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Blogcat's Take, 2/28


First of all, I deserve some kind of medal for valor for even attempting to write anything this morning beyond, “The Hornets blew a 16-point lead last night to Boston, they lost, I’m distraught, the end.” Not only did the game end in a parade of gruesome horrors, but that 5-minute bridge spanning the third and fourth quarters was like a condensed Salem’s Lot. With 2:24 left in the 3rd, and leading by 14 points, the Hornets swapped out Al Jefferson, Mo Williams, and Gerald Henderson for Brian Roberts, Lance Stephenson, and Jason Maxiell, and Coach Clifford might as well have swapped a humidor of premium Cuban cigars for a carton of Pall Mall Lights. The Celtics promptly took us apart faster than an unlocked parked car in east Detroit. The good news is that Henderson was back less than a minute into the 4th, when our lead had Ant-Man’d to 4; the bad news is he replaced Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who hadn’t really been the problem. Thus the second unit continued performing its symphony of destruction, and by the time the coroner called it, Boston had stacked up a 37-point quarter.

Now our puny playoff hopes have faded faster than Freezy Freakie images in a microwave. The only way to avoid total calamity is for Jefferson and Stephenson to get back to playing within the vicinity of their career averages. Lance’s stumble down the bottomless well of suck has been thoroughly covered; he’s the Baby Jessica of basketball talent declension. But Big Al has been nearly as ineffective all season. The Hornets are a catastrophic -6.2 points per 100 possessions with Jefferson on the court this year, compared to +1.2 last year. This is predominantly due to Jefferson’s career-worst TS% of .500, off of last year’s .532. Jefferson’s also getting to the free-throw line on just 16% of his field goal attempts, which is also a career-low, and down from last year’s 20%. All this would be salvageable if Charlotte had any other credible threats, but without Big Al they’re like Iran minus the enriched uranium.

Why is Professor Al shooting so poorly? After a lengthy investigation I’ve concluded it’s because he seems to be missing his shots. According to NBA.com, he’s getting roughly the same number of attempts from within 5-feet—36% last year, 35% this year—but his FG% within that range is down from 65% to 60%. There’s also about a 5% drop-off on attempts from 5-9 feet when you look at his year-over-year comparisons. But there are a ton of incongruities in the data as well. For instance, he’s actually cut back quite a bit on the inefficient 15-19-footers compared to last year, and he’s hitting them at a much better rate: 42% to 37%. Meanwhile, NBA.com shows him as the most prolific post-up player in the game, accounting for 59% of his possessions. And among players who’ve played at least 300 possessions this year (Jefferson’s got 504), Big Al has got the best post-up eFG% in the entire league (48.6, ahead of second-place Marc Gasol’s 47. 8). At least on paper, Jefferson has been the same loveable dancing bear as always.

Take a closer look, though, and you see that maybe it’s not so much Jefferson as it his opponents: the percentage of Big Al’s shot attempts that are tightly guarded (meaning a defender within 4 feet) has sprung up from 65.9% last year to 73.7% this year. I don’t think there exists data on the percentage of shots that are double-teamed, but there sure does exist anecdotes, and it feels like Big Al’s spent much of this year trapped on the wrong side of a handicapped tag-team match.

Then again, this might not be an opponent problem as much as it is a teammate problem. 40% of Jefferson’s minutes last year were spent in the jolly good company of Josh McRoberts. Now, McBob’s 3-point skills have taken on a life of their own since he left the team, to the point that they are remembered to be much better than they actually were, like the fish you caught 20 years ago or the war zone you say you covered as a young reporter. But there’s no denying that McRoberts at least posed a threat to go off each night from downtown, so opponents were forced to account for him on the perimeter, which gave Big Al room to work his magic. By contrast, this year Jefferson’s played even more time with Cody Zeller as his partner down low, 53%, than he did with McRoberts, and as much as I’ve enjoyed watching the Zeller Propeller, he gives you less space than a fat guy on a futon. The Hornets are a net -3.6 with those two at the 4-5 this season, compared with +3.6 with the McJefferson combo last year.

You’d think Jefferson would work better with Marvin Williams, whose 34% 3-point shooting isn’t much worse than McRoberts’ 36% last year, and who shoots them at nearly an identical per-36 minute rate. But alas, the two of them are an atrocious net -10.6 together, because Marv’s all-around game is as wispy as his mustache. And after that, there’s nothing. Other than the seldom-used Jeff Taylor, no other 3-4-5 on the team attempts more than two 3-pointers per 36 minutes. The bottom line is that most of Jefferson’s minutes have been with guys who are less of a threat from downtown than a Mormon nightclub, and the good professor is choking on the lack of space.

If there’s any reason for hope, it’s that Mo Williams continues such bonkers proficiency from long-range that the trickle-down effect on defenses leaks all the way down to Big Al. The two are a net -0.7 in the brief 121 minutes they’ve played together, but that’s pretty damned good considering the team is 1-3 overall in that time, with games against the upper-echelon Bulls, Thunder, and Mavericks. Williams is up to 39.5% from distance with a zany 9.8 3-pointers/36 minutes. If Mo can keep this up until Kemba Walker gets back, one can envision a small-guard crunch-time lineup of Walker-Williams that provides the close-air support needed for Big Al to infiltrate down low.

In all likelihood, though, there simply might not be enough time. These past few weeks I’ve spent worrying about the Pacers, Heat, and Pistons taking those last couple of playoff spots, and I completely forgot about the Nets, who are also ahead of us. I don’t feel too bad about it, because I’m pretty sure everyone has forgotten about the Nets, including many on the actual team, given how conditioned we were to expect a complete dismantling of the franchise. But lo and behold, Brooklyn picked up Thad Young at the deadline, who could easily be our 2nd- or 3rd-best player. And now the Celtics are tied with us, record-wise. It’s going to be brutal basketball to behold, and it’ll necessitate Jefferson emptying out everything in his low-post bag of tricks if we’re to have any hope at all.

(Reminder: Please don’t forget to check out my e-book at the following link)
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  • 1 Comments

    First of all, I deserve some kind of medal for valor for even attempting to write anything this morning beyond, “The Hornets blew a 16-point lead last night to Boston, they lost, I’m distraught, the end.” Not only did the game end in a parade of gruesome horrors, but that 5-minute bridge spanning the third and fourth quarters was like a condensed Salem’s Lot. With 2:24 left in the 3rd, and leading by 14 points, the Hornets swapped out Al Jefferson, Mo Williams, and Gerald Henderson for Brian Roberts, Lance Stephenson, and Jason Maxiell, and Coach Clifford might as well have swapped a humidor of premium Cuban cigars for a carton of Pall Mall Lights. The Celtics promptly took us apart faster than an unlocked parked car in east Detroit. The good news is that Henderson was back less than a minute into the 4th, when our lead had Ant-Man’d to 4; the bad news is he replaced Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who hadn’t really been the problem. Thus the second unit continued performing its symphony of destruction, and by the time the coroner called it, Boston had stacked up a 37-point quarter.

    Now our puny playoff hopes have faded faster than Freezy Freakie images in a microwave. The only way to avoid total calamity is for Jefferson and Stephenson to get back to playing within the vicinity of their career averages. Lance’s stumble down the bottomless well of suck has been thoroughly covered; he’s the Baby Jessica of basketball talent declension. But Big Al has been nearly as ineffective all season. The Hornets are a catastrophic -6.2 points per 100 possessions with Jefferson on the court this year, compared to +1.2 last year. This is predominantly due to Jefferson’s career-worst TS% of .500, off of last year’s .532. Jefferson’s also getting to the free-throw line on just 16% of his field goal attempts, which is also a career-low, and down from last year’s 20%. All this would be salvageable if Charlotte had any other credible threats, but without Big Al they’re like Iran minus the enriched uranium.

    Why is Professor Al shooting so poorly? After a lengthy investigation I’ve concluded it’s because he seems to be missing his shots. According to NBA.com, he’s getting roughly the same number of attempts from within 5-feet—36% last year, 35% this year—but his FG% within that range is down from 65% to 60%. There’s also about a 5% drop-off on attempts from 5-9 feet when you look at his year-over-year comparisons. But there are a ton of incongruities in the data as well. For instance, he’s actually cut back quite a bit on the inefficient 15-19-footers compared to last year, and he’s hitting them at a much better rate: 42% to 37%. Meanwhile, NBA.com shows him as the most prolific post-up player in the game, accounting for 59% of his possessions. And among players who’ve played at least 300 possessions this year (Jefferson’s got 504), Big Al has got the best post-up eFG% in the entire league (48.6, ahead of second-place Marc Gasol’s 47. 8). At least on paper, Jefferson has been the same loveable dancing bear as always.

    Take a closer look, though, and you see that maybe it’s not so much Jefferson as it his opponents: the percentage of Big Al’s shot attempts that are tightly guarded (meaning a defender within 4 feet) has sprung up from 65.9% last year to 73.7% this year. I don’t think there exists data on the percentage of shots that are double-teamed, but there sure does exist anecdotes, and it feels like Big Al’s spent much of this year trapped on the wrong side of a handicapped tag-team match.

    Then again, this might not be an opponent problem as much as it is a teammate problem. 40% of Jefferson’s minutes last year were spent in the jolly good company of Josh McRoberts. Now, McBob’s 3-point skills have taken on a life of their own since he left the team, to the point that they are remembered to be much better than they actually were, like the fish you caught 20 years ago or the war zone you say you covered as a young reporter. But there’s no denying that McRoberts at least posed a threat to go off each night from downtown, so opponents were forced to account for him on the perimeter, which gave Big Al room to work his magic. By contrast, this year Jefferson’s played even more time with Cody Zeller as his partner down low, 53%, than he did with McRoberts, and as much as I’ve enjoyed watching the Zeller Propeller, he gives you less space than a fat guy on a futon. The Hornets are a net -3.6 with those two at the 4-5 this season, compared with +3.6 with the McJefferson combo last year.

    You’d think Jefferson would work better with Marvin Williams, whose 34% 3-point shooting isn’t much worse than McRoberts’ 36% last year, and who shoots them at nearly an identical per-36 minute rate. But alas, the two of them are an atrocious net -10.6 together, because Marv’s all-around game is as wispy as his mustache. And after that, there’s nothing. Other than the seldom-used Jeff Taylor, no other 3-4-5 on the team attempts more than two 3-pointers per 36 minutes. The bottom line is that most of Jefferson’s minutes have been with guys who are less of a threat from downtown than a Mormon nightclub, and the good professor is choking on the lack of space.

    If there’s any reason for hope, it’s that Mo Williams continues such bonkers proficiency from long-range that the trickle-down effect on defenses leaks all the way down to Big Al. The two are a net -0.7 in the brief 121 minutes they’ve played together, but that’s pretty damned good considering the team is 1-3 overall in that time, with games against the upper-echelon Bulls, Thunder, and Mavericks. Williams is up to 39.5% from distance with a zany 9.8 3-pointers/36 minutes. If Mo can keep this up until Kemba Walker gets back, one can envision a small-guard crunch-time lineup of Walker-Williams that provides the close-air support needed for Big Al to infiltrate down low.

    In all likelihood, though, there simply might not be enough time. These past few weeks I’ve spent worrying about the Pacers, Heat, and Pistons taking those last couple of playoff spots, and I completely forgot about the Nets, who are also ahead of us. I don’t feel too bad about it, because I’m pretty sure everyone has forgotten about the Nets, including many on the actual team, given how conditioned we were to expect a complete dismantling of the franchise. But lo and behold, Brooklyn picked up Thad Young at the deadline, who could easily be our 2nd- or 3rd-best player. And now the Celtics are tied with us, record-wise. It’s going to be brutal basketball to behold, and it’ll necessitate Jefferson emptying out everything in his low-post bag of tricks if we’re to have any hope at all.

    (Reminder: Please don’t forget to check out my e-book at the following link)
    (Other Reminder: Please follow me on Twitter here)

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    Sucked bench has to come in any game but late 3rd is when teams start getting rest for starters, IT, Jerebko, Crowder came in for Boston.  And pushed those 3 about as much as we could with Mo &  Hend finishing with 37 minutes, Al 33 minutes.  

     

    Yes, Al has been in a shooting slump and needs to shake out of it.  The last 14 games since returning from injury...46% FG, 61% FT 15 ppg, 3 20+ games, compared to first 32...49% FG, 70% FT, 18 ppg, 14 20+games which includes 3 games battling injury before being sidelined...40% FG, no FT attempt, 8 ppg.