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Blogcat's Take, 3/5

With last night’s triumph over the Pacers, I’d like to propose a toast to dependability. Except when it comes to station wagons and adult undergarments, “dependability” is not a trait that gets praised very often. But considering how miserably enfeebled the Bobcats/Hornets franchise has been, we shouldn’t discount how reliable the product has been on the court this year. And trust me, I consider this team’s history a lot! Much more than I consider, say, other histories, both real (my family’s) and fake (House Lannister). In fact, sometimes I consider the Hornets so hard that I need to consider where I want to stab myself with the spork I pocketed from my company’s salad bar.

For instance, the Hornets are now 5 games over .500? Do you know how often we’ve ever been that far above .500? Even if you’re Jason Pierre-Paul, you can count it on one hand, because it was once. On April 2, 2010, we defeated the Milwaukee Bucks to go to 40-35, behind 32 points from Stephen Jackson, 12 points from Raymond Felton, and 8 croissants from Boris Diaw. I’m only barely exaggerating here, because look at the box score on this sucker; it is remarkably empty, especially for a game that went into overtime. Even coach Brown was ejected, leading to this vintage Jackson quote afterward: “I kind of got even more pumped up when Larry got kicked out because you'll very seldom see that." (Everything about this quote is pure Cap’n Jack, right down to referring to his coach simply as “Larry”). Anyway, the Bobcats promptly lost the next game to Chicago, but finished the season 4-2 to end up 6 games over .500 (peaking at 7). It never happened again until last night; even in the team’s only other playoff season, 2013-14, the Hornets maxed out at just 4 games over .500.

All three of the wins this week were dicey at times. Well, okay, not so much the Phoenix game, which was about as suspenseful as the film Wayne’s World. But even in that one, Nic Batum started out with three turnovers that were uglier than a Donald Trump endorsement. Plus there was Mirza Teletovic, Teletovicing all over the place in the first half. For someone whose faith and psyche are utterly shattered—someone like me—it was enough to bring out the fear of an impending, lack-of-perimeter-defense-related violent death. And of course, in both of the following two victories, the Hornets surrendered leads in the 3rd quarter but bounced back nicely in the fourth to finish with fairly comfortable margins of victory. Dependability, bitches!

The Hornets are also a playoff team—so sayeth Rick Bonnell in a recent article in the Charlotte Observer. You’ll never believe this, but his evidence is somewhat flimsy and anecdotal. However, the good news is that I mostly agree with his conclusions! And I’m here to actually provide some supporting evidence. So let’s see here…if I could boil Rick’s piece down into one little McNugget, it looks like he cites Charlotte’s strong finish in last night’s Pacers win (bless his heart! What I wouldn’t give to be so blissfully unaware of a phenomenon called “recency bias”), momentum, and a favorable schedule. Let’s tackle that last one first. Even though Bonnell doesn’t actually list any of the upcoming games (of course not; why would that be relevant?) he’s absolutely right about the favorable schedule. The Hornets have the 29th-ranked strength of remaining schedule according to TeamRankings.com. Though they’re evenly split at 11 home and away games apiece, four of those away games are against the Knicks, Sixers and the Nets twice, which should be about as challenging as a Macklemore rhyme scheme. Good non-work, Rick!

As for “momentum,” I can’t imagine how a grown thinking adult journalist could actually use that as an argument in 2016. Just a few games earlier the Hornets were riding a wave of so-called momentum into an Atlanta Hawks game and started out shooting worse than Aroldis Chapman, hitting just 2-of-21 first quarter field goals. For longtime Charlotte fans who’ve borne witness to some legendarily dreadful offenses, this epic cold streak was like a big ol’ family reunion that includes the uncle who molested you as a child. Momentum is totally meaningless, especially when despite all of the reengineering that they’ve put into their attack plan, the team’s 53.9 TS% is still just slightly above league average (14th). Using momentum as a reason for why you think a team is playoff-bound is like using the tooth fairy as a reason for why you’ll pay next month’s rent on time. C’mon, Rick! Then again, 40% of Americans believe the earth is only 10,000 years old, so I probably shouldn’t be so surprised.

Okay, so I don’t care for that one. The “strong finishers” argument, if not substantiated by anything other than what you just saw, is only slightly better than the “momentum” argument—maybe “second cousin, once-removed” better. But in this case, the numbers also mostly back up what Bonnell is saying. First of all, there’s that freshly-seasoned, hot-and-crispy 5-0 record in overtime games. Second, the Hornets are +11.6 points per 100 possessions in clutch time (defined by NBA.com as when there’s 5 minutes or less to go in the game and the team is ahead or behind by no more than 5 points), which is the 9th best differential in the league. Third, if you want to simplify your definition of “finish” to just include the entire 4th quarter, the Hornets are +3.2, which is solidly middle class compared to the rest of the league. Now, just to throw a dash of reality garlic on this tasty little platter of stat nachos, ESPN’s Relative Percent Index, which plugs in a team’s point-differential and their strength of schedule, reveals that the Hornets actually should have about two more wins than they actually do. How could that be, you may or may not be asking? Well, if you tighten your definition of “clutch” down to just the last three minutes and with the Hornets ahead or behind just three points, their net-rating falls to -4.6, and their prosperous net-rating existence has suddenly done a reverse Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. As a cold-blooded, non-momentum-believing atheist, I say it’s because they’ve been unlucky. Other people—the type of people who regret not being accepted to Trump University—would say it’s because they “don’t know how to finish.” The safest, most Janet Yellen-y thing to say is that the Hornets have been generally good at any random point in any game thus far, because they’re a sparkling +2.2 points per 100 possessions overall (ranked 9th), which looks even more impressive when RPI assesses the strength of schedule of games already played as the 10th most difficult.

That +2.2 is really what I’m thinking of when I praise Charlotte’s dependability—it’s a general above-average consistency to which I’m referring. In fact, even when the Hornets were at their lowest point this season, which was probably when they were uncompetitive against mediocre Denver, which closely followed that utter atrocity in Phoenix, and they fell to 17-20, the Hornets were still a +1.0 at the time. And that’s when they were also pretty ravaged with injuries. They’ve been pretty damned dependable, and if they can just keep this up a few more years, maybe my knowledge of adult diapers can remain theoretical.

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    Seems like having Batum and Lin really has changed this team.


    Thanks for introducing me to Macklemore!

    Dear Buzzanity, 


    I wanted you to know Macklemore. It's weird and sucks that you didn't. I was gonna say that in the article. Then I froze. Anyway, you know who he is now. Appreciate you as a Hornets fan and a friend. Much love