Mayday! Mayday! Going down!
The New Orleans Hornets’ season may only be nine games in, but after their awful 124-104 disaster in Phoenix, they’re clearly a team in distress. Whether or not their calls for help can be answered depends on the nature of their emergency. Let’s take a look.
Not counting the garbage time in the final quarter, New Orleans ran 63 designed plays by my unofficial tally.
Of those 63 plays, nearly half were predicated on Chris Paul: 20 screen/rolls, three isolation's, a backdoor cut, and six attacks in early offense. Such an unbalanced offense!
Phoenix’ gameplan was to go under every screen and let Paul shoot away to his heart’s content, which he did with considerable accuracy (4-7 3FG). Still, Paul’s ball dominance, combined with his invitation to fire away, left his teammates mere spectators on too many possessions.
Still, Paul’s screen/rolling game plan did generate success. Paul tallied 23 points for the Hornets on his 20 screen/rolls, five points on his three isolation's, two points on a nifty backdoor cut, and 11 points on 6 transition opportunities. With Paul asked to create offense, New Orleans generated 41 points on 30 possessions, roughly 1.4 points per possession, a sparkling number.
While Paul was fine as New Orleans’ offensive captain, he got zero help from his senior officers.
David West started off the game by aggressively driving at Amare Stoudemire and knocking in a banker. After spraining his knee quickly after he wasn’t the same, generating two points on six post-ups and isolation's for the duration, not including an embarrassing missed open-court put back layup.
Emeka Okafor was even more of a disappointment. He was okay as the screener for Paul, and a couple of off-ball cuts netted him four points, but he only generated a pair of points on three individual post attempts.
- Had trouble establishing position on Channing Frye on the block, and if he did establish post position, Frye and Stoudemire prevented him from getting a step or angle to the basket.
- Posted Frye from the right mid-post, couldn’t back Frye down, and clanged a 14-foot jumper off the backboard.
- Established deep position in the right box (only after rolling hoopward on a Chris Paul screen) and sealed Stoudemire. Eventually the ball found its way to Emeka and he converted a mini-hook.
- Set up shop in the right box while David West took a screening position outside on Paul. When Stoudemire tipped his hand too early to overplay the screen, West slipped the screen, Paul fed Okafor, and a nifty pass from Okafor to West netted two free throws.
- Several times tried to back his man down, went nowhere, and was forced to make harmless passes back out.
- Posted on the right block and made a nice pass to a cutting Stojakovic, but Stojakovic bungled the layup.
- Didn’t provide much more offense than Tyson Chanlder could have provided.
That’s a grand total of four points in nine opportunities for New Orleans’ supposedly fearsome frontcourt. However, West’s game continues to be overrated by many (including yours truly), and Okafor’s a middling player masquerading as some kind of star. No wonder New Orleans lacks substance outside of Paul.
New Orleans’ other staple plays were Devin Brown isolations—two points on four occasions, and Marcus Thornton isolations—three points on three trips. Interestingly enough, the two times Devin Brown ran screen/rolls resulted in five points.
Peja Stojakovic humiliated himself—0-8 FG, 0 PTS.
Devin Brown couldn’t break Jason Richardson pressing him, and dribbled the ball off his leg out of bounds. He also had two shot attempts blocked, missed nine of his 12 shots total, and teams with Stojakovic to form the least athletic wing tandem in the league.
Darren Collison, Marcus Thornton, and Bobby Brown can only play one or two-man games, and only with the ball in their hands.
Hilton Armstrong—3-7 FG, 1 AST, 2 TO, 6 PTS—is half a status away from bust. On one drive he had a step on Louis Amundson only to have his dunk attempt and body rejected to the floor.
Julian Wright took a single shot, rushing in transition and botching a layup in garbage time. Does anybody in the league do less with more than Wright?
James Posey hit his threes—3-3 3FG—while Darius Songaila was the only player who played with any passion—3-3 FG, 8 PTS.
And on the defensive side of the ball?
Aside from Stoudemire eating Okafor’s lunch on the floor (wasn’t Okafor supposed to be a star defender?), and on the glass (wasn’t Okafor supposed to be a star rebounder?), Leandro Barbosa and Jason Richardson each out jumped Okafor to a pair of boards. The more disturbing sign was that Barbosa’s and many of Amare’s came while Okafor had them boxed out.
Paul picked up four steals (one when he ripped a sloppy Goran Dragic handle, and one when a pass was thrown right at him), was nailed by screens, was constantly guessing, and was thoroughly befuddled by Steve Nash.
Stojakovic threw Grant Hill an open-shot buffet.
Posey was totally reactionary and played without any fire. Judging by his defense the past two years, his body is in Father Time’s clutches, and his heart is in Boston.
Armstrong played like a welcome mat.
The Hornets’ stable of point guards and combo guards all get picked apart by screens, and all are shot over by bigger opponents. Even Dragic was pulling and shooting over (supposed defensive ace) Paul. Paul plays defense completely by guessing, while the other guards play completely by reacting.
New Orleans’ interior rotations were non-existent, and Okafor and West were in perpetual no-mans land defending screens, especially in the first half.
Only Darius Songaila brought anything close to his A-game.
This includes Byron Scott whose perpetual screen/roll offense only works like a finger in a dyke. There needs to be more weak-side action, cross-screens, and opportunities for other perimeter plays to handle the ball freeing Paul to add the wrinkle of being able to attack without the ball. Scott’s offense has no imagination, and good teams will either choke Paul off (like Denver did last postseason), or dare Paul to beat them with his jump shooting, each way leaving his teammates less and less involved in the offense.
As is, New Orleans has too many players who fail to meet hyped-up labels. West isn’t the All-Star he’s supposed to be, Posey isn’t the lockdown defender he’s supposed to be, Paul isn’t the ace defender he’s supposed to be, Okafor isn’t the rebounding presence and post player he’s supposed to be, Armstrong and Wright aren’t the talents they’re supposed to be, and Byron Scott isn’t the elite coach he’s supposed to be.
No wonder, as New Orleans hopes to tread water this early in the year, that they aren’t the contender that they’re supposed to be.