Jump to content

- - - - -

Blogcat's Take, 11/28

Last week I reported that the Hornets’ defense inside the paint has been something besides a nuclear holocaust, which caught everyone by surprise—me most of all. After all, the one skill Bismack Biyombo provided us last season (besides tweets like “I blessed & humble One day at the time #God”) was rim protection, and losing Biz to free agency left us a Spencer Hawes headband away from total disaster. And yet, through 16 games, the Hornets have held their own in the non-restricted-area-paint (league-average in attempts allowed, 18th in opponent FG%). And within the restricted area, Charlotte has put a lid on it like a toilet containing unicorn poop (3rd in attempts allowed, 10th in opponent FG%). After pointing this out, I then moved on, because that was actually only the second-most miraculous stat I’d uncovered—the first being the 7.9 point improvement in offensive efficiency compared to last year. It’s like the Hornets Stat God had seen my talking donkey and raised me 10 Egyptian plagues.

However, in the comments section, Buzzsanity quite rightly was interested in why we were doing so non-terribly in the paint. After all, relying on Hawes and Al Jefferson to mind the paint is like relying on Jay and Silent Bob to mind the Quick Stop, so I decided to look into it further. First, I should point out that these stats have held fairly steady since I reported them last week, despite the onslaught of DeMarcus Cousins, Marcin Gortat/Nene, and Timofey Mozgov/Kevin Love we’ve had in our three most recent games. Opponent FG% in the restricted area fell from the 5th best to the 10th best, but everything else held steady, and opponent FG% in the paint but outside of the restricted area has actually improved 9 slots to 18th (you can look at all of these on NBA.com’s opponent shooting tracker here). What gives? Or, more accurately, what’s not giving?

One of the keys lies in another stat I reported last week: our defensive rebound percentage. We’re currently inhaling rebounds like cocaine on defense to the tune of 80.1%, which is good for second in the league. If you think about it, a significant portion of attempts/makes within the restricted area should result from offensive putbacks; the Hornets are removing that option entirely by simply not allowing any second-chance attempts at all. Actually, I just realized that I don’t have to speculate on this, as NBA.com tracks defensive putbacks allowed, and sure enough the Hornets average just 3.6 attempts per game, which perfectly jibes with their defensive rebounding skills. And to needlessly prove my point further, look no further than Sunday’s opponent, the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks currently trail the league in defensive rebounding percentage (68.7%), and as a consequence they’re allowing 32.0 attempts in the restricted area per game (5.6 more than the Hornets), 6.9 of which are putbacks (nearly double the Hornets’ 3.6).

So defensive rebounds are part of our overall success in the paint and the restricted area. Another—possibly bigger—part of the equation has been our effectiveness in preventing fast breaks. Because the vast majority of fast breaks will be converted in the restricted area, neutralizing them on defense will boost your RA stats. The Hornets are currently allowing just 9.1 fast break points per game, which is second-best in the league. This is actually even better than it looks on paper, because the team just behind them, Detroit, allows 10.2 fast break points per game yet plays at a slower pace than Charlotte (96.86 possessions per game, compared to the Hornets’ 98.71) (okay, that’s actually still on paper, but you get my point). The Hornets are playing up-tempo basketball but not neglecting to get back on defense. On a related note, the Hornets are hoarding the ball like my grandfather used to hoard issues of Oui magazine from the mid-1970s. Charlotte has the #1 turnover rate in the league, 12.7%. Fewer turnovers = fewer fast breaks = fewer restricted area opportunities. It’s all connected, man.

So that’s how we’re doing at a macro level. On an individual basis, Al Jefferson is in fact leading the team with a 21.7% defensive rebounding percentage. However, among centers he’s ranked way the hell down at 35th in that category. And when you look at his on-/off-court numbers, the team is collectively better with him off the court; with Big Al out there, we’re only getting 78.8% of the defensive boards, and that number rises up to 81.9% with him on the bench. Spencer Hawes’ rebounding story is the Gobots to Jefferson’s Transformers—similar but not as interesting. Also, Marvin Williams, while having a swell season overall, is a total drag when it comes to defensive rebounding. The Hornets are at their absolute best without him (84.4%) and at their worst with him (78.1%), so go figure. The real heroes for us are Cody Zeller and—believe it or not—PJ Hairston. The Hornets get 82.8% of their defensive boards with Zeller on the court and only 78.5% without him. Hairston’s on-/off- splits are not quite as dramatic but are also impressive: 82.1% and 79.1%. The bottom line is that our defensive rebounding success is happening in spite of our centers and our starting power forward, not because of them.

The poor individual performances continue when you look at defending the roll man in pick-and-rolls, another engagement with a high likelihood of occurring in the paint. Big Al ranks in the league’s 36.8 percentile when it comes to defending the roll man, and Hawes is even worse at 27.8. And this time, Zeller does NOT come to the rescue, because he is explosive-diarrhea bad at defending roll men; in fact, he’s in the zero percentile in this category! That’s so bad I don’t even know how you pronounce it—zero-ith? Zeroth? Whatever the case, opposing roll men have scored 70% of the time when taking on the Z-man, which is flabbergastingly bad.

More generally, Big Al is ranked a mediocre 24th among centers in defensive RPM, and Hawes would be ranked 33rd if ESPN hadn’t inexplicably classified him as a power forward. Marv at least has shined, as he’s all the way up to 10th among 4’s. On the other hand, Zeller has continued to reach desperately for the extra-strength Imodium with a flatulent 60th ranking in defensive RPM among power forwrds. So 3 of our 4 bigs are doo-doo, but that’s okay because we’ve managed to hide them. If you check Big Al’s numbers overall, he’s only facing 5.6 attempts on defense per game. While that leads the Hornets, it’s only 42nd in the league among centers who play at least 20 minutes per game (for comparison’s sake, Hassan Whiteside is #1 and has to defend 11.9 attempts per game). Hawes deals with even fewer attempts per game at 3.2. Similarly, if you compare the 3.9 attempts per game that Zeller defends, it’s not even in the top 50 among forwards averaging at least 20 MPG. By luck or by design, the Hornets are hiding their big men on defense.

And if I know my bald defensive gurus, I’m willing to bet it’s not luck, and thus I think it’s time to give Coach Clifford some credit. The individual performances from our 4’s and 5’s are not particularly—or at least consistently—good, and yet the team has limited the opponent’s ability to score in the paint anyway. Crucially, we’ve kept the other teams out of the restricted area by crowding the defensive glass and limiting fast break opportunities. We’re also funneling the opposing teams’ shot attempts out of the paint and away from the bigs, which indicates smart help defense and good coaching in general. I admit I often get annoyed with what looks like the guards and wings being overaggressive with their pinches and leaving the perimeter exposed, but I should probably quit my bitching, because the whole thing seems to be working.

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


    Thx for the answer!


    Zeller does NOT come to the rescue, because he is explosive-diarrhea bad at defending roll men; in fact, he’s in the zero percentile in this category! That’s so bad I don’t even know how you pronounce it—zero-ith? Zeroth? Whatever the case, opposing roll men have scored 70% of the time when taking on the Z-man, which is flabbergastingly bad.

    That's surely a cause for concern!