Hornets 75, Kings 71: What Was That?

A few times a season, a great team will play a game so painfully ugly that you momentarily forget why they're good at all. This was clearly one of those games. At the end of the day, I'm just happy we were able to pull a win out of it.

While the defense performed admirably against an above average Sacramento offense, the Hornets' offense struggled massively. Sacramento had played really poor defense coming into the game (only the Clippers and Suns were worse), but give them credit. Their post defense was incredible. Time and time again, they denied us easy layups and dunks. Samuel Dalembert and Donte Greene combined to block 7 shots, and they altered at least another seven. Until the final minute of the game, David West and Emeka Okafor combined to go 9 for 31 from the field.

The perimeter players weren't much better. Chris Paul missed five times as many shots as he made, Belinelli went 4-12 despite numerous hard takes to the hoop, and Willie Green... well, Bill gets his own section later. It's surprising that the Sacramento defense was able to take away perimeter shots while crowding the paint at the same time. Their rotations were that effective. Again, it's mostly unclear what got into them tonight (they came in with the third worst eFG% defense in the conference), but their defense was wildly effective.

West and Okafor

Through 12 games in the season, the Hornets have made a habit of finding both West and Okafor on the block. It's important to note that both players have functioned as the final step in various plays. Once they catch, it's up to them to get the shot up. Tonight, the shots they got up were swatted away left and right. Neither guy had been passing out of the post much thus far, and tonight Sacramento made us pay for it.

Okafor still had a solid game on the glass (including 5 offensive rebounds) and managed to involve himself in the game despite a terrible shooting night. David West, until that final minute, did not. He finished with just 4 rebounds. As critical as his final O-board was, we can't afford West disappearing on nights that his shot is off. Thankfully, he was able to stick the two big jumpers down the stretch.

Willie Green

Via Liberty Ballers, three tweets regarding Green's game tonight:

At The Hive

Looks like Willie Green has decided to do all his regression to the mean in a single game. Yay.

Zach Harper

I'm thoroughly convinced Willie Green is trying to get kicked off the team with play on the court. It's the only reasonable explanation.

Evan Dunlap

Is there a less compelling basketball player than Willie Green?

It's stunning how bad Green was tonight. He forced shots, he forced drives, he routinely lost defensive assignments, and he didn't even pretend to look for the open man. His only saving grace was how thoroughly awful everyone else was too. 

And this wasn't a blip in an otherwise good season. It was regression to the mean in what's been an otherwise anomalous season. Willie Green is a poor decision maker. He shoots 31% from outside of 16 feet, and yet 57% (!!!) of his shots come from outside that range. He chucked the ball wildly with Chris Paul on the floor tonight. When he gets the ball, he's taking over the possession no matter what. For a guy that produces 102 points/100 possessions (8th worst on the team), that's unacceptable. He never creates for others. Only Pondexter, Mbenga, and Okafor have lower assist rates. Jason Smith has a higher assist rate. That's right, the guy that literally shoots the ball every time he touches it. 

I can stomach Green on the floor if he accepted a more limited role in the offense. His defense has been valuable this year, even if it wasn't tonight. But right now, he's killing this team, killing Quincy Pondexter's development, and killing Marcus Thornton (who was fine defensively tonight). 

Final Notes

  • DeMarcus Cousins came up with the three point play down the stretch. But up till that point, he was a disaster every time he touched the ball. I don't know that there's a player with a wider range of career potential in the league right now.
  • Trevor Ariza came up huge. He was our only efficient offensive player with 16 points on 9 shots and he canned two huge triples. Slowly but surely, he's starting to move away from taking the open three, and he's starting to attack the rim. He still needs to finish better through contact, but I loved his game on both ends of the floor tonight. He was my player of the game.
  • Jason Smith beasted it again. 8 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 offensive rebounds against a very stout Kings front line. 
  • Both Tyreke Evans and Chris Paul finished with 9 points apiece (and each needed 12 shots to get there). Didn't see that one coming.
  • I really, really want to see Quincy get some minutes with Chris Paul. The second unit just seems to ignore him offensively. That's no surprise with Bill running the show, but with Thornton overeager to prove himself in limited minutes, Smith (understandably) ready to fire at a moment's notice, and Mbenga simply thrilled he didn't just fumble the ball out of bounds again, Pondexter is the odd man out in a circus full of fail.
  • That's now two mediocre games against two middling teams. In both games, it was really the offense that struggled. Our points total against the Cavs was inflated by a higher total possessions mark (97), but was still pretty bad. I'd call tomorrow's matchup against the woeful Clipper defense the magic elixir we seek, but that's essentially what Sacramento's defense was supposed to be. 
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