How the New Orleans Hornets are Kicking Everyone’s Ass – a look at some stats
First and foremost, as of today, November 12, the Hornets are 7-0 and winning by a difference of eight points per game. The Hornets were supposed to be a joke. Considered a team on the ropes with a its star, Chris Paul, wanting to leave the team, a supposed big piece in Okafor, who did not fit in last year and a rookie coach. Yet, the Hornets are the last unbeaten team in the NBA. How did they accomplish this? Defense.
Hornet Defense, a look at the numbers
Let’s start with an old favorite of Popovich, guarding the three point line. No, New Orleans is not first in defending the three point line but they do have the greatest differential at 14%. This translates to the Hornets making 14% more of the their threes than their opponents. Not only are the Hornets scoring at a more effective rate from beyond the arc than their opponents but for every 15 three pointers that the Hornets take, their opponents, on average, have to take 20 three pointers to equal them. That is a five possession difference!
Holding opponents to a lower point output was always a top five priority for the Spurs. Control the pace, control the tempo, keep it low scoring and in the fourth play lockdown defense to stifle your opponent. The Hornets are doing just that. They are first in opponent point production (90.1) and second in opponent field goal % at 50.7%. Though they are middle of the pack in misdirecting shots at the rim they shine at defending mid-range jumpers and the three ball. Obviously the tandem of the front court starters, Paul and Belinelli are making life difficult on opposing guards, while Ariza wreaks havoc on the wings. While their big men, West and Okafor lead the Hornets in a top three appearance for defensive rebounding. So they don’t do well in altering shots in the paint, they do gobble up the rebound when it is missed. Efficient.
Good defense is position, right? Hornets have two players, Paul and Okafor who are top ten in drawing charges. Paul is second in the league and Okarfor is seventh. As mentioned earlier, the Hornets are third in the league in defensive rebounding and have two players, Paul and Okafor in the top fifteen for defensive plays (steals, blocks, and charges)
So where is the chink in the armor?
New Orleans guards the three ball better than anyone else. So what has their opponents done about these three ball killers? They have been shooting threes! Out of all the opponents shots, New Orleans opponents shoot the three ball more than any other shot. You would figure that the opposing team might drive the ball into the relatively soft under belly of the New Orleans defense. Yet, the Hornets are third in opponent field goal attempts at the rim. Who realized that the paint was such a fearsomely defended area in New Orleans? So fearsome in fact, that opposing teams would rather take a shot from three point land in which the Hornets actually do their best defensive work.
Hornets like to shoot long twos. They are relatively good at, shooting 43%, third in the league. They take this shot more times than any other shot. For most teams, this is a very difficult shot to defend because it is often not on the defensive radar. You plug up the middle with big bodies and try and defend three point land. The long two is often the lowest percentage shot, so you actually want to force your opponent to take this shot. The Hornets are taking this opportunity to take the shot and make the opposing team pay for it.
It is difficult to tell whether or not the Hornets can keep their defense crown the rest of the season. Their surprising domination of the league is a result of their defensive ability to stop the three ball and force their opponents into making low percentage shots. Led by two top fifteen defensive players in the league, these Hornets are laying their opponents low and making pre-season critics look silly. But for how long?