New Orleans Hornets: 5 Lessons Learned from January

Tom Firme@TFirmeAnalyst IIFebruary 1, 2012

New Orleans Hornets: 5 Lessons Learned from January

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    The New Orleans Hornets saw their season come and go quickly.

    At the beginning of January, the Hornets were swimming along all right, holding a 2-1 record. By the end of the month, the Hornets had a 4-17 record and were far out of contention—9.5 games back in the Southwest Division, for anyone who's counting.

    The Hornets have been shaken by injuries in the last month. Eric Gordon, who bumped his knee in a December 26 game, went from being day-to-day to being out indefinitely. Trevor Ariza has missed time. Also, Xavier Henry missed much of the month due to torn ligaments in his ankle suffered in preseason practice with the Memphis Grizzlies before being traded to the Hornets.

    The Hornets have fallen off the Western Conference map. Read along to find lessons learned from the Hornets' play in January.

The Hornets Can't Win Without Eric Gordon

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    The gulf between what the Hornets were with Eric Gordon and what they are without him is gigantic. The Hornets won one of the two games in which Gordon played. They're 3-16 without him.

    In January, the Hornets won two games without Gordon.

    The Hornets weren't ready to develop an offense without Gordon. They don't have any other players on their roster who have averaged 20 points per game in a full NBA season. While Emeka Okafor and Chris Kaman had led teams in scoring in the past, neither could lead the offense since they had been splitting time before Kaman was placed on the inactive list.

    Jarrett Jack is leading a team in scoring for the first time in his career.

    The Hornets have shuffled their lineup quite a bit. They've used nine different lineups. Since Trevor Ariza returned from his groin injury, they've settled into the lineup of Ariza, Jack, Okafor, Jason Smith and Marco Belinelli.

The Hornets Can't Shoot

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    To say the very least, the Hornets are struggling to score. While placing 29th in scoring average (87.4 points per game) and 30th in three-point shooting percentage, the Hornets scored slightly more in January than December. They scored 87.6 point per game in January, 0.9 points more than their December average.

    The Hornets actually shot better than average in January, hitting 44.8 percent from the field, compared to their 44 percent season rate. Emeka Okafor's 57.1 percent field-goal percentage pulls the Hornets. Aside from Okafor. the Hornets shot 43 percent.

    That's not to say that Okafor was the only decent shooter in January. Jarrett Jack (45.5 percent), Carl Landry (46.7 percent) and Jason Smith (48.4 percent) also shot better than 45 percent last month.

    The Hornets were pulled down by four players (Al-Farouq Aminu, Marco Belinelli, Trevor Ariza and Greivis Vazquez) among the nine averaging five field-goal attempts per game in January, who shot worse than 40 percent from the field.

    The Hornets hit three-point shots at a better clip in January than their three December games. They shot 28.8 percent from three-point range in January. While it's a poor rate, it's 7.4 percent better than December.

    The Hornets don't have many players who really like to shoot. Jarrett Jack and Trevor Ariza are the only players taking at least 10 field-goal attempts per game. Jack averaged 13.1 shot attempts per game in January, and Ariza put up 10.3 shots per game.

    Okafor, the Hornets' best shooter, took only 7.4 shots per game in January.

    Having decent scoring with low scoring is an interesting dichotomy. It'll be interesting to see how the Hornets keep it up.

Jarrett Jack Is Keeping the Hornets Competitive but Can't Make Them Win

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    Jarrett Jack has stepped up to keep the Hornets competitive without Eric Gordon. Both of the Hornets' wins in January came against winning teams. Twelve of their 16 losses in January were within 10 points.

    That came as a result of Jack's leadership, stepping up as the replacement floor general. Jack has become the leading shooter and scorer, as well as the assist man. Jack's often put up the team-high in scoring.

    He should be applauded for taking on a scoring role he's never had.

    Meanwhile, Jack can't make the Hornets a decent team like Eric Gordon could. He can't take over scoring the way Gordon could. Jack has scored 20 points only seven times this season. With an assist percentage (34.4 percent) that ranks only 14th in the league, Jack isn't a tremendous facilitator.

    Also, the shooting has been pretty level across the team. Jack's 13.1 field-goal attempts per game is low for a team leader, especially on a team that's dead average in field-goal attempts.

    Granted, that's a reflection of Jack leading a team that's devoid of natural shooters.

Chris Kaman Didn't Fit in with the Hornets

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    Chris Kaman had troubled establishing himself in New Orleans. He had to share minutes with someone for the first time in several years.

    Kaman shot a career-low 43.8 percent from the field for the Hornets, including 43.9 percent in January. He's averaging fewer than 10 points per game for the first time in seven seasons.

    Kaman averaged 9.3 points per game in January and is averaging 9.2 points per game on the season.

    He's been on the inactive list since last Wednesday, since the Hornets have placed him on the trading block. Maybe the Hornets will be able to find someone who does better sharing minutes with Emeka Okafor.

The Playoffs Are out of the Question

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    The Hornets didn't take long to bow out of playoff contention. The six-game losing streak from the end of December through the first week of January sealed the deal. Then came a nine-game losing streak to make it 15 losses in 16 games.

    Between that losing slide and losing Eric Gordon for an extended period of time, the Hornets lost any shot at playoff contention.

    The rest of the Western Conference is far, far ahead of the Hornets.

    But, the Hornets just might continue to hang around in games. Monty Williams seems to be a motivating figure. He might be able to keep players interested.

    However, they look like they'll be unable to score 90 points most nights, which doesn't tend to be much fun for an NBA team.