The 2010-2011 Hornets: Best Hornets Defense Ever?

It's been clear from virtually the opening tip of the 2010-2011 season that the Monty Williams led Hornets would be an altogether different beast on the defensive end than last season's team. Yet I think I can say pretty confidently that no one expected this team to be the best defensive squad in the West and the third best defensive team overall by midseason. As Hornets247 pointed out recently, the improvement has been historic. The logical question becomes, is this Hornets team better defensively than any other Hornets team in franchise history? Keeping in mind that there are still many games left to play and that things can change, let's have a look.

My only criteria for giving a team a look for the title of "best Hornets defense ever" was that the team ranked in the top 10 for Defensive Rating in a season. Thus, the contenders (aside from this season's team) are the 2008-2009 team, the 2007-2008 team, all four Hornets teams from 1999 through 2003, and finally the 1994-1995 squad. That's seven teams total.

Legend for the tables below:
Defensive Rating = PTS Allowed/100 Possessions

DRB% = Defensive Rebounding Percentage

Opp. FG% = Opponent Field Goal Percentage

Opp. 3P% = Opponent 3-Point Field Goal Percentage

Opp. TOV% = Opponent Turnover Percentage

Opp. FT/FGA = Opponent Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt

The 2008-2009 Hornets. Record: 49 - 33

Defensive Rating DRB% Opp. FG% Opp. 3P% Opp. TOV% Opp. FT/FGA
107.0 .749 .450 .354 .132 .230

 

The disappointing followup team to the 2007-2008 team was decent defensively. 107.0 points allowed per 100 possessions isn't great, but it ranked ninth in the NBA that year so this team at least makes the list. The decline from 2007-2008 to 2008-2009 was due in large part to the fact that this team put opposing teams on the free throw line a lot more than its predecessor.

The 2007-2008 Hornets. Record: 56 - 26

Defensive Rating DRB% Opp. FG% Opp. 3P% Opp. TOV% Opp. FT/FGA
105.7 .754 .460 .351 .135 .184

 

The 2007-2008 team was pretty solid defensively, but not exceptional. They were a very good defensive rebounding team and were excellent at keeping teams off the line. In those two statistics they ranked third in the NBA and first in the NBA. Had the 2007-2008 team been able to force turnovers a bit more often or force teams to shoot lower percentages from the floor (although the opponent 3P% is a good mark), they might be in the running, but 105.7 points per 100 possessions is just too much to give up for this team to really be in consideration. Still, honorable mention for being able to defend well while fouling so little.

The 2002-2003 Hornets. Record: 47 - 35

Defensive Rating
DRB%
Opp. FG%
Opp. 3P%
Opp. TOV%
Opp. FT/FGA
101.6
.731
.438
.338
.140
.226

 

The 2002-2003 team was very good at forcing opponents to shoot poor percentages, and they were adept at gathering those misses. Otherwise, they were decent at forcing turnovers and decent at keeping teams off the line. Put it all together and you have a fairly impressive defensive rating of 101.6 points allowed per 100 possesions. Coached by Paul Silas and featuring Jamal Mashburn, P.J Brown, Baron Davis, and David Wesley among others, this was Silas' last season and was the end of a very solid defensive run.

The 2001-2002 Hornets. Record: 44 - 38

Defensive Rating
DRB%
Opp. FG%
Opp. 3P%
Opp. TOV%
Opp. FT/FGA
103.3
.722
.432
.375
.133
.226

 

This team was solid on the defensive end, but isn't really a candidate. Their mark of 103.3 points allowed per 100 possesions just barely made the cutoff as it was exactly tenth best overall that season, and they had a major defensive weakness on the perimeter, allowing teams to shoot 37.5% from three. They did do a good job on the defensive boards though, and aside from the three-point shot, teams didn't shoot well against them.

The 2000-2001 Hornets. Record: 46 - 36

Defensive Rating
DRB%
Opp. FG%
Opp. 3P%
Opp. TOV%
Opp. FT/FGA
99.5
.745
.426
.360
.141
.222

 

The 2000-2001 team is a definite candidate for best Hornets defense ever. Any time a team allows less than 100 points per 100 possesions its an impressive accomplishment. This squad also led the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage, which can probably be considered the hallmark of Silas' Hornets, and was near the top in field goal defense. As for weaknesses, they were good but not great at keeping teams off the line, and didn't force many turnovers. Like the team that followed them, they also allowed teams to shoot fairly well from range even if they held overall FG% down. P.J. Brown, Jamaal Magloire, Derrick Coleman, Elden Campbell and Eddie Robinson were the defensive standouts on the team. This squad has a legitimate argument for best ever Hornets defense.

The 1999-2000 Hornets. Record: 49 - 33

Defensive Rating
DRB%
Opp. FG%
Opp. 3P%
Opp. TOV%
Opp. FT/FGA
101.4
.732
.449
.339
.146
.198

 

This was Paul Silas' first full year as coach of the Hornets and, surprise, surprise, they were a good defensive team. No Jamal Mashburn or Jamaal Magloire yet, and Baron Davis was a rookie playing less than 20 minutes a game. This team was instead led by Eddie Jones. Jones, Derrick Coleman, Elden Campbell and Brad Miller were among the leaders in Defensive Rating for the team. This Hornets squad forced more turnovers than the later Silas squads, and was better at keeping teams away from the free throw line. The defensive rebounding, as always with these early 2000s Hornets teams, was excellent. This team might be a good candidate if there weren't seven teams better defensively that season. 101.4 points per 100 possessions is a very good mark, but that year it only managed to rank eighth overall. Good, just not great.

The 1994-1995 Hornets. Record: 50 - 32

Defensive Rating
DRB%
Opp. FG%
Opp. 3P%
Opp. TOV%
Opp. FT/FGA
106.1
.685
.474
.333
.138
.202

 

This is the only team of the Alonzo Mourning/Larry Johnson era that could possibly have a shot at being considered, as they ranked ninth defensively in the 1994-1995 season. However, that ninth-ranked mark is 106.1 points allowed per 100 possessions, so the notion of this team being in the running is pretty much out of the window. They did a good job at keeping teams off the line, but otherwise were nothing special defensively. This team can be called one of the better defensive teams in Hornets history, but certainly nowhere close to the best.

The 2010-2011 Hornets.

Defensive Rating
DRB%
Opp. FG%
Opp. 3P%
Opp. TOV%
Opp. FT/FGA
101.6
.770
.441
.333
.141
.211

 

And finally we have this year's team. While their defensive rating of 101.6 is tied by the 2002-2003 team and beaten out by both the 1999-2000 team and 2000-2001 team, it's important to consider yearly variations in how well the NBA as a whole performs. This season, allowing 101.6 points per 100 possessions makes New Orleans the third best defensive team in the NBA. The 1999-2000 team ranked only eighth, the 2002-2003 team ranked seventh and as impressive as the 2000-2001 team's 99.5 Defensive Rating looks... it was just the sixth best mark that season. If the season were to end today, the Hornets third overall ranking would be the highest ever achieved by a Hornets team. That's one argument in favor of this season's team. The other argument is that this season's team is the most well-rounded. They are an elite defensive rebounding team, they rank near the top in both overall field goal defense and three-point field goal defense, they do an above average job of keeping teams off the line and they force turnovers at a good rate (.141 is a mark that was mediocre in previous years but this season it ranks ninth in the league). Unlike some of the other contenders, this team doesn't display any real weaknesses in any of the important statistical categories.

The last couple of games haven't been particularly inspiring, but as long as the Hornets continue to perform defensively at the level they have throughout most of the season, we may very well be witnessing the best defense in Hornets history.

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