Basketball season is busy times, folks. Let’s jump right in.
Nostalgia Ultra: Troublesome times in Buzz City
The Charlotte Hornets are in a bit of a free fall right now. Losers of eight of their last 10 games, Charlotte ranks 22nd in the NBA in offensive efficiency (103.1 points per 100 possessions), and 29th in effective field goal rate (49 percent). The team had a meeting last weekend with owner Michael Jordan, which probably isn’t a good sign. Currently, FiveThirtyEight gives them a 34 percent chance of making the playoffs, which seems favorable, to be honest.
It may come as a surprise, but the Hornets are still a borderline top-10 defense; the infrastructure is still there. Charlotte has defended mostly well late in games, too — No. 4 in clutch defense. However, the issues on offense are simply too much to overcome.
Earlier this week, I caught myself watching tape from the 2015-16 season, when Charlotte featured a top 10 offense and a top 10 three-point shooting attack. I got wistful watching that team again — with a healthy Cody Zeller and Nic Batum, sling the ball around, and move it side to side. Those days don’t appear to be coming back soon (the Hornets currently rank 25th in the league in passes per game), especially with Zeller undergoing surgery this week.
That offensive flow has been replaced with a scheme that exists almost entirely on Kemba Walker pick-and-rolls and Dwight Howard post-ups. So turn up the Frank Ocean, raise a glass, and pour some out for the fun bunch from two seasons ago. Those were good times.
Or better yet, maybe savor that last sip of beer, and consume it yourself. There may be a long road ahead for Hornets fans; this team (10-17, 13th in the East) could be very close to hitting the reset button — which would be an unpopular but likely prudent move.
(For what could be on the horizon with the Hornets, make sure to check out this week’s Buzz Beat, Episode 47.)
Let’s move to something positive: MKG
Despite Charlotte’s struggles, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist continues to be a warrior for this organization. MKG empties the bucket every night, regardless of opponent or outcome. Recently, he’s flashed some really good play on the offensive side of the floor, too. In road games against Oklahoma City and Houston, MKG scored 35 points on 21 field goal attempts. That’s aggressive and efficient.
The three-pointer will always remain a work of fiction for Kidd-Gilchrist; however, he’s found ways to attack a defense that’s not quite set: transition buckets or on the weak-side from ball reversals.
Both OKC and Houston trapped Kemba Walker in Charlotte’s pick-and-roll sets. This is the smart thing to do; it forces Charlotte’s best offensive player to get rid of the ball. Dwight Howard is a monster at the rim, but teams don’t fear him in space 21 feet from the hoop. D12 isn’t a playmaker, like Cody Zeller.
If the Hornets had a surplus of shooters, this wouldn’t be as tenable of a strategy for defenses. That, however, isn’t the case: Kemba doubles as the team’s lone threat from downtown, too. This means someone has to rotate over and make plays. MKG does just that here.
I love this guy. I’m clueless to what his market value is — an NBA wing that can’t shoot in 2017. But the verve he plays with is unmistakable. It’s what makes the Hornets watchable even on nights when a team like Houston is going all Katie Ledecky on them.
MKG is now shooting 41 percent from the midrange, which would be a career high. Stephen Silas needs guys he can count on every night while he fills in for Steve Clifford. With Kidd-GIlchrist, he has just that.
The Frank Kaminsky Conundrum
Hello, welcome to year three of our grand Frank Kaminsky Experiment. Things aren’t going so well, you guys! Kaminsky has now played 180 regular season games. At best, he’s plateaued since entering the league; however, you could also make a case that he’s regressed.
Charlotte becomes a worse basketball teams on both ends of the floor as soon as he enters the game. The Hornets score less than one point per possession with Kaminsky on the court — a big decline from last season — and allow over 109 points per 100 possessions. Basically, they play like a bottom-two offense and the worst defense in the NBA with Big Frank out there.
In minutes that Kaminsky plays without Kemba on the floor, things get especially hairy. Now, that’s true of most Hornets, but it’s worse with Frank: 93.4 points per 100 possessions, allowing 111 points per 100 possessions.
This seems almost impossible to believe, but the Hornets went -31 in the 7 minutes Frank Kaminsky was on the floor in the first half.
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) December 14, 2017
After Wednesday night in Houston, the Hornets have now been outscored by 101 points in 546 minutes of action for Kaminsky this season.
Only 28 percent of Kaminsky’s field goal attempts come at the rim, and he has shot just 59 percent from inside four feet — a lowly rate for a 7-footer. He simply can’t punish smaller defenders; teams don’t fear slotting smaller players on him — period. Kaminsky rarely finishes strong through contact, and at this point, he’s seeing ghosts at the rim.
That’s actually a pretty nifty fake by Frank on DHO action, but Kaminsky smokes the layup. He’s certainly not without skill, and Kaminsky still provides value as fun clubhouse guy that can make some open three-pointers. He’s hit 38 percent of his triples when a defender isn’t within six feet of him (Thanks, Kemba!) this season.
However, that’s simply not enough for a former top-10 pick on a team in need of help on both ends. This team gets so little from its first round picks: Kaminsky and Malik Monk. That’s a big part of the problem in Charlotte.
Only 7.5 percent of the Hornets field goal attempts this season have come with less than four seconds on the shot clock — only Golden State has taken a smaller share. Unlike the Warriors, though, Charlotte is wildly inefficient in these attempts.
Most teams are bad at the end of the shot clock — that’s when defenses can clamp down, force bad shots, and mistakes are made. The Hornets have an effective field goal rate of just 37.6 percent on attempts with under four on the clock — fifth worst in the league. Charlotte is also just 12-of-64 on these late-clock three-pointers: 18.8 percent. That’s down from 29.3 percent in 2016-17.
Yo! Kawhi Comin’
As we’ve talked about in this space before, San Antonio’s Army of the Dead held the fort down while its top solider recovered. Well, the long summer is over, and death has arrived for the rest of the league: Kawhi Leonard is back.
The favorite of many pundits to win the league’s MVP award returned this week, and he’s here to collect — quietly, of course. LaMarcus Aldridge post-ups and Spursian ball movement kept the offense afloat while the team’s top five defense suffocated opponents. That’s why this team is 19-9 with the league’s fifth-best point differential.
Leonard played this week in San Antonio’s loss at Dallas — his first game of the season; the All-NBA forward scored 13 points, and snagged six rebounds, too.
Kudos to this team for battling without its talisman, but Spurs forwards have scored just 20.2 percent of their points on threes this season — one of the lowest rates in the league. To contend, they need better production than that.
Fortunately, Kawhi splashed 43 percent of his catch-and-shoot triples last season, and in 2016-17, San Antonio outscored opponents by nearly eight points per 100 possessions with Leonard at the small forward position, per Cleaning The Glass.
Also, once Leonard gets his legs back, the Spurs will finally have a player that can run pick-and-rolls, and score in leverage situations off the bounce. Oh, not to mention, he’s the best defensive wing player in the world, too.
Houston is an alien spaceship sent to take over this planet; Golden State may be the greatest team we’ve ever seen before. But with Kawhi in the fold, another contender has officially entered the race out west. Those three teams have separated themselves from everyone else. Long live the Spurs.
Garner Road’s Finest: The Remix
It’s David West’s 15th year in the NBA, but he’s doing more than surviving and collecting a check; the Garner, NC product is thriving in Golden State’s funhouse offense.
Once upon a time, West was a high-usage bruiser that made two All-Star games as a power forward. Over a decade into his career, he’s totally reinvented his game as a stretch-5. West is shooting a ridiculous 58 percent from the midrange (41-of-71), and Golden State is outscoring opponents by more than 11 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, per NBA.com
He’s not just a rugged rebounder than can step away and hit the occasional shot, though. Golden State, with all of its firepower, will still run offense through West. Over the last two seasons, West has averaged 7.8 assists per 100 possessions, and assisted on nearly 23 percent of his teammates’ made field goals while on the floor.
His favorite target is Klay Thompson. West has assisted on 15 of Klay’s made field goals this season, and Thompson is shooting 55 percent after a pass from West (43 3P%, 58 2FG%). Here Golden State dumps it into West, and runs its patented split action off of the post-up.
He’s a Braaaad Man
Washington’s All-Star and the young lord of Raleigh, John Wall, returned to the lineup this week to help the Wizards beat Memphis. Prior to that, Wall missed the last eight games; the Zards went 4-4 over this stretch, including an embarrassing 47-point beatdown in Salt Lake City to the Jazz. It wasn’t all bad sans Wall, though.
Brad Beal, who dropped 51 in a win over Portland, continued to flash his improved game; once again, Beal has made strides in terms of his pick-and-roll offense. Beal is shooting 48 percent out of the pick-and-roll this season, and has helped keep Washington alive on offense without Wall, the team’s engine.
An important add for Beal: the ability to change pace and direction. He’s not exactly Chris Paul or Kemba Walker, but Beal is physical, strong and super skilled. He can snake back, and ultimately get to the rim for a finish (62 FG% at the hoop).
Beal also has some quality chemistry with Washington center Marcin Gortat. The Polish Hammer is one of the most clever screeners in the NBA, and he leads the league with 5.4 screen assists per game.
Ed Davis has magnets in his hands
The Trail Blazers have lost five of their last six games as the team’s schedule has increased in competition. Coach Terry Stotts does a nice job staggering the minutes of his team’s top two guards: Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Unfortunately, that team collapses without both of those guys on the floor; the supplementary talent just isn’t that good.
But that doesn’t stop Ed Davis from hitting the glass, hard as hell. He’s grabbing 14 total rebounds per 36 minutes — one of seven players in the NBA currently doing that. Easy Ed is also grabbing better than 16 percent of the available offensive rebounds while on the floor, too.
With Jusef Nurkic out, Portland will need everything it can get from Davis,