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Blogcat's Take, 12/26

OK, there’s no use in denying it: this article is going to hurt. So before we get into the pain, let’s start with a spoonful of humor to help the medicine go down. Here’s me doing some lighthearted trolling on Jeremy Lin, and while he didn’t answer or acknowledge, at least he didn’t block me like Biyombo did:

OK, now let’s start drilling for cavities. After a Christmas week in which the Hornets repeatedly tripped on their yule logs in losses to Washington, Houston, and Boston, my recent musings about getting to 50 wins now looks like I might have been freebasing some nog. What hell hath I wrought? Actually, Charlotte’s been coming up short on the rent for a few weeks now. Going back to December 11th, when they trounced the Memphis Grizzlies, they’re a disallowed DeMar DeRozan buzzer-beater from being 0-6. Here are their pre- and post-Dec. 11th offensive and defensive ratings (per 100 possessions, per NBA.com):

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The quick conclusion to draw from this statistical carnage is that the Hornets desperately need Al Jefferson back, whom they will get tonight in a rematch against Memphis. However, Charlotte went 4-1 in the immediate aftermath of Big Al’s calf/urinalysis-gone-wrong, and you could actually argue that they went 5-1, considering Jefferson left pretty early on in the last game he played, which was a win over Milwaukee. Further, even including data from the last 6 games, the Hornets have had a better net-rating this season without Jefferson (+4.5) than with him (+1.9). Even Jefferson’s supposed strengths as a rebounder and in the post don’t have me wetting my pants for his comeback. As I’ve mentioned before, Jefferson’s individual rebounding has actually been detrimental to the team’s rebounding. The Hornets only grab 47.8% of available boards with Jefferson on the court, compared to 50.4% when he’s benched/injured/suspended. Meanwhile,
per NBA.com play-tracking, Big Al has only been the team’s third-best player in the post this year; his +0.85 points per possession on post-ups trail both Nic Batum and Frank Kaminsky’s +1.00. I’m not saying Big Al is going to make things worse when he gets back, but I don’t see the force awakening either.

There probably is an argument that the Hornets have had to abandon the post-up as a tactic without Jefferson, which has had a ripple effect on how the rest of their offense works. Though the Hornets have had a better net-rating without Jefferson in the game, it’s come on the defensive end. In fact, on offense the Hornets are 4.5 points worse without Jefferson, but they make up for it on defense by being 7.1 points stingier. Head coach Steve Clifford is surely aware of this, and hopefully he’ll be able to strategically deploy Big Al to open up the offense when needed, and then yank him when we need to step up the defense.

At the very least, Jefferson can hopefully get three of our principal starters back on track. In the last 6 games, Nic Batum (whom the Observer’s Scott Fowler, in a not-at-all-jumping-to-conclusions column a few weeks ago, declared the Hornets would be crazy to not offer a max deal) has burned a 17.6 rash in the Hornets’ groin with his fungal play: Charlotte has been a net -12.6 with Batum on the court and +5.0 without him, and his true-shooting percentage has plummeted from 57.6% to 46.7%. The nosedive has been similar for Marvin Williams and Kemba Walker. The Hornets are -11.0 with Williams on the court, and his TS% has fallen like an old lady in a LifeCall commercial, down from 58.3 to 39.3. Charlotte is “merely” -7.6 with Kemba on the court, but his shooting has been similarly fecal: he went from a 56.0 TS% in the first 22 games to 46.0 over the last six games. Why might Jefferson help? If you look at Charlotte’s 17 pairings with a positive net-rating who’ve played at least 300 minutes together, Jefferson-Batum (+2.1), Jefferson-Williams (+6.7), and Jefferson-Walker (+2.1) are all on there. Further, if you look at the four 4-man lineups who have played at least 200 minutes together, Walker-Batum-Williams-Jefferson has been the best one (+6. 8). Maybe Big Al will be the necessary Raekwon to get the Clan back to what it once was.

Besides integrating Jefferson, I alluded earlier to the the biggest adjustment the Hornets might need to make: get Frank Kaminsky more minutes. In the last 6 games, the Hornets have been a +0.6 with the Tank on the court, which might not sound like much, but they’ve been -10.2 without him. The numbers are actually even more dramatically in Spencer Hawes’ favor (+8.6 on, -12.5 off), but Kaminsky’s had the better on-/off- ratings throughout the year. His increase in minutes wouldn’t necessarily have to come at the expense of Cody Zeller either, even though in the last 6 games he’s basically been the inverse of Kaminsky (-1.0 on, +7.4 off). In fact, ESPN.com’s adjusted RPM, which controls for teammate and opponent strength, still has Kaminsky narrowly trailing Zeller (0.27 to 0.14). So how about playing more of Kaminsky and Zeller together? First of all, although it’s a limited sample size (just 114 minutes) they’ve made a cute couple so far with a +12.1 net rating, which is third best among all pairings with at least 100 minutes. Plus, as I mentioned before, Kaminsky has an effective post game; it’s just not used that often. You could run them both out there and have Cody dive-bombing for any of Frank’s misses. I say it’s worth a shot while you ease Big Al back in, and combine it with a modest reduction of Batum and Marv.

Beyond that, I hate to get technical, but the Hornets just have to make their goddamned shots. This was probably most evident in that horrifyingly bad Rockets game, which featured a vintage, mint-condition 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats complete box set of shooting accuracy. The Bob—I mean, Hornets—made just 15 of 51 unguarded shots in that debacle, and it’s been part of a larger trend, in which Charlotte is actually getting more open looks but making fewer of them. In the first 22 games, 42.0% of the Hornets’ shots were open ones, and they made 40.5% of them. In the last 6 games, 50.9% of their shots have been open, and they’ve only made 39.1% of them. Williams and Batum are two of the primary offenders here. In the first 22 games, 58.4% of Marv’s shots came without a defender within four feet. Of those, he hit 39% of them. In the last 6 games, he’s been even more open (75.0% of attempts) but less accurate (22.8 FG%). Batum’s splits are similarly rancid: he was shooting 53.4% on the 45.2% of his shots that were open, and he’s 35.6% on those same open shots over the last 6 games…which have been coming more frequently (68.2%). Coach Clifford can harp on turnovers and adjust these lineups more often than his crotch, but it looks like he’s been setting the team up for success, and the biggest problem is they’re just flat-out missing their shots.

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