I generally stay clear of drawing conclusions from stats -- advanced, simplistic, or otherwise -- for at least the first 15 to 20 games of the season. For one, there's the ever-persistent issue of small sample size; even if you take a 10-game midseason snapshot when players are in form and systems are in place, weird, unsustainable things will happen in that stretch.
For two, the handful of games that start off the season marks a particularly dangerous intersection of small sample size and fluky external factors, since fundamental inputs like the rotations a coach will use or the late game defenses a team will employ may not be fully set yet. So avoiding all the false positives and finding true predictors is always a bit tough.
Some early, early notes:
1. For Now, Avoid Efficiency Differentials Entirely
Like entirely entirely. The early NBA season is a bit like NCAA Football -- team schedules intersect so minimally that legitimately determining if Kansas State in the Big-12 is better than Oregon in the Pac-12 is better than Alabama in the SEC is all just a bunch of sanctimonious guessing.
In the early season, some average defensive teams will play terrible offenses and benefit with great defensive efficiency differentials. Some elite offensive teams will play elite defensive ones and finish with average looking offenses. And so forth.
It's all really obvious stuff, but it's still worth pointing out. Efficiency differentials won't mean much for at least another week or two. Once we reach that point (once schedules are well connected) they'll start to mean more than just about any overall team statistic obviously. But for now, nope. I don't often advocate the eye test over statistics, and I won't really do that here, but probably just avoid both.
2. The Hornets Have Been Bad at Defensive Rebounding
Here's one that I worry we might not be able to chalk up to a small sample.
Historically, Monty Williams' teams have been more than competent at cleaning up the defensive glass -- 3rd in 2011, and 13th in 2012. I'd argue that the year they finished 3rd was the year they incorporated zone schemes, often cited as rebounding killers, more comprehensively into the defense.
Through three games, their defensive rebounding rate of 70% (meaning they rebound 70% of all opponent misses) ranks 22nd in the league, and would lag well behind their rates of 73% and 76% of the last two years. Anthony Davis' absence hurts, but even when he played, he was responsible for missing a half-dozen defensive box outs by my count. Robin Lopez has been a poor defensive rebounder throughout his career, meaning Al-Farouq Aminu is probably the team's best rebounder positionally. Ryan Anderson is solid too, even though he's far more effective on the offensive glass.
This is definitely one to keep an eye on in the next week.
3. Have the Hornets Been Faster?
By the eye test, sort of? It feels like the fast breaks have been up at least.
By overall possessions per game (90.3) they're right at the bottom of the league again though. Perhaps a continued methodical half-court approach blended with more running opportunities is what Monty Williams meant when he noted he'd like the pace to pick up over the summer. This would be a more a throwback to the Eddie Jordan Sixers who fast-broke a lot more often than their possessions/game would indicate.
In a way, controlled, pick-your-spots running is probably the better move given how few ball-handlers the Hornets currently have.