Earlier this week, Mason and I projected how Eric Gordon’s return would impact this team, and those numbers give Hornets fans plenty of reason to be optimistic moving forward. If Monty makes Gordon the primary ball handler in the pick and roll, both Vasquez and Anderson figure to become more efficient and the Hornets offense as a whole should move from below average to borderline elite. The glaring weakness on this team, however, remains at small forward. So much so, in fact, that we forecasted some minutes for Vasquez at the position, particularly late in games.
While the Hornets could push to be a borderline playoff team next season with the current roster (provided it remains healthy), the only way this team really starts to rise up the ranks in the Western Conference is if they can solidify this position. Before we look at some guys that could be available in Free Agency, via trade, or in the draft, let’s take a look at the specifics of what the Hornets need from this position to excel.
1. Transistion Scoring
The Hornets are actually fantastic in their transition opportunities, as they average the most points per possession in the NBA when they get out and run, in large part due to Ryan Anderson’s three-point shooting on the break. What they lack, however, is a finisher on the wings that can attack the rim when Anthony Davis is not a part of the play. The Hornets have averaged just slightly over one made field goal at the rim in transition in the month of December. If the Hornets are going to increase their offensive efficiency, they will have to get easy points, and easy points came be found in abundance when you get out in transition.
2. Three-Point Shooting
So far this season, the Hornets have gotten a total of 10 three-pointers made from their quartet of young small forwards. That’s right, I said 10. In 28 games. When Ryan Anderson is off the court, teams just collapse the middle and there is less room for Lopez in the post and less space for Davis to rim run or work the baseline. Therefore, the small forward on this team has to at least post a threat from beyond the arc, especially if Monty is going to start Davis and Lopez up front.
3. On-ball Defense
The Hornets perimeter defense is sorely lacking, ranking in the bottom five in defending isolations and spot-up shooters. Gordon should fix some of that, but the last thing you want to do is run Gordon ragged by forcing him to cover the defenses best perimeter player all game. What the Hornets need is another perimeter defender who can cover that player from time to time in order to give Gordon a break.
4. Defensive Rebounding
Last season, the Hornets best units with Eric Gordon featured Al-Farouq Aminu, due in large part to the impact that Aminu had on the glass. Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, and Robin Lopez are below average defensive rebounders for their respective positions who likely won’t improve much in that area, while Anthony Davis is a good rebounder who can someday become elite. The Hornets are in the bottom third in the league in defensive rebounding rate overall at 72.8%, but those numbers include Aminu’s fantastic rebounding contributions. In the minutes that Aminu is not on the floor, the Hornets rebound at a rate of 68%, which would be dead last in the entire NBA. The Hornets are a poor rebounding team even with a good defensive rebounding SF on their roster, but they would be downright lost without one.
1. Andre Iguodala – 32.4% from three, 1.2 made per game, 14.5 DRB%
While Iguodala has had his struggles offensively this season, he is still the elite defender that he was in Philadelphia. So far this season, his counterparts are averaging PER just slightly under 11 in large part due to the fact that Iggy almost never commits a shooting foul. His ability to play aggressive defense on the perimeter without fouling is a major reason why Denver’s defense is drastically better when he is on the floor (-7.8 points per 100). His perimeter defense is fantastic, as he is giving up just .44 points per possession in isolation situations (4th in the NBA) and allowing opponents to shoot just 20% from the field. With regard to his offense, as I mentioned, it has been quite poor this season, but one area where he does excel is in transition, as those opportunites account for over 20% of his offense.
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