Hornets 101, Clippers 82: New Orleans Claws Its Way to a Blowout

Tasked with their first easy match-up of the year, the Hornets pulled out a handy victory.

Tonight's game felt a lot like starting a faulty car engine on a cold winter day. The team revved it all the way up in the first quarter, only to see the engine cut out. They fired it up again in the second quarter but shut down just as quickly. Yet again, they started strong to begin the second half but couldn't sustain it.

The bench finally blew it open in the fourth, but we'd already sat through three uneasy quarters by that point. 

The Hornets won against a mediocre team tonight with the same defensive fundamentals they've shown all year. We saw great performances from our main guys, we saw good overall energy and effort, and the team moved to 7-0. That's all well and good. I don't want to understate the tremendous job Monty Williams has done through seven games.

At the same time, I want to go over what's not working. Some will see this as needless negativity; this is, after all, an undefeated team that's playing really well.

Sports, in general, yield binary results. You either win a game or you don't. At the end of the day, wins and losses are what we judge a team on. We don't care if Minnesota will have 17 moral victories this season; we're only concerned with the 60-odd times they'll lose. And that's the way it should be.

But the 48 minutes that lead to a Win or Loss do not occur in black and white. The most impressive player in a given game is not perfect every time he touches the ball. The least productive player doesn't mess up every time down the court. Extending that thought, it's not that a good team has no negatives. A good team's positives simply outweigh its negatives. We can't pretend those negatives don't exist.

That's why "this team is rolling" is not a valid justification for the play of any single Hornet. Each player must be judged on his own individual merits. We can take a step back and marvel at the beautiful defense Monty Williams has this team playing. We can and should praise the job he's done. That doesn't preclude us from criticizing his mistakes. 

Thornton-Bayless-Green

Marcus Thornton was one of the league's best rookies a year ago. He shouldered a lot of responsibility (25% usage) and still found a way to be an efficient scorer (111 ORtg, 17.4 PER). In limited minutes this year (against SA, in particular), he's showing that last season was in no way a fluke. Marcus Thornton is a legitimate high volume, decent efficiency scorer. He's also shown improved effort on the defensive side of the ball this year.

Willie Green, on the other hand, is a high volume, low efficiency "scorer." He too has a high career usage rate (23%). However, his career ORtg (98) and PER (11.3) leave much to be desired. He's not a good three point shooter (31.5%) but he persists in chucking threes and long twos. Green has played decent defense this season, but history (Philadelphia) suggests he's not a great defender.

The disparity between Willie Green, the defender, and Marcus Thornton, the defender, is vastly overstated. In addition to that, both guys are tasked with second unit offensive players (who, by definition, are not the best offensive players). Even if you do argue that Green is a better defender than Thornton, the overall impact that disparity can provide on a game-to-game basis is still minimal. 

On offense, Thornton is the vastly superior player. And given the fact that both are high volume shooters, the corresponding increase in efficiency becomes significantly more valuable. 

You'll notice that I don't include Bayless in this discussion. That's primarily for three reasons: (a) Bayless has shown that he can be an efficient scorer, (b) he's clearly made a conscious effort not to chuck the way Willie Green has through 7 games, and (c) he's the only other player on the roster with lead guard experience. The sooner we see a Bayless-Thornton duo on the floor, the sooner our bench evolves away from liability status.

Aaron Gray-D.J. Mbenga

Mbenga's rebounding slash line (Off/Def/Total) this season: 5/14/10
Gray's NOLA slash line in 2010: 18/23/20

I don't feel the need to elaborate much here. Rebounding is one of the most critical aspects of the game of basketball. It's one of Dean Oliver's four factors (the four most important keys to wins, statistically: floor percentages, turnovers, foul drawing, and rebounding). 

Mbenga can block shots, but he also sends opponents to the line at rates that cancel out that advantage. Mbenga can run the floor more effectively than Gray... but do we really want Mbenga running the floor? He can't catch, he can't finish, and he can't make free throws. I'm willing to bet that Gray does a significantly better job on defense. And we already know how the rebounding numbers look. 

I just have zero explanation for why D.J. Mbenga would be active over Aaron Gray. I literally cannot come up with one single reason. 

Some Actual Game Notes:

  • Quincy Pondexter looked awesome on offense. Here's hoping we see more of him soon.
  • Jerryd Bayless finally had his breakout game. 15 points on 10 shots, 9 assists, 1 turnover. It's only one game, but he may have finally gotten things sorted out ahead of Saturday's game with his former team. After knocking down his final shot, he threws his hands up, yelled "finally!," and chest-bumped with Chris Paul. 
  • How about Al Farouq-Aminu? Kid can ball. I was also impressed with Willie Warren's 6 minute cameo, though the stat sheet says he didn't do much.
  • Chris Paul played 28 minutes. Through 7, he's averaging 34 minutes a night. Major props to the minutes rotations Monty Williams has set up for this team. His reading of game situations has just been stellar. 
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