In what is a recurring theme in the "Gordon-less" era of the Hornets, the team couldn't close out their opponent or complete their comeback because they lacked thet proverbial "end of shot clock" player. We have that, in theory. Problem is, he's (hopefully) rehabbing his busted knees in LA.
After Anthony Davis converted two and-1s on consecutive possessions (one of them an awkward floater), the Hornets were able to creep to within two. Sadly, it was right around this time that the Hornets needed Gordon. The offense sputtered, and the team needed someone who could easily break down the defense create good scoring opportunities for the team.
Vasquez wasn't going to be that guy -- he usually needs 2-3 screens just to get to the free throw line extended. Even still, he has to time his motion so that the second screen hits the defender exactly right to free him. Mason and Aminu certainly weren't going to be those guys. Neither of those players has any discernible weapons in half court sets.
Ryan Anderson has shown a propensity to drive well to the rim following a shot fake after a flash to the three point line. Sadly, this really isn't a dependable "end of the shot clock" play.
In all honesty, Anthony Davis was our best bet at creating a shot 1-on-1. He could take either Udoh or Sanders on dribble drives off the high post.
What we saw however was Vasquez struggling to find space to drive. He would find a sliver of space (trailed by a stalking Udoh) where he flipped a high arcing layup that looked more like a pass to a wide open Anderson below than a shot attempt. Anderson saved the day with a two handed push tip to cut the lead to 2 again. This was after Ellis hit a 22 foot two point jumper, a win for the defense -- it's a 22 foot two point jumper, it's early in the shot clock, Ellis was making 33% of his shots from that range for the season and has been historically around that percentage for his career, and he was up to that point in the game, 1-4 from that range.
Of course, Ellis went on to make another contested fade-away to the left, one footed, swishing it right through the rim. It was as if Ellis had suddenly activated the "closer" signature style (in NBA 2K) where his 17-23 foot shot attribute was supposed to be 70 but sky rocketed to 95.
The Hornets would only score 3 more points -- Ryan Anderson's fadeaway cut the deficit to 2. More importantly, had Gordon been playing, we wouldn't have needed Anderson to create his own shot after the jumper from Ellis. Gordon could have answered right back.
What can we pickup from this game?
1.) Vasquez for all his ability to run an offense and to orchestrate a fastbreak cannot defend quick PGs. (Way to go Sherlock!). I think that was painfully obvious from the start, but it was made more apparent in the last 2 games. Russell Westbrook and Brandon Jennings were able to consistently get to the basket and wreak havoc.
2.) Hornets will have a hard time playing against good 3 PT shooting teams. OKC and MIL rank highly in 3 PT% with OKC clocking in at 3rd with 41% and MIL at 13th with 36.2%. Here is a breakdown of our last 8 opponents 3PT eFG% (rank), their average 3PTA, their actual 3PTA against us and the game result.
||Loss by 4
||Won by 2
||Won by 7
||Lost by 15
||Won By 8
||Lost by 4
||Lost by 15
||Lost by 4
As you can see, in all 8 games, we forced our opponents to shoot more than their average amount of 3s. The point margin against teams that are above average in eFG? A whopping -9.5.. Against teams that are below average? +3.25. Considering the fact that most (if not all) of the top tier teams - namely MIA, NYK, OKC, SAS, LAC, MEM and MIL - are all above average in 3 PT eFG, then I think this is a strategy that will make us lose a LOT of games against top tier teams, and it's pretty clear that this is not a strategy that should be in place when we decide to be contenders.
3.) The Anderson/Davis tandem? It can work. I especially love the Vasquez/Anderson/Davis Screen-the-Screener action late in the 4th (especially if you replace Vasquez with Gordon). If I remember correctly, Anderson would get a down screen from Davis from the left baseline (facing the basket) and immediately set a screen for Vasquez. This play actually resulted in a quite a few scoring opportunities. It resulted in a good drive for Vasquez (ending in a wide open Anderson tipping the ball), it resulted in an and-1 basket for Davis at the baseline (after a screen), and it also ended with a 3 PT for Anderson. If Davis can bulk up without sacrificing precious agility, speed and leaping ability, hat duo will have more success than any other big man combination we have.
4.) Anthony Davis is more polished offensively than defensively. I'll be completely honest - I'm underwhelmed by Davis' defensive contributions. He hasn't been the patrol man that I expected him to be. I expected our D with AD on the court to be stifling -- defenders track their assigments, they know where to go, and offensive players are funneled into the waiting embrace of Anthony Davis' pterodactyl arms. Sadly, this has not been the case. Anthony Davis has been more role player than leader on the defensive end. He's late on rotations, he gets caught by quite a few shot fakes, and he gets pushed around a lot (though this was to be expected). This is not to say that he's bad defensively -- he's about average.
But his offensive polish? It's way more than I expected. He attacks the offensive glass with reckless abandon and has actually converted on every one of his offensive rebounds (according to Synergy Sports). He has that awkward floater that he's used to convert three and-1s. He recognizes spacing. His jumpshot is actually smooth, and he's already one of the best midrange shooting big men in the league. He has ice in his veins on FTs. His ballhandling still leaves a lot to be desired, but it's a lot more than mostbigs can say in this league.
He still struggles when there isn't a lot of spacing on the floor (see: when Ryan Anderson is out) and he still takes a lot of moving jumpers instead of stationary catch and shoots. But if his basketball acumen is where I think it is, then better shot selection will come with more playing time.
This kid is smart. I don't want to jinx it, but two weeks into the NBA season this draft class is looking like Anthony Davis and everybody else. I'll let this link talk for itself (Note: Please disregard Austin Rivers). http://bit.ly/U655Cz
5.) No matter what we say, Gordon is integral to this team's success. If you're the type of person who wants to see these Bees reach the playoffs (I'm one of them) then you better pray that Gordon plays good basketball once he returns. He's the late game scorer that we need. I think it's no secret that Gordon's clutch. His 2010/11 season was filled with clutch moments - his game tying 3, his game tying dunks, his game leading layups. He even showed a glimpse of it in the 1st game of the season last year - a shimmy shimmy jumper against Dudley. But he absolutely needs to play.
If you follow me on twitter, you'll know I'm of the opinion that if Gordon doesn't come back in 4-6 weeks, the team should send him to Germany and get the platelet rich plasma therapy/Regonekine therapy that made a 32 year old Kobe feel like he's 27. Maybe it'll make our 23 year old Gordon feel like he's 18 again.
Our next few games are winnable ones. 4 of our next 6 games will be against opponents that struggle from the 3PT line (IND, PHX, DEN and UTH). The other 2 are against top tier teams NYK and LAC -- both incredible 3 PT shooting teams. Expect at least 2 losses in the next 6 games.
Whether we like it or not, there will be more games where opponents just shoot the lights. That's the nature of Monty's defense. Whether you agree or disagree about its implementation is another matter entirely, but if you want my take, I'd say we have no choice due to personnel reasons. Vasquez has to cross match against a SG, and for now, that limits the team considerably.