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Blogcat's Take, 11/14

As I calmly* and soberly** reflect on the Hornets’ 4-5 start to the season, the question I’m asking myself is, how close am I to pressing the panic button on Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson? Am I hovering over it as if I’m a contestant on Jeopardy and the category is “Southeastern Sports Franchises”—you know, not pressing it yet, but just waiting to pounce? Or am I Arnold Schwarzenegger in an action movie with a terrorist dangling off the missile of the fighter jet that I’m flying and about to mash that sucker as hard as I can?

Let’s start with the good news: Walker and Jefferson both have positive net ratings. Walker is +2.4 points per 100 possessions, and Jefferson is +1.9. And together, they’ve maintained their chemistry. In fact, for all of the hubbub of our bench play and sitting Jeff-Walk in crunch time, the pair has played the second-most minutes of any duo on the team, and they’ve played it well: they’re a net 2.0 points/100 possessions. This is not just a far cry from last year’s -6.9, it’s an ultra-long distance sob. So far, so not-as-bad-as-I-thought.

Here’s more good news: Kemba is having a solid season. His PER is at 18.6, which is just a hair off of his career-high from the 2012-13 season. His handle is absolutely phenomenal and—along with Sam Mitchell’s earing—continues to be one of the most underreported stories in the league. He’s got a brain tumor sick cross-over step-back that gives him immediate space even when surrounded by giants, and his turnover rate, 8.0%, is fifth-best among PGs. Yes, his TS% is .497, which is undeniably bad, and it’s been punctuated with a series of clunkers (28% last night vs. the Bulls, 33% vs. the Knicks, 33% in the first Hawks game) that rivals Sony Pictures. He’s also been worse than ever at finishing at the rim. But Walker’s tempered his poor field goal percentage with a career-best ability to get to the line: the rate of his possessions that results in free throw attempts is up to 32% this year, and it’s never been higher than the mid-20s. Also, we can’t forget that last year his TS% was .486—so…progress! Walker should be okay.

Thus, by process of elimination, it’s Big Al who’s doing the Tom Petty free-fall. Pretty much everything I just wrote about Kemba applies to Big Al in the exact opposite way. Jefferson’s PER is down to 18.5, which, while not objectively terrible, is a full point and some change off last year’s near career-low. His TS%, .498, is a career-low, and nobody’s falling for his low-post bag of tricks anymore, because his free throw rate, a microscopic, only-viewable-through-Predator-vision, .091, is also a career-low. Sadly, Jefferson seems to be the last person to understand this, as he’s become quite the ref-complainer-to-er. He’s also been unable or unwilling to closer to the rim, instead settling for a career high 30.7% of his attempts from 10-16 feet. He’s making those at a fair clip, but it lessens his chances to get fouled and results in fewer second-chance opportunities when he misses. It’s part of the reason—along with the Hornets’ 3PT shooting spree—that Charlotte has the worst offensive rebound percentage in the league.

Put it all together and Big Al is dangling in the lower mid-tier of centers in the league. ESPN.com has him as the 17th ranked center in terms of value added and estimated wins added. This might not be so bad if his primary backup weren’t Spencer Hawes, who is sharting out a 6.7 PER with a shot that has less arc and accuracy than a spitball hocked by Stevie Wonder. For all the grief Bismack Biyombo used to cause me—which was approximately the grief level of a venereal disease diagnosis—by PER standards Biz was a league-average player. Right now we’ve got a sucking chest wound at the center spot that requires immediate attention. We need either Jefferson to get on track, Hawes to find a track, or get Frank Kaminsky to accelerate his learning curve to a Neo-in-Matrix pace.

I say this because as welcome a sight as the 3-point artillery has been this year, the Hornets currently have the 23rd ranked shooting percentage from the left corner 3 spot and the 27th ranked shooting percentage from the right corner 3 spot. If that persists and we’re completely donut-hollow in the middle, Coach Clifford’s magic “4-out” potion will not work. Last night’s loss was a great example of that when we started off the 4th quarter with Kaminsky missing all three shots in the paint, including an abhorrently Bismackian sequence in which he missed a layup and then missed his own putback. No other big even made an attempt in the paint the rest of the way, and when Marvin Williams couldn’t come through with a wide-open corner 3 with 90 seconds to go, the 4-out strategy failed on all levels.

Though the Hornets bungled that Bulls game, their upcoming week is absolutely winnable, featuring matches against Portland, the Knicks, the Nets, and the 76ers. Lamb-sanity appears to be very real, Nicolas Batum is bailing us out with out-of-rhythm makes and a knack for streaking, and Jeremy Lin has been a revelation who nearly singlehandedly brought us a win against New York with his bold creativity (I’m still unclear why he was yanked early in the 4th quarter last night in Chicago). There’s a lot to be hopeful about, but it’s not going to work without at least one of our bigs injecting some Hulk blood and smashing it down in the paint.

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    With so many new elements, it's gonna take everyone a bit of time to get acclimated.  Things are gonna change even more, especially when Frank becomes ready as Limb continue to develop.