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Blogcat's Take, 1/30

Full disclosure: I tend to write this column on a Saturday morning. It works out well for me, because on the off-chance that I ever make any friends, they definitely won’t want to hang out at that time. So there’s usually a nice window of opportunity for writing on Saturday mornings, with the only appointments on my calendar being scattered ten minute sessions of rolling around on the floor in agony when my English Premier team, Everton, surrenders hideous, game-blowing goals. However, as it impossible as may be to believe, I actually had a social engagement this Saturday, so I’m writing this on Friday morning, ahead of the Portland game. At the time of this writing, Jeremy Lin is out against the Blazers, but the good news is that he still has both feet, which was not a sure thing when we last saw him splattered on the floor in Utah, a quivering wreck. Obviously, I have no idea how the Portland game will turn out; judging by the last few games it will either be a 2OT thriller won by the Hornets, or it’ll be a 20-point blowout featuring numerous Harlem Globetrotter-style circus dunks on Spencer Hawes’ noggin. Actually, win or lose, there will probably be numerous circus dunks on Hawes’ noggin; that seems to be a constant. My point is, like a bisexual orgy in a space station, there is a lot of an uncertainty floating around right now, and whatever I’m writing about could be completely obsolete by the time you read it.

To add to the potential variables, at the time of this writing (which I promise to quit mentioning from now on), there is a possibility that (Gil)Christ has risen! Officially, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s status is “questionable” for tonight’s game against Portland. However, don’t forget that Jesus was only listed as “questionable” on Sunday after getting really banged up against the Romans on the previous Friday, and He returned ahead of schedule and led his team to several critical road wins over the next 40 days. I wouldn’t be shocked, therefore, if MKG returns and has a similar impact on the Hornets, especially considering how many of his teammates claim to have a personal relationship with him.

Or he might not return. To tell you the truth, all of these injuries and this roster instability has made it frustrating for someone like me, who plays an analyst on the internet. Not only do I have to suffer through sequences like this…

…I also have a really hard time putting anything into context. The data from an injury-riddled basketball team is like a placenta: it might be somewhat interesting to briefly examine, but it’s also really gross and probably should just be thrown out. That old saying is especially true in this case, in which the Hornets have had significant injuries for so long that just answering simple questions like, “how many starters are they missing?” becomes challenging. Technically Nic Batum wasn’t supposed to be starting in the first place; he was backing up MKG. But at this point I would count him as a missing starter, right? Similarly, you can almost consider Cody Zeller to be a starter because Al Jefferson’s been gone so long…or maybe not? I don’t know. Also, when did the Hornets’ injuries officially get out of control? Was it when Jefferson announced his surgery? Or when Zeller got injured? Or Batum, or Jeremy Lamb, or now Jeremy Lin? It’s hard to say, especially when a few of the injured guys have also made brief cameos in-between long stints of not being seen or heard from at all—similar to Tom Hanks on Family Ties, who would randomly appear in one-off episodes as troubled Uncle Ned, do something crazy like embezzle money and ask to be smuggled to South America, and then go weeks or seasons with no one mentioning him.

Nevertheless, I’m going to try and find something significant in this extended random noise. Let’s arbitrarily pick the January 20th game against OKC for when the injury monkey dispensed with merely flinging his feces at us and really began smearing it in earnest. I chose that date because it’s when we lost Zeller after only 14 minutes against the Thunder, Lamb didn’t play at all, and Batum played only 24 minutes, went scoreless, and looked about as comfortable as a priest at a peep show before missing the next three games. Since that time, a period of 5 games, the most effective lineup has been Walker-Lin-Hairston-Williams-Hawes, who’ve played 60 minutes together and have gone a net-positive 2.1 points per 100 possessions. Great, except now Lin is out. The next-most played lineup was only for 17 minutes and contained Batum, who—judging by his zombie-like performance against Utah—was only “playing” in the technical sense, because his toe remains in worse shape than Della Reese’s in Harlem Nights; I wouldn’t count on him anytime soon. The most a non-Lin/non-Batum lineup has played is 9 minutes and featured Brian Roberts and Troy Daniels. It might as well have featured Arnold Schwarzenegger as a scientist who impregnates himself, because it’s not a lineup we’re going to use under any normal circumstances. I repeat: this is all placenta data, and it’s frustrating.

The one maybe/semi-durable trend that’s come out of this carnage is the play of Spencer Hawes (hey, I love Troy Daniels at least as much as he loves himself in his Twitter fashion selfies, but as extraordinary as his performance was against Sacramento, the very next game he had 5 points on 7 shots, 5 turnovers, and finished minus-22—his performance belongs firmly in the rest of this data afterbirth until we have more evidence one way or the other). Over the past 5 games, the Man-Bunned One has been second among the regulars (a word which admittedly may have lost all meaning for the time being with this team) in net-rating, with a plus-5.6 points per 100 possessions. If you extend that timeframe to cover since January 1st, he’s a -2.2, so don’t start tying your own man-buns too tightly just yet. However, that -2.2 is actually leading the team over that period. Further, when Hawes exits the court, the team’s net-rating falls to -7.7 (interestingly, it’s the defense that really suffers without Hawes, while the offense slightly improves—hold that thought). To be clear, Hawes’ -2.2 net-rating since January is a far cry from the halcyon days of November and December, when it was a +5.3, but so is the rest of the team’s. Plus, through December Hawes was averaging 17 MPG and playing the opponents’ back-up-back-ups. Since January 1st he’s up to 21 minutes and frequently playing the varsity. His TS% has taken a small dip with the forced promotion, from 54.2% to 51.1%, as has his assist rate. But he’s actually cut his turnovers and improved his defensive rebounding rate from 80.0% to 81.2% I’m certainly not arguing that Hawes needs a max contract, but to the extent that the Hornets are hanging around the playoff race at all, Hawes has lent his scrunchie to the cause.

What’s weird is that it’s been Hawes’s defense more than his offense that’s been the most critical part of his contribution. I say this because he’s never had a reputation for his defense, he jumps as though he was raised to believe that it was sinful, and sometimes—I’m thinking of that first quarter against Sacramento in particular—he seems unaware that alley-oops can be deployed as a tactic. Nevertheless, per NBA.com, Hawes is solid in isolation, he’s above average in the post, and he’s the only one of our bigs who has held opponents to under a point per pick-and-roll possession. His block-rate has been microscopic this year—even for him—and his rim protection will never remind one of human rim condom Bismack Biyombo; on the other hand, his defensive FG% at the rim has been better than Zeller’s (though this might be more of a reflection on Zeller than Hawes). As I alluded to earlier, he’s actually had the best defensive rating on the team since New Year’s Day, 100.5 points allowed / 100 possessions. Meanwhile ESPN.com rates his defensive RPM at 2.06, a respectable 28th among centers who’ve played at least 18 minutes per game. Hawes’ defense may not be flashy, but the numbers suggest a guy who at least knows where to position himself.

Really, if Hawes could just get himself to finish at the rim, then we might actually HAVE something here. Unfortunately, Hawes finishes at the rim like Thelma & Louise finish road trips. Per Basketball-Reference.com, his FG% within 3-feet of the basket is just 54.8% so far this year, which is a career worst. It’s really, REALLY frustrating watching a 7-footer whose chances of throwing it down are barely better than that of a coin-flip, especially when he averages about 3 such attempts per 36 minutes, no matter how many pretty dimes he drops or 3-pt hot streaks he goes on.

Still, Hawes’ general competence has been a slightly pleasant and highly appreciated asset. Amid the diarrhea of meaningless data, it’s one of the few hard nuggets that I feel comfortable believing in.

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    Feb 01 2016 10:55 AM

    "Technically Nic Batum wasn’t supposed to be starting in the first place; he was backing up MKG."


    What? Nic was always always supposed to be starting at the 2!


    I do agree that Hawes has been playing well recently. Even against Utah, when Gobert was killing him on the glass, he was doing some good things. I thought the offense looked better the more touches he got. 



    Duh, you're right. Batum was going to be the starting 2 from the outset. My bad, I don't know what I was thinking about. Probably sex. Or chocolate. Or sex with chocolate. Or Sexual Chocolate. Thanks for the catch!


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