What is wrong with the New Orleans Hornets?
That is a very complex question at the moment. With a third of the season past, I believe it is time for the fans and the organization to do some damage control by analyzing what went wrong in Wednesday night’s loss against the number one team in the East, the Chicago Bulls. Where to start? How about pre-game planning. The Bulls bring to the court a consistent and seasoned lineup with only Richard Hamilton sitting out. In his place was a much younger and athletic Ronnie Brewer. On the other side, we have the Hornets shuffling their deck of cards and pulling out a new fab five to place on the court. Head Coach Monty Williams is beginning to place players in the starting lineup on a game by game basis. If they play well today, perhaps they will play well next time. I can understand rotating the lineup for matchups, but every successful team has something in common, they have a standard starting five. The Hornets have three consistent starters, Jarrett Jack, returning from a knee injury, Trevor Ariza, and Emeka Okafor. Other than those three, let’s just put some players on the court and hope some chemistry develops within the next five minutes.
Now that we have a lineup, let’s break down the Hornets offense and defensive strategy for the game. Looking at the five on the floor, the Hornets have a great arsenal of weapons when used correctly. Their bigs can run the pick and roll and have a stellar post game, their guards can shoot off screens, and their cutters can drive to the basket for the two, a foul, or even better, the and one! The only problem is, not one player can manage to execute a play. Point guards choose to dribble around the pick rather than through it, our screen shoots fail miserably due to a missed screen or indecisive shooters, our cutters are just terrified to go to the basket and would rather settle for a guarded three or long two, and our post players look timid when backing down smaller defenders and pass out to the perimeter. The end result, missed shots, turnovers, and missed opportunities for free throws. Some key examples would be Okafor and Kaman backing down smaller defenders, such as Carlos Boozer and Ronnie Brewer, and instead of taking the ball to the rim for the foul, they settle for a pass or the fade away jumper.
Players not executing is one factor leading to the demise of the Hornets. The second is poor execution. Let me say this now, the play calling for the Hornets is a shining light down this dark hole of season. Jack can run the point, Greivis Vasquez is learning very quickly, and Monty can read mismatches on the court. The problem occurs when the play fails. A player will miss a screen, get caught in a defensive trap, or the shot will just not be there. That is basketball! The other team will play defense. After the play fails, our players seem to not have one clue what to do. This is where your players are supposed to create shots for themselves or pass out. Problem is our players cannot create shots. Belinelli will pump fake and then dribble around the perimeter looking to pass, Ariza will try to drive the basket or pull up a contested jumper and Jack will pray that a big man is guarding him so he can step back and shoot. Poor execution leads to poor shot selection. You cannot shoot 37% and expect to win. How do you remedy this issue? Run the play! If the play does not work, run another or drive to the basket for the foul!
So where else do the Hornets fall short? How about in rebounding, free-throws, or even better, turnovers! The Hornets were out rebounded 49 to 39 in the game, many coming from the Bulls crashing the boards and bringing down offensive rebounds. You have to block out, which is a basketball fundamental. We had the size advantage tonight. Yes, Noah is a seven footer that brought down five offensive boards, but he cannot go over the back to get those rebounds. Get in front of the man and block out. As far as free throws go, unless you have Shaq, Dwight Howard, or Ben Wallace to name a few, these are easy points. We have a shooting guard, Belinelli namely, that misses free throws on a regular basis. That sums up free throw shooting for the Hornets. As for turnovers, tonight the Hornets managed to keep it below the twenty mark with nineteen. They gave the Bulls 29 easy points. Ball security and execution should be stressed at the next team meeting.
Now that we discussed the downfall of the Hornets offense, let’s break down their defense? First, the pairing Monty concocted on the floor. Jack was set to defend Derrick Rose. Okay, I’m a realists, not one player on our team can guard Rose. Make your arguments that Ariza can hold him, but he is just too explosive. Your goal is merely to contain him, especially with Rose coming off a back injury. Brewer was to be defended by Belinelli. Marco’s defense is as good as his free throw shooting, so you could imagine him trying to guard Brewer and then Korver off the bench. The rest of the defensive matchups were as follows, Ariza on Deng, Ayon on Boozer, and Okafor to contain Noah. Those are matches you can live with if your team blocks out for the rebound, which they did not. Their largest failure on the defensive end was due to poor rotation. The Bulls swing the ball and pass out to their shooters or cutters. The Hornets would double team Rose or Deng leaving open shooters on the perimeter and big men in the paint, where 58 of the Bulls points would derive. Lack of defense is due to poor communication. The Hornets do not talk on the court and furthermore are very passive when it comes to denying shooters the ball. Lastly, the transition defense is horrid. Hornets’ players slowly matriculate to the paint for the rebound expecting a missed shot. In open court transition you must stay in front of the ball handler and foul hard in the paint. Make a statement. Send them to the line to earn their points and close out on wing shooters.
Well there you have it. All the negativity I saw from the game. But with the negative comes the positive. What positive aspects can we pull from this season thus far? The answer is a lot! New Orleans is a very young team that is learning. We have novice players that are developing well. Ayon and Vasquez are picking up the game quickly and seem to be a bright light for the future. Once Aminu and Henry get over their fear of shooting and driving the ball, they will become great assets to the team. Our coaching and management is another bright spot. Monty is a defensive minded coach and defense wins games. Dell Demps is very creative with trades and acquiring talent. I am very curious to see what he does with Kaman. That idea leads me to another notion. Make the trade! You have made it known you do not have future plans for Kaman. Get what you can by the March deadline. This goes for some other players on the team as well. I see a few that should hit the trade block, do not be gun shy. Build for the future. Lastly, we have many players that want to play. Young guns like Henry, Vasquez, and Ayon are eager to hit the court and provide instant energy. This is our future Hornet fans, do not take them for granted.
So in closing, what are we to do? As a rabid Hornet fan, I speak from the heart when I say, finish the season strong, make the necessary changes to the roster, and start from scratch. Work on fundamentals, rekindle that defensive spirit Monty possesses, and just watch guys, they will win.