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Blogcat's Take, 11/15


Sorry for getting so wonky right off the bat, but I’d like to apply the following in-depth technical analysis to last night’s Hornets victory over the Suns: “Whoo!” In addition, the data set strongly suggests the following: “F--- yeah!”

It’s no secret I’ve never liked Phoenix. Their announcers are a homerian disgrace, the owner is a bailout-receiving cheapskate, the state government is full of racists, and the city itself is a dusty turd of ugliness. And more than anything else, the Suns have just been crushing us for years. Last year they ran over us twice—especially the second time, wherein if you haven’t been lucky enough to erase the memory from your mind, you may recall that we were trailing by 27 after three quarters before we rallied against their scrubs in the 4th to make it look somewhat presentable. It was the equivalent of putting a top hat on a wino, though, because Phoenix beat us down like one of their undocumented immigrants. The game was super-embarrassing.

Anyway, last night was payback. Gary Neal continued his bench magic. Cody Zeller’s jumping and falling mostly had a meaning if not always a value. Bismack Biyombo played well—played, period. In fact, during a span of 1:12, when he grabbed an offensive board, got fouled, hit both free throws, grabbed the next defensive board, slammed home a dunk off a sweet Lance Stephenson assist, then hit two more free throws, I halfway expected coach Clifford to call time and sub-in for him because he’d just been traded; there’s no way his value will ever be higher. That little stretch arguably got us back in the game and back in a road trip that was starting to resemble that of a Griswold.

However, even if we had botched it in the end against the Suns, there’s been some progress on the west coast. Over the last three games, our offensive efficiency has been at 1.053 points per possession, which would be ranked 12th in the league. As shameful as the Lakers loss was, and as asphyxiating as the Portland choke job was, in between heaves even I was able to detect a noticeable improvement on our possessions. Okay, the Lakers are the worst team in the league in terms of defensive efficiency. In fact, the Lakers are a few more games from Kobe Bryant getting caught storing brass knuckles in his jock. But the other two teams are no slouches, so I think we really may have turned a corner.

And if we have, it’s primarily due to micro contributions from Marvin Williams and PJ Hairston, and a big step-up from—I’ll give you one guess here—Lance Stephenson. Williams overall has been a net drag on the offense. For the season the team has averaged a comatose 0.943 PPP with him on the court. His PER is around 10.1 and his usage rate is low. Some of that may be because Stephenson is sucking up all the oxygen (and prior to this week, just sucking in general) while the two are on the court, but the bottom line is if Marv’s not hitting shots for us, he’s not really doing anything, because his assist rate is nothing special and his rebounding rate is especially nothing. Now in the last three games, he’s played just a total of 73 minutes, so the stats here are noisier than a busload of tweens on a field trip, but for whatever the reason we’ve got a 1.096 rating with Marv on the court. I didn’t notice anything different in the substitution patterns, so it’s mostly a matter Williams and/or Stephenson figuring things out. Hold that thought.

Hairston also has a tiny sample size of just 41 minutes played over the last three games, but even when he doesn’t hit his shots, he opens up the flow like a menstrual cycle. The Hornets’ offensive efficiency leaps ahead to 1.083 while he’s been on the court, versus 1.041 when he sits. Not coincidentally, the team’s collective TS% over the last three games has been an utterly liveable 56.2% with Hairston on the court, against 51.5% without him. Unlike his predecessor Gerald Henderson, Hairston actually poses a long-distance threat that keeps the opposition honest, and the team benefits from the extra spacing—one person in particular, perhaps. Without losing control of that first thought, also try to hold this thought as well...

...Because whichever is causing which, Hairston and Williams both have positive correlations with Stephenson. Per NBAwowy.com, both are in Lance’s two most oft-used 5-man lineups, which is huge, because Stephenson’s presence on the court over the last three games has meant 1.066 PPP against 1.01 without him, the largest offensive differential among the team’s regulars. Not only has Stephenson’s team play picked up, Lance himself has upped his game. For starters, he’s been getting much more open over the past three games, with only 13.9% of his shots coming with a defender right in his grill compared to 22.2% on the season. Similarly, his ball handling, though still incessant, has finally started leading to something other than collisions with Zach Randolph’s groin. Over the last three games, on shots that come after 3-6 dribbles, Born Ready has got a 60.0 eFG%, compared to his season-long average of 45.0%. And on those epic Lance drives, those 7+ dribble journeys that last long enough to desolate a Smaug? Well, he’s at least converting on 33% of them lately, which is also up compared to his 25% season average. I don’t know if there’s been more method to his madness lately, or just more madness, but Stephenson has got the highest net-rating among the regulars over the past week, and if he keeps this up, our record will eventually reflect it.

We knew going into the season that everything was going to revolve around Lance; we just need him to be a nourishing sun that feeds our offense, rather than a wormhole that ages us 7 years an hour. Lance might actually be both, but if that means wins over Phoenix and (dare I say it) Golden State tonight, I’ll happily grab my AARP card, hike my pants up to my belly button, and complain about the government. Just keep making sure that ball is going into the bucket, or else I’m likely to kick it.

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