The Missing Piece: Getting Defensive
Far too often when we think of the next player that we would love to wear the Red, Navy, and Gold, we dream of a point guard who is a magician with the ball in his hand, a wing who can rip the nets from three, or a big man who can dominate the low post offensively. The fact of the matter, however, is that this Hornets team has shown that they can be rather efficient offensively with the current unit, and when you couple the team’s current state with the addition of Eric Gordon and the eventual evolution of Austin Rivers and Anthony Davis, the foundation is already in place for a pretty good offense. Where this team needs to improve is on the defensive end, and with that in mind, we take a look at some guys who can be the missing piece on that end of the floor.
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies
Often times a guy becomes a “name” as a defender and his reputation lives for far longer than his production does on that end of the floor. Ron Artest/Metta World Peace, for example, is still known by casual NBA fans as an elite defensive player but anybody who watches the game will tell you that he has lost a few steps and is below average. Tony Allen has earned a reputation as an elite defender, and his play this year gives you no reason to believe that this reputation will be outdated any time soon. In isolation situations, opponents are scoring just .63 points per possession against him, shooting 27%. When his man comes off a screen or spots up, they are shooting 30% from the field and are averaging .69 points per possession. His defensive rating is other-worldly (95) and the Grizzlies are giving up an additional 6.2 points per 100 possessions when he is off the court as compared to when he is on the court. In every way, Tony Allen is still an elite defender, and would be a guy who could be a huge part of solving this perimeter defense issue that has plagued us all year.
Corey Brewer, Denver Nuggets
If the Hornets want a defensive minded small forward who is limited offensively, it might be wise to let Aminu go in the offseason and pursue Corey Brewer. When you look at some of the numbers, it appears that Corey Brewer makes the games much more difficult for the man he is defending than Al-Farouq does. This season, players are scoring just .38 points per posession against Brewer in iso situations. Compare that to .85 for AFA and then factor in that they are shooting just 20% in those situations against Brewer, but 40% against Aminu. Then, look at situations where the player they are guarding is handling the ball in the pick and roll and you see that players Brewer guards shoot 17.6% in these situations, while Aminu’s guy shoots 44.4%. When you factor in that Brewer can also slide down and play the two if Gordon gets hurt, he might be the better fit for this Hornets team.
JJ Hickson, Portland Trailblazers
This will probably be the most surprising name on the list, but Hickson deserves to be here with the way he is playing so far this season. He is holding his own in the post, allowing opponents to shoot just 44% against him down on the blocks and he has been a monster on the glass this season, something that the Hornets front court desperately needs. Hickson’s defensive rebound percentage is at 28.2 right now, as he is pulling down 10.5 rebounds in just 29 minutes per game. As a point of reference, the Hornets best rebounding big (Anthony Davis) has a defensive rebounding rate of 20.8 this year. Replacing Lopez with a guy like Hickson next offseason can give this big man rotation a quicker defender in the post and a monster on the glass who would limit the offensive possessions of our opponents.
A Quick Look at the Young Pups
Patric Young is a guy who could have been a mid-first round pick last year but he decided to return back to Florida for another year, and when it comes to his game, it is paying off. He has increased his rebounding numbers by 25% and his blocks by 300% as he has added some agility to go with his brute strength. He might not be a lottery pick because teams will take potential over production and at 21, Young will be considered an old man by talent evaluators, but he could come in and have a Kenneth Faried type impact immediately in the league.
After two disappointing performances against Georgia and Georgetown, Cody Zeller came back with a monster game against a young, but talented North Carolina team this week. He put up 20 and 8 with 4 blocks in a game that the Hoosiers absolutely dominated. On the other end of the spectrum, James McAdoo struggled, going just 4 of 15 from the field and 2 of 6 from the free throw line. His jumper has been fairly reliable all season, but when he gets into the paint against long teams, he is not able to finish.
CJ McCollum is continuing to torch opponents, as he leads the NCAA in points per game and his sky high shooting percentages make him hard to ignore. Critics will point to the conference he is in and say his numbers are inflated, but that was the criticism against Damian Lillard and he has done okay as a rookie. McCollum is a rare perimeter scorer who is also efficient, as he is scoring nearly 1.5 points per shot and has just been unconscious from deep this year (55%).
In Our House
Hornets fans got a good look at the real Al Jefferson this week as he came in and pushed our bigs around, going for 19 and 7 in the Jazz victory. In our first meeting, Robin Lopez thoroughly outplayed Jefferson, but he has returned to old forum after starting off the season cold. Over his last 11 games, he is averaging 19 and 10, shooting just under 50% from the field. It would be hard to pass on such a reliable low post threat if we had a shot at him this summer. Meanwhile, Paul Milsap continues to struggle as the Jazz play him more and more at the three to make room for Derrick Favors. He is shooting a career low 46% from the field and is posting a career high 2.2 turnovers a game in his new role. He would be better served as a traditional 4, even if that means coming off the bench, and for the right price the Hornets would jump at the chance to add a team first guy like Milsap to the squad.
Brandon Jennings and the Milwaukee Bucks will visit the Big Easy for their only trip to the New Orleans Arena this season. Bringing this piece full circle, I think that often times people have the wrong idea about who Brandon Jennings the basketball player is, as the perception of him does not properly add up with his actual strengths and weaknesses. His 55 point game as a rookie was both a blessing and a curse, as it subconsciously labeled him in people’s minds as a scorer, but over the course of his career he has been a more consistent defender than a scorer. Jennings is second in the NBA in steals, just .01 per game behind CP3 and the Bucks are a far better defensive team with him on the court than off (+9.3 points). Jennings would undoubtedly help this team on offense, but his greatest impact would be as a lightning quick pressure defender that disrupts everything in the backcourt.
This Missing Piece is a weekly feature that can be found every Saturday only on Hornets247.com. For past issues of this piece, click here. *