless, this is definitely the lineup to use:

    • Cody replaces Big Al and simply plays more to his potential
    • Pair Kemba with Lin as much as possible as 1-2 guards without one of them dying of exhaustion
    • Ride out the Kaminsky-Hawes pairing and pray that it's not just a small sample size wonder; then break glass, hold your nose, and bring out Tyler the Gimp in case of emergency
    • Extend Batum's pact with Satan that's allowing him to make out-of-rhythm, off-balance, heavily-covered fadeaways that he has no business making; hope it doesn't result in one of your future unborn kids being Damien.

    And now, I'm off to pace and fret about the Saints, because this Panthers unbeaten streak cannot possibly keep going...

    >:D ~lol~ no kidding, some crazy shots Batum was making out there!


    Agreed, the Bulls missed a lot of good shots.