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Blogcat's Take, 3/21

Hornets fans, now might be the time to get your affairs in order and make peace with your playoff gods. If we can’t beat the Boogie-less Sacramento Kings after 2 days off and with a healthy lineup, then our postseason dreams need to be taken behind the shed and shot. Considering that the Miami Heat and their groin-kicking messiah, Dwyane Wade, are regularly taking out the Cavaliers and Portland, that basically gives us one slot for a playoff birth, and I’m not feeling the opening chords to “Lose Yourself” slowly building up inside of me. In fact, after that lugubrious wire-to-wire defeat in Sacramento, the only thing building up inside of me is about to be eased out by my morning coffee. (PS-- I will never let Wade’s cheap shot to poor Ramon Sessions go; you’d think it was my groin that got kicked. I wonder if Sessions himself even remembers it at this point? Probably not. At this point Sessions might not even remember playing for Charlotte. For me, though, that incident has taken on a symbolic meaning of the haves- and have-nots. Wade is the 1-percenter who is totally above the law, and Sessions’ groin is all of us, the 99-percenters. #OccupySessionsGroin. But still, look at it here if you haven’t in a while; it’s an underrated all-time dirty move.)
During these exceptionally painful last 6 games, the Hornets’ ship has been taking on not just water, but sewer water, resulting in basketball in the time of cholera. Anecdotally, it feels as though the defense has slipped, especially given some of the freakish 3-point lines that opposing teams have put up. Last night, the Kings started the first quarter 5-for-6 from downtown; the Jazz started—um, the whole game, actually—16-for-24 two nights before; Chicago raced out to 7-for-8 from distance before Utah. It seems to me like defenders off the ball are pinching too close to help and thus are leaving the perimeter open when the ball is kicked back out. Or Mo Williams and (especially) Kemba Walker are getting caught in high screens, leaving wide-open attempts above the break. Meanwhile, our ability to limit second-chances—which is the secret sauce to our McRib defense; our 79.6% defensive rebound rate is #1 in the league—looks like it’s fallen apart. Over the last few games, I’ve had Rudy Gobert, DeAndre Jordan, and Reggie Evans offensive rebound-related sleepless nights, and I’ll probably continue to have them for the foreseeable future. Overall, the stats back up the defensive shortcoming anecdotes: in the last 6 games, our defensive efficiency has dropped from allowing 100.2 points-per-100 possessions to 103.1 pp100p. And if you listen to Coach Clifford, he’ll second all of this in fluent coach-speak. "If we're going to have a chance to win games,” he lamented in Sacramento, “We can't get outhustled on the glass like we did tonight."

But here’s an anticlimax for you: it’s the shooting, stupid. Yes, we’ve seen some defensive slippage, but we’ve seen a shooting avalanche. Our offensive rating over the last 6 games has cratered from an already-bad 98.6 pp100p to a truly horrific 89.9. Our assist percentage and offensive rebound rates have been off a little, but the turnover rates have been consistent. So allow me to reintroduce my point: it’s the shooting (stupid). The team’s collective true-shooting percentage, which accounts not only for 2-pointers but the added value of free-throws and 3-pointers, was at 50.4% in the first 61 games and has been at 46.1% over the last 6 games. The shooting is so bad that I can no longer merely use other bad NBA teams to provide context. The last-place 76ers shoot a 49.3 TS%, and while 3.2 percentage points’ worth of true-shooting might not seem like much, it’s currently the difference Philadelphia and the 21st-ranked Nets. So I guess the metaphor would be to imagine the league deciding to immediately expand with 9 D-League teams; in this scenario we would be worse than all of the Original 30 and the D-League expansion teams, too, stuck somewhere behind the Maine Red Claws or something. Watching this offense is like watching a sci-fi movie from the 1970s in which everyone is on spaceships but also using rotary telephones; even if everything else about the performance is good, that one thing is so glaring you can’t get past it.

So who’s piloting this spacecraft offense with computers that print out dot-matrix reports? As you probably might have guessed, it’s Mo Williams. The Mo Williams bubble has burst spectacularly over the last 6 games, as he’s gone from a TS% of 59.2 to 44.8. Hopefully nobody was totally surprised by this, as the man is a career 52.0% shooter. When I say “nobody,” though, I mean “nobody other than myself,” because I was practically ready to do lines of coke off a stripper’s breasts when we were at Peak Mo, circa the win over the Toronto Raptors on March 6th, so convinced was I that that the good times were going to last forever. If you want to be positive about it, this may be a great time to pick up some Mo stock, considering that the phrase “regression to the mean” works both ways; just as Williams wasn’t really that great right after the trade deadline, neither is he as bad as he is right now. On the other hand, with very few other threats (especially with Big Al laboring harder than Kate Gosselin in the low-post), opposing defenses have realized that they basically just need to key on Mo. Per NBA.com, in his first 8 games for us, 40.7% of Williams’ shots came with a defender within 4-feet. In the last games, that percentage of tight coverage has risen to 47.4%.

With that in mind, Coach Clifford might want to pair Williams with Kemba Walker more often, because each can take pressure off the other, creating a positive feedback loop. They’ve only played 20 minutes together so far, but the Hornets are outscoring opponents 11.5 pp100p when the two are both on the floor. Of course, that leads to the dilemma of what the hell do we do once they’re both sitting? I’ll tell you what we do: we watch Lance Stephenson attempt to dribble his way to China until he either turns it over or dishes to Bismack Biyombo, which is often a de facto turnover. But with the playoff doctors waiving organ donation release forms in our ashen faces, perhaps now is the time to start shortening the lineups, play the Walker-Williams duo 40 minutes a game, and simply remove Stephenson from the equation. We need to either get the 8th seed or die tryin’.

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    Mo's struggle has bee a big part with his scoring dropping from 44.9%/35.8% (3P% 40.6 to 22.5), 22 pts to 15 pts.  Scorers also different from first 9 post allstar to last 6 games:

    Zeller 53/0 (0-4 25 minutes 1 pt around injury and games missed)

    Al 47.3/46.5

    Going to Al less and Zeller out, scoring dropped from 18 & 10/game to 14/game & 1pt.

    Some replaced by Roberts 5 pts (34.8/20.8 3P) to Kemba 11 pts (rusty 29.8/33.3 3P) 


    Other scorers

    GH 45.5/40.6 (37.5/14.3)

    MKG 52.1/44.1

    Marvin 51/37 (43/48)

    Lance 38.6/39.6

    Despite drop in FG% of these 3 wing scorers put up 35 pts/game over both the 9 and 6.  Took more shots, MKG & Hendo more FTs made, Marvin 3pts.  

    Lance 38.6/39.6 (15.4/20.0) 7 to 8 pts