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Blogcat's Take, 2/14

Trying to find the good in the Hornets’ final three games before the All-Star Break is like trying to find the good in Darth Vader: you can sense it, but you probably can’t prove it without an intense electroshock session. Not helping is the fact that Charlotte’s three losses came in three very distinct but well-known flavors amongst the fan base, Neopolitan-style: the inexcusable loss to the openly tanking team (Philly); the gut-punch, last-second, agonizing heartbreaker to a team they probably would beat at full strength (Indiana); and the KTFO pummeling to a team they probably won’t ever beat without the use of shovels (Detroit). In fact, if I had to take a stab at something (besides my own eyeballs—is it possible to un-see our guys getting torched like an angry village mob by the likes of DJ Augustin!?), I’d say that the only good uncovered in that ménage-a-travesty came from who wasn’t there. Yep, as that jagged triton of defeat twisted its way through the viscera of my fandom, utterly disemboweling my morale, my dying grasp toward hope could only graze the merciful, sweaty headband of...Mo Williams.

The recently acquired Mo Williams’ best quality might just be that he’s not the departing Gary Neal, and for that alone Williams deserves not just our applause but probably several well-lubricated hand-jobs. I’ve written about this in the past, but it’s worth repeating: were it not for Lance Stephenson, Neal would be a first ballot inductee in the Primoz Brezic Hall of Taint (Stephenson has already done enough to earn his own exhibit and is currently working on his own wing). True, Neal was “only” a net -4.9 in points-per-100 possessions, which is not even as bad as Al Jefferson’s -6.9, let alone Lance’s -8.0. But basketball-reference.com has him down for just 0.2 win-shares (again, ahead of rhymes-with-pants), two full games behind Bismack Biyombo, even though a) Neal played almost 300 more minutes than Biz, and :cool: it’s Bismack Biyombo. And not that I need or even want to, but when I look up his real plus/minus on ESPN.com, it’s -1.51, 97th among shooting guards. I don’t even think I could name 97 shooting guards—even if you let me list past and present, college and pro, living or dead. And all of this dogdoo would still be edible if Neal could have just shot well or even mildly well, or even below average, but therein lies the beast: the median eFG% in the NBA is 49.4%, the Sixers are the worst shooting team at 45.6%, and this yahoo was putting up an absolutely flabbergasting 40.8%. Neal had four 0-for games this year in which he went at least 0-for-5-or worse, and he had another five 1-for games in which he went 1-for-5 or worse. Altogether, Neal had 13 games in which he shot under 25% from the field, which is straight-up Brian Williams-level accuracy. For a guy with a career eFG% of .497, who’d never shot worse than .462 entering this season, this year’s .408 made him unplayable, not to mention unwatchable. We gotta go to Mo.

Filling in this year for the injured Ricky Rubio in Minnesota, Williams has been just a hair below league average with a 14.3 PER...which means he’s been a James Harden beard above Neal’s 9.9. Mo’s eFG% of .511 is right in line with his post-2009-10 career, otherwise known as his post-LeBron career, when his numbers across the board after James left Cleveland completely recalibrated (Mo Williams is basically the living embodiment of the LeBron Effect; playing with the King can be such a performance enhancer that we should consider nicknaming LeBron “LeBronasyl” or “LeBrondegen” or something). Williams has gotten to the free throw line on a sold 21% of his attempts and he’s shot an equally solid 38% from downtown. The one red flag is his alarming 17.3% turnover rate; dude’s had more giveaways than Amazon, and unfortunately, it’s not just a one-year Minneapolis anomaly. To put that into context, of Williams’ new teammates, only Lance-onia has been able to match that level of opponent customer service.

Otherwise, it’s a statistical clear sky with Mo. He was a net -6.1 on the court with the Timberwolves, but they were a -12.9 without him. It’s true that you’ll have more success sending gays to religious conversion therapy than you will getting Williams to play serious defense. 82games.com says opposing PGs are playing at a 17.7 PER, and his defensive RPM is a pretty brutal -1.55. However, that’s not only better than the late Gary Neal (-3.69), it’s also better than Brian Roberts (-2.10). In summary, this was a low-cost move with potentially huge upside on paper.

Let’s hope that upside chooses the red pill, because “paper” is about the width of the Hornets’ margin for error for making the playoffs, especially with 3 games still to play against Detroit. The Pistons really delivered it to us in under 30 minutes on Tuesday, and in a way that fell more ruthlessly systematic than fluky. Charlotte doesn’t have the frontcourt size and strength to stop Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, and even when we get Kemba Walker and Jesus Gilchrist back, the Pistons have a lot of depth and shooting accuracy on the wings. Perhaps we were just undermanned and over All-Star Break-on-the-brain’ed on Tuesday, and the next three games vs. Detroit will be a different story. And perhaps Detroit’s onward march to a top-8 seed will be irrelevant, because Brooklyn and Miami could both surrender, and the Pacers could simply out-fail us. But Kemba will probably be rusty whenever he does come back, and in MKG’s case, if there were any logic to language, “hamstring” would be a four-letter word; who knows when he returns? So again, hope rests with Mo Williams spearheading another classic Hornets duct-tape job, desperately trying to triage a playoff run that could well be mortally wounded.

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