The New Orleans Hornets have had a very successful season, despite what many believe. In athletic competition defining success is simplistic, victory. This goal is even more easily defined in basketball, one reliant on a scoreboard and not judges such as a variety of Olympic sports. However, in professional sports success can have a much more nuanced meaning. Success can be refined by cost effectiveness, franchise trajectory, and expectations. Owners like to say that every season that does not end in a championship is a failure, but that is unrealistic for most NBA teams this year, even before the first game was played. With all this in mind, I would like to redefine success for the New Orleans Hornets in 2012-2013.
I will begin with cost effectiveness. For the below table I have taken the liberty to remove any players who are amnestied from their payroll. This information is available at Hoops Hype. Players removed are: Brandon Roy (POR), Elton Brand (PHI), Andray Blatche (WSH), Darko Milicic (MIN), Rashard Lewis (NOH), Baron Davis (CLE), and Gilbert Arenas (ORL). I have also removed Matt Carroll from the Hornets salary number. This does not account for injured players who have missed significant time such as Andrew Bynum (PHI), Andrea Bargnani (TOR), Kevin Love (MIN), Eric Gordon (NOH), and Anderson Varejao (CLE).
|New Orleans||.351||$46.9 Million|
As it is readily apparent, New Orleans is getting more bang for its buck this season than the other lottery bound teams (Dallas and the Lakers still have a realistic shot at the #8 seed). In a general sense the Hornets have been significant overachievers in this regard. Not only is the franchise spending the least (in the entire NBA, only Houston is even close at $51.9) on their roster this year, they are still deliver a quality product (for the price). Orlando is spending as much as Atlanta (for sake of keeping in not only within conference but division) yet has won 23 fewer games (42 v. 19).
Further there is a relatively defined salary line that separates the haves from the have nots. The following teams are still in playoff contention with a team salary less than $65 Million – Denver, Houston, Memphis, and Milwaukee. Similarly only three teams have salaries in excess of $65 Million who are eliminated – Toronto, Detroit, and Orlando. 13 of 16 teams spending at least $65 Million on basketball players are still in playoff contention in April. Please note that this value is in excess of the salary cap of $58 Million.
Let’s move on to franchise trajectory. If you have watched a single Fox Sports New Orleans broadcast of the Hornets this season you have learned that they are the second youngest team in the NBA, only the Houston Rockets are younger. It is difficult at times to get a good feel for the trajectory of a team within a season, but I will attempt to provide some perspective.
The team has gotten better as the season has progressed. Another measure would be the team before Eric Gordon’s return on December 29th and after. Before December 29th the Hornets were 6-23 (.207). During that period Gordon missed all 29 games and Anthony Davis missed 13 with a concussion and stress reaction. Since December 29th the Hornets are 20-25 (.444). I would be hard pressed to find a Hornet fan who would be disappointed in a .444 winning percentage on the year, which would be in the range of 36-46. I expect that the reaction to that season would be a mixture of false hope and a concern that the team is winning too much too early when more talent is needed. The second youngest team in the NBA has improved significantly throughout the season.
My last measure which can influence the definition of success is expectations. The betting line on the Hornets to begin the year was +/- 26.5 wins. With eight games to play the Hornets already have 26 victories under their belt, to include recent wins over playoff teams Boston, Memphis, and Denver. The best opportunities to gain win number 27 will be at Phoenix April 7th and at Sacramento April 10th. Further, John Hollinger’s projected wins this year was 30, and that was before James Harden arrived in the Southwest Division. The Painted Area Many of the other lottery teams are well behind their expectations except for Charlotte, who appears to be meeting their target for ineptitude.
Expectations for the Hornets within the fan base were pretty limited, as you can see in Rohan's Pre-Season Preview. Many people inside and outside the organization expected the Hornets to be awful on offense this year. I will let Tom Ziller speak for himself.
"This team is going to have a huge learning curve on offense. Davis is skilled and versatile, but offense isn't going to come easy in the NBA; the size and quickness of NBA big men will turn good college plays into NBA turnovers. Anderson is an elite shooter, but Stan Van Gundy's offense was dedicated to getting open shots out of Dwight Howard double-teams. Davis isn't getting double-teamed when the season starts, and maybe not at all in '12-13. So Anderson may be forced to create more than he'd like to, which should hurt his efficiency.
The point guard situation is ... dicey. Greivis Vasquez would be a decent back-up. Austin Rivers would be a promising two-guard. You see the issue, yes? The Hornets will either be rolling with an eighth-man trying to organize this new offense, or will have a young, impressionable shooting guard doing it. It's dicey. It makes me wonder if Kendall Marshall should have been the pick at No. 10. I know you pick for talent and not for need. But dang, this team really needs someone to organize the offense, and I don't think either Vasquez or Rivers can do it. That means that Gordon, Anderson and Davis will be creating their own shots way too much."
Ryan Anderson has been required to create his own shot at a dramatically higher rate than 2011-2012 with Dwight Howard. But it has not affected his efficiency as negatively as expected. Anderson shot 43.9% from the field and 39.3% from deep last year; he is shooting 43.8% from the field and 38.9% from deep this year. Looking into his statistics further he was assisted on 73.5% of baskets last year compared to 67.8% this year. The most glaring change has been his increased reliance on mid-range shots, shooting 2.2 a game and shooting a respectable 45% from 16-23 feet. Check this website out for more information.
On Greivis Vasquez, it is an argument that rages here on a daily basis. But I can hardly think that Ziller’s idea of Vasquez being incapable of operating the offense would lead to the Hornets being 14th in offensive efficiency or The General leading the NBA in total assists. Vasquez is an admitted liability on defense, one I think is exacerbated by Robin Lopez playing center. However, could anyone realistically consider Kendall Marshall to be a more effective player this season than Vasquez?
There is one area that the Hornets have woefully performed compared to expectations, and that is on defense. I cannot find a single article prior to the season that predicts the Hornets will be one of the worst defenses in the NBA. But they have been. Despite being 8th in the league in defensive rebounding rate (74.2%, currently tied with Memphis). The Hornets give up too many shots near the basket or at the three point line and allow opponents to capitalize those opportunities. I pin this on foot speed and youth. The combination of Vasquez-Lopez has been ruthlessly attacked by opponents in the pick and roll all season. Allowing opponents free reign below the foul line (due to poor pick and roll defense) is the root of all the other problems on defense. Combine that with a young rotation and open looks either in the paint or beyond the arc have been plentiful. Opponents are shooting 37.5% from deep against the Hornets, good for 25th in the NBA.
Combine all this and I believe the Hornets have had an incredibly successful season. They have the cheapest roster in the NBA and flexibility to improve financially this summer and next. The team improved dramatically once their star player returned despite his struggles. And with all that New Orleans has still managed to exceed the expectations in the first real year of rebuilding. 2011-2012 would best be characterized as a demolition year, not a rebuilding year. Our next step as soon-to-be christened New Orleans Pelican fans is a successful draft, free agency period and the unveiling of new uniforms and a new court design. And I cannot wait.