The "new" New Orleans Hornets and Austin Rivers

June 29, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Hornets first round selection Austin Rivers during a photo shoot with team photographer Layne Murdoch at the New Orleans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

A good day to everybody. Today, we look at how Austin Rivers - our 10th pick, our presumed future pair with EJ (whether it's as a PG or as a SG) - fits in with the team. We will focus primarily on his offensive fit with the team because it's really hard to write about the defensive ability of a player when you haven't watched a lot of game film on him. Offensive ability is different because there are lots of available data on the net that points to a player's offensive tendencies and abilities.

the Monty Williams Hornets

Any analysis on Austin Rivers' fit starts and ends with the system. We want to see how Rivers' tendencies fit in with the Hornets. But that leaves a huge question, who are the "Hornets"? For starters, here are the changes the Hornets have done:

Out:

Ariza, Okafor, Kaman, Jack, Landry, Belinelli, Ayon

In:

Davis, Rivers, Anderson, Lopez, Warrick, Mason

That's quite a haul. Out are 7 players who all played more than 750 minutes, with 4/5 starters (Jack, Belinelli, Ariza, Okafor/Kaman/Ayon) and in are 6 new toys (probably 7). The question of how Rivers fits into the team can't happen until we evaluate how the new toys fit into Monty Williams' Hornets.

(data from Hoopdata)

To start, we look at how Monty's team plays. We can't look at how they get the shots but we can get an idea of where they got the shots. here are the shot charts for the New Orleans Hornets under Monty Williams (Take note, the 3-PT FG% is actually eFG%. Same applies to all shot distribution charts):

NOH 10/11 shot% FGA FG% Ast%
At Rim 25.8 1652 64.8% 52.5
3 - 9 15.2 974 37.9% 38.2
10-15 10.9 702 39.2% 42.9
16-23 28.9 1852 42.3% 62.0
Three 19.2 1232 54.1% 86.3
NOH 11/12 shot% FGA FG% Ast%
At Rim 29.6 1510 61.5% 53.8
3-9 15.9 811 38.7% 37.3
10-15 12.2 622 38.4% 56.1
16-23 27.0 1377 40.5% 71.8
Three 15.2 777 50% 82.6

As you can see, one thing is very apparent with Monty Williams' offensive system - they tend to make players shoot more from 3 - 23 feet in a slow paced offense. Monty's offensive system doesn't focus on taking lots of inside shots or taking lots of 3 pointers (which I think is a huge flaw of his system). In the 2 years since Monty took over, the % of shots taken by the Hornets at the rim and at the 3 point line were below average while the % of shots taken by the Hornets from 3 - 23 feet are above average.

However, Monty has new weapons in his arsenal that he never actually had before - a multitude of volume 3 point shooters (Ryan Anderson, Mason, Eric Gordon). Previously, he only had 1 elite 3 point shooter in Belinelli and David West as a mid-range shooter. Never has he had 3 3-point shooters on his team. Make no mistake, the offensive system will not change, but where the shots go will be very different (by virtue of a completely different roster from the one's he had the past 2 season). So how do we determine how different will it be?

Now, I've always pushed the idea that Monty will move forward without any idea of position but instead focus on fit. But in order to make this study easier, I've pigeonholed players into positions. Here are the projected minutes breakdown for each player at each position:

PG SG SF PF C Total
Aminu 26 26
Anderson 11 17 28
Davis 20 12 32
Gordon 10 24 34
Henry 11 11
Lopez 19 19
Mason 12 12
Rivers 10 12 22
Smith 7 17 24
Warrick 4 4
Vasquez 28 28

Now, for the players that were already on the team last year, we just extrapolate on their total shot attempts per minute on each location. So Aminu last year took 2.3 shots at the rim in 22.4 minutes of play, so if we assume that Aminu plays 26 minutes, that's (2.3/22.4)*26 = 2.7 shots at the rim. Simple enough.

Now, take note that there is some idea of efficiency vs usage in here. But don't worry because the increases in attempts aren't significant, so for our purposes, we'll assume they'll maintain their efficiencies with the team. Why not career efficiency, you ask? Because shots come in different ways when your on different teams. PHX generates easier 3 PT shots compared to New Orleans. Get it?

Now, what about the other players? Well, role plays an important role on a player's shot location. So what we'll do is try match a player's possible role to the role of previous player(s) that played on Monty's NOH team and look at how their FG% changed under Monty (whether it got worse, or got better). Let's make an example of my fave new Hornet acquisition (and favorite Hornet overall now): Ryan Anderson. Here are RyNo's shot location:

2010/11 FGA FG% Ast%
At Rim 3.8 57.8% 41.8
3 - 9 0.6 31.4% 54.5
10 - 15 0.2 36.4% 25
16 - 23 0.9 30% 94.1
Three 6.9 59% 99.4

Now RyNo's game will be a hybrid of Emeka Okafor, Jason Smith and Marco Belinelli - primarily a pick and pop/roll player while being a 3 pt gunner with a killer offensive rebounding ability (which speaks highly of RyNo's quirky game). This means that most of RyNo's shots at the rim to 9 feet are similar to Okafor (they will come from offensive rebounds or intelligent but not hard rolls to the rim), from 10 to 23 feet will be similar to Smith's, while most of his shots from the 3 PT line will be similar to Marco Belinelli. We don't have data on how Monty Williams' team handles a PnP 3 PT shooter, but we do have data on how a specific 3 PT shooter is handled (Belinelli). So we study how those 3 players' FG% changed from pre-Monty team to their 1st year with Monty. For Okafor, this is 2009/10 and 2010/11 (remember, Bower and Scott coached 2009/10). For Smith and Beli, its 09/10 and 10/11. Now there are a lot of possible problems with this approach. For one thing, their ability to finish shots are different or maybe they'll get their shots differently even if they play the same. But this is all part of prediction - you can't predict everything, you can only hope to cover as much ground as you can. Doing all of that, here are what the new players follow:

1.) Ryan Anderson - Emeka Okafor +Jason Smith + Marco Belinelli

2.) Robin Lopez - Emeka Okafor

3.) Hakim Warrick - Carl Landry + Jason Smith

4.) Roger Mason - Marco Belinelli

Adding all that up (10 players in total), here is New Orleans' projected shot distribution for the season with FG%. For comparison, I extrapolated the FGA for 2011/12 from 66 games to 82 games.

%shots FG% %shots (2011/12) FG%
At Rim 30.36 64.9 29.63 61.52
3-9 Feet 13.18 33.9 15.91 38.72
10 - 15 7.31 31 12.2 38.42
16 - 23 23.73 44.4 27.02 40.45
Three 25.42 54.3 15.24 50

One thing to remember, the amount of shots taken here are still a lot less than what it probably will (since Davis and Rivers are still unaccounted for and the fact that I only considered 76 games as a maximum instead of 82 games. This is because I expect a few minimum player signings to happen that will gob up some the leftover minutes).

Notice how the % of shots actually change. The fact that we have 3 high volume 3 pt shooters (1 super high volume in Ryan Anderson) that will play significant minutes will be key. Kind of like addition by subtraction. By shedding out most of our "traditional" bigs in Landry, Okafor, Kaman and Ayon, and substituting them with more minutes for Jason Smith and Ryan Anderson, the shot distribution will drastically change.

Where does Rivers fit in?

I believe Rivers will fit in as a "6th man" of sorts. Demps and Monty have talked incessantly about the need to temper expectations. Allowing Rivers to play in an environment he is actually comfortable is a great 1st step in his progress. He'll play mostly with Vasquez and Mason with minutes with Gordon interspersed somewhere. Fact is that NOT putting the ball in Rivers hands will be a severe misstep on the part of Monty.

(data from Hoop Math)

%shots FG% Ast%
At Rim 31% 62% 13%
2 PT FG 29% 34% 0%
Threes 40% 36% 41%

The data above actually points to the fact that Rivers will fit in nicely with the "new" New Orleans Hornets. Because of the new makeup of the team, (hopefully) the amount of shots at the rim and from the 3 point line (which are the two most efficient shots in basketball) will increase leading to an increase in offensive efficiency. Rivers, who shot the most from 3 point land and at the rim, will help further this change. Whether or not he can successfully do this is up to the players he plays with.

Rivers struggles when put in off-the-ball situations (this comes from DraftExpress video scouting report), so it's pretty clear that Rivers needs the ball in his hands to be effective. One thing that makes Rivers such an effective ball handler is not his dizzying speed ala Westbrook or superior strength and contorting like Rose. The thing that makes Rivers such an effective ball handler is his elite right-to-left quickness exemplified best by his vomit-inducing crossover. It's why he gets to the rim at ease (where he finishes a good amount of his shots). What Rivers needs to do is to be able to find the open man when defenses start sagging up on him. Enter the 2nd unit.

Rivers will be the head of a 2nd unit flanked by sharpshooter Mason (an important signing), Robin Lopez and Jason Smith.

So to continue the discussion, how will Rivers fit in with FroLo, Mason and Jason Smith? Well, FroLo and Smith can play similar roles to what the Plumlee bros played in Duke - garbage men (with Smith being able to pop). Mason can be in a similar role to Seth Curry - providing enough shooting to keep defenses honest when Rivers inevitably drives. So it's not really about Rivers being able to play to his Duke standards - Rohan has pretty much stated that his Duke numbers were average. It's whether Rivers can improve on that. Too many times I've seen Rivers break the defense down, only to force a shot when there was an open man in the corner or a dump of was available to a big man. This is something Rivers must do before we can talk about a Rivers/Gordon pairing.

Lastly, an important thing that Rivers needs to fix is his jumpshot. There is too much wasted motion (his kick, his off hand looks like it's being used too much, and basically the overall quirkiness of the jumpshot) which results in inconsistencies. Watch a video highlight of Rivers and notice how his off-the-dribble jumper is very, very different from his catch-and-shoot jumper. Due to this inconsistency, he seems to struggle with his FT shooting (an important skill if a perimeter player wants to be an efficient scorer), a good point made by ReggieBall from Burnt Orange Nation in his article on Beal and Rivers. In his post (a very good read), he tells us that if Rivers shot 75% from the FT line (a very achievable number for someone who shot 36% from the 3 PT line), he'd have a TS% of .556 (an increase from .536). So improving his jumpshot (either by fixing it or by repetition) is a MUST.

Conclusion

Rivers, being a son of a former NBA player and current NBA coach, will be miles ahead of everybody in terms of how he will handle the NBA life. Everybody's been so excited for Anthony Davis in the Olympics - the chance to witness how superstars work, what it takes to win, and all the other things that rookies won't know until they actually play in an NBA game. Davis lived that life for almost a month - Rivers has been living that life for almost his entire life. He will know how to handle pressure, he will know how to handle coaching (his relationship with Monty not withstanding), he will learn how to handle the flights, the back-to-backs, the stress, fatigue (this doesn't actually mean that he'll withstand it though). But there is something more important in basketball than off-court stuff - it will be how he produces on the court that matters the most.

We've established how the 2012/2013 Hornets will look like, and how Rivers will help push that new team forward. It's whether he can execute that is the question. I fully expect Rivers to struggle in his 1st year. a FG% of below 40% will not shock me and an AST/TO ratio of less than 1 will also not surprise me. What I want to see from Rivers in his 1st year is the willingness to pass - the most important element in his transition to being the guard beside Gordon in our championship contender years. His innate Riverness will help him (to quote Rohan), and his elite right-to-left crossover will surely allow him to get to the rim with ease. It's what he does once he gets to the basket that's important. And that's all on Rivers.

If, however, Rivers sticks to his ball hogging ways, he will become like the Dead Sea - a lake that only receives but never gives. The River must flow in the Bayou for the Hornets to have success.

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