Why Hornets fans should expect a playoff team
by, 07-25-2012 at 06:11 AM (32421 Views)
From the outside looking in, it doesn't appear that New Orleans have assembled the kind of roster that's capable of securing a spot in the playoffs. After letting go of Trevor Ariza, Emeka Okafor, Jarrett Jack and Chris Kaman, Demps made it official that youth was the road New Orleans would travel down... but why should Hornets fans expect a sub-par season just because the team decided to make youth a priority?
Basketball is a pretty simple sport. If you score more points than your opposition, you'll win the game. How teams decide to go about this is still up for debate, but it's hard to overlook what's worked for teams in the past... defense.
It's not uncommon to hear a broadcaster say a few kind words about Hornets head coach Monty Williams, but that doesn't mean he hasn't gone under the radar as one of the league's best coaches. Williams kickstarted his coaching career with a flurry of wins when the Hornets started their 2010 campaign with an 8-0 record. Despite many attributing the Hornets sudden rise to the individual brilliance of Chris Paul, it was the sudden tenacity on the defensive end which made these Hornets wins seem so effortless.
The youth movement is now in full swing for the New Orleans Hornets.
Regardless of lineup shuffling, injuries to key players and inconsistent efforts on the offensive end, the back-bone of this Hornets team is defense and it's been that way throughout Williams' tenure in New Orleans. While many coaches rattle off the cheese ball defense wins championships cliche, Williams implemented a defensive culture from day one with the Hornets, and they've been among the leagues stingiest outfits ever since.
There's no denying the recent improvements made by some of New Orleans western conference lottery foes, from Minnesota's mid-season run last year, to the new-look Golden State Warriors who are beginning to turn some heads, competition is far from scarce... but the Hornets will have no trouble leap-frogging these teams in to the playoffs and it's all because of the defense.
In Williams first season with the Hornets, he reduced the teams points allowed from 102.7PPG to 94.0, which made New Orleans the best defensive team in the western conference... and despite the complete lineup reshuffle heading in to the season just passed, New Orleans once again reduced their points allowed by 0.7PPG, good enough for second best in the western conference.
The Williams led Hornets are actually quite similar to Tom Thibodeau's Bulls. Both teams are nightmares defensively and will slug out some ugly wins, but as Chicago proved after Rose went down in the playoffs, defensive-minded teams still need go-to scorers to win games.
The Hornets now have their go-to scorers; with Eric Gordon they have a near unrivalled ability to attack the lane, with Ryan Anderson they have one of leagues the most lethal outside scorers and with the addition of top overall draft pick, Anthony Davis, they'll be getting out in transition for some of the easiest points in basketball.
Eric Gordon will be a huge factor in determining the success of the New Orleans Hornets.
In both conferences this past season, each team that secured a playoff berth finished with a positive points differential (POINTS SCORED - POINTS AGAINST = DIFF)... and in both conferences, the 9th seeds (Milwaukee and Houston) were the only other teams to finish with a positive differential.
This is an extremely basic statistic and it also makes a lot of sense... but the reason I bring it up is because it simply demonstrates why teams like Golden State, Minnesota and Sacramento will have a harder time becoming a playoff team than New Orleans.
When Marc Jackson stepped in as the new head coach of the Golden State Warriors at the beginning of last season, the first thing he said was that he wanted to change the defensive culture of the team, but despite the coaching change, there were still a lot of points being scored in the Bay Area and more often that not, it was by the opposition. Last season the Warriors conceded on average 101.2PPG, as opposed to the 93.4PPG conceded by the Hornets.
Likewise with Minnesota, who acquired Rick Adelman in an effort to turn things around defensively for the Timberwolves, but they also struggled to contain their opponents and allowed over 100PPG throughout the season. This essentially means for the T-Wolves to win a game, they need to score 101 points or more... something that I wouldn't bank on night after night.
While run-and-gun offenses can be fun to watch, more often than not, it leads to inconsistent play. On the other hand, a team who manages to hold their opponents below 95 points on a consistent basis, is never out of a game and with Eric Gordon back in the picture for New Orleans, just staying within striking distance may be all it takes to get over the hump.
Greivis Vasquez and Jason Smith will provide the Hornets with energy and leadership.
New Orleans went 6-3 in Eric Gordon's games played for New Orleans. In those nine games the Hornets averaged 95.7PPG, (giving the Hornets a differential of +2.3) which was a 6.1PPG increase on the teams scoring numbers without Gordon. If the Hornets had of played out the entire season, with Gordon having a similar impact on the offense (He averaged 20.6PPG) they would have finished with the 4th best points differential, sitting behind only San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the LA Clippers.
Despite the small sample size, these numbers highlight Eric Gordon's impact he makes at the offensive end of the floor. If he can look after his body throughout the summer and come in to training camp ready to play, the Hornets will quickly become one of the league's most coveted sleepers looking to steal a spot in the western conference playoffs.