This started as a twitter rant, but I figured I'd compile a few things that I realized while watching the Hornets struggle to score a whopping 62 points last night in a nationally-televised atrocity against Philadelphia. I'll go bullet-style from here.
-To start with, yes, I realize this was one game, and bad games happen all the time in a season as long as the NBA one, however; this was not just a matter of shots not falling. The Hornets were almost comically unable to generate even semi-decent looks at the basket.
-The difference between last night and the first three games of the season? I believe it was transition points. We were all surprised to see Greivis Vasquez and Al-Farouq Aminu leading the break with such regularity and efficiency to start the season, and those points were crucial to a Hornets team that is never going to be a great in the half-court offense (at least without Eric Gordon). Either Philly game-planned for this or the Hornets simply didn't have the legs to push it tonight, though the latter seems unlikely with the team not having played since Saturday. The Hornets were still attempting to push off of Philly misses (and there were plenty of those), but I can only recall once when a Hornet beat his defender down the court. The result was maybe the one highlight of the night, a cross court alley-oop from Vasquez to Aminu.
-Transition offense has and will continue to be vital for this team going forward, but they must be able to score in half-court sets. The sheer number of late-in-the-shot-clock heaves last night was embarrassing.
-A lot of the blame will fall on Vasquez's shoulders, and that's not entirely unfair. 7 assists to 5 turnovers is not getting it done. However, Vasquez is never going to be quick enough to take his man off the dribble, and relies heavily on picks to get into the paint. Unfortunately, last night he wasn't fast enough to get around the screener's man on most occasions as well. None of this is necessarily Vasquez's fault, neither is the fact that he is the only legitimate ball-handler on the roster last night (sorry, Brian Roberts). Also, the only person last night who seemed capable of setting a decent pick was Jason Smith. Robin Lopez's screens were particularly ineffectual, with him attempting to dive before he ever made contact with Vasquez's man, not even forcing Philly to switch. Similarly, with Ryan Anderson flaring to the 3pt line after setting a screen, the Philly defense was not disrupted enough to allow Greivis into the paint. When Vasquez received a good pick he was normally able to get into the paint and generate a decent look for him or the screener rolling to the basket.
-With all that said, Vasquez was by far our most effective guard last night. With Rivers out, Aminu, Darius Miller, Xavier Henry, and Roger Mason were forced to do much more handling of the ball than I'm sure Monty would prefer. The results are about what you would expect, with 8 turnovers and multiple bricks among those guys. Again, this is not necessarily their fault as they were pushed out of their normal roles, but with Vasquez, Rivers, and Gordon being the only plus ball-handlers on this team, this could certainly be a problem that we see again.
-A related problem was simply getting the ball across half-court. The word is out on Vasquez in the league and teams know that he tends to struggle against on-ball pressure. We will continue to see teams attacking Vasquez with a one or two-man press off of made baskets. It is something the team will have to deal with. Unfortunately, with the aforementioned dearth of ball-handlers available, this was a problem last night. Some of this may be systemic or simply inexperience, as whomever happened to be playing at the 2 at any given time was usually already standing in the corner of the Philly basket. I'm not sure if this is by design or because said player was not aware Vasquez would need help, but the result was either Vasquez trying to push past the defenders on his own, or Aminu being forced to act as an outlet. Aminu, to his credit, helped break this press several times, but I'm sure we can all agree that Aminu initiating the half-court offense is not something we want to see very often.
-Lastly, Monty HAS TO find a way to get Ryan Anderson open looks. This should be his number one priority on offense right now. The Hornets made a move to sign an elite three point shooter and match-up nightmare at PF, and have proceeded to use him like he is Dirk Nowitizki in the half court, or not use him at all. Anderson is a talented player and can hit those post-up fade-aways, but that is nowhere near his strength on the offensive end. The Hornets (especially Vasquez) have been looking for Anderson often when he is on the floor, and on broken plays and in transition, the open 3s are falling. However, in the half-court Anderson is either forced to create his own shot or jack up a 3 when he is not really open due to the shot clock. Dell Demps handed Monty a big weapon this offseason, Monty just needs to learn how to use it.
To close, some of this is probably an overreaction to sitting through what was probably the worst professional basketball game I've ever seen, and paying to do so. I fully realize that the return of Davis (and even Rivers!), will help out in the half court. Davis is a match-up problem for bigs, even if he's not ready to be a number 1 option, and Rivers hasn't shown the ability to make shots, but he has been able to beat his man off the dribble and use screens effectively. Those two things will make everything I said above come easier. Needless to say, Eric Gordon would help tremendously as well. That being said, everything I touched on was present even in the first three games of the season, the team was just able to (mostly) overcome them. I expect we will see improvement as the season goes on, with so many young players, and Monty working with a totally re-tooled roster. How the half-court offense evolves this season will certainly be something to watch going forward.
Thanks for reading. Geaux Hornets.