Let’s take a look at the Hornet’s defense during this 4 game losing streak. As I pointed out in my recap of the Nets game, the Hornets haven’t been grabbing defensive rebounds like they normally do. Monty Williams has gotten the whole team to attack the defensive glass. The team actually leads the league in defensive rebounding percent at 77%. Four or five players go up for the rebound and you’ll often see two Hornets both come down with the ball. Defensive rebounding is important for a team which struggles on offense and plays at a slow pace. The Hornets cannot afford to let the opposing team grab an offensive rebound and extend the possession. But if the Hornets do allow an offensive rebound then all the opposing player has to do is kick it out to an open shooter for an uncontested 3-point shot. Over the last four games a total of 39(!) 3’s have been made against the Hornets. Watch the Nets game from last night and take a look at how many open 3’s Sasha Vujacic was draining. Let’s do this…
In losses to the Thunder, Lakers, Wolves and Nets the Hornets pulled down 26, 31, 26, and 29 defensive rebounds respectively. This is below the team’s season average of 31.4 per game. A lot of this is because of Emeka Okafor’s injury. Okafor has a defensive rebounding percentage of 25.3. He is basically grabbing 1 out of every 4 defensive rebounds. Aaron Gray, his main replacement, has a rate of 21.8%, or about 1 out of every 5. That might not seem like much, but when the Hornets lose by 2 that can be a crucial percentage.
Offensive Side Note: On the other side of the ball Gray has an offensive rating of 117, which is higher than Emeka’s 113. His PER has jumped from 8.1 to 13.3 from his increased playing time and larger sample size. If you were concerned about losing Okafor’s offense the Hornets are scoring the same amount (actually .1 point a game better) without him. The biggest difference is the turnover percentage. Okafor turns the ball over 14.7 times per 100 possessions; Gray does it 20.7 times. I know that is not what we want in a starter but I’ll be happy with Gray coming off the bench to give Okafor a breather.
The team’s perimeter defensive rotations are also hurting. As I pointed out, the Hornet’s defenders slowly gravitate towards the man with the ball and are cheating off their marks. This allows the opposition to either quickly swing the ball around the perimeter or throw a skip pass to an open man for an uncontested shot. This is where the Trevor Ariza injury comes into play. He is the team’s best perimeter defending and has a defensive win share of 3.0, which is second only to Chris Paul’s at 3.5. His defensive rating is currently 101, which is only behind Paul and Okafor who are at 100. There is no one on the team who can close out on a shooter as fast as he can.
Hopefully, Okafor and Ariza will be back soon. It is encouraging as a fan that the Hornets have been playing competitively throughout this losing streak. They are not getting blown out. Playing just slightly better defense (or Chris Paul scoring 25 points) and they will be right back to their winning ways.