By Reinis Lacis (@LamarMatic)
Some of the thoughts and observations I’ve developed during the last Charlotte Hornets games.
Spencer Hawes Should Stick to Shooting
He has been bad on offense. And I mean – real bad. What’s frustrating is that it is supposedly the side of the court on which Hawes can excel, yet he’s not even close to excelling and is playing over our draft pick Frank Kaminsky when he’s out there throwing up his bricks (4 for 23 for the season on jump shots, per NBA.com, good for 17.4%).
Hawes should just cut out handling the ball from his repertoire. For reasons unbeknownst to us, he has felt the need to up his shot attempts off the dribble when compared to the previous two seasons (his frequency of shots off no dribbles were around 70% those seasons, this year it’s only 56.8%). Catching and shooting is what he is good at on offense (or, at least, supposedly is, 4/16 so far). That should be his role.
He looks out of sorts when trying to create on the move. Hawes is 5 for 19 (26.3%) on shots off at least one dribble. Such attempts make you wonder whether he isn’t trading a good look from three for an awkward low-percentage running lay-up.
Please, just stop doing this and stick to taking the threes that are available for you.
Moreover, with all due respect to Spencer Hawes, our future isn’t associated with his. Frank Kaminsky is our long-term investment and he can and should play. If Hawes isn’t producing on offense there isn’t any credible reason for him to be out there in front of Frank the Tank.
That should be so especially because they basically do the same things on offense and Kaminsky seems to be the better shooter out of the two. Frank even has a similar pump-and-drive game which, despite mixed results on similar off-the-dribble lay-ups, is the one we should get him to develop in NBA games.
One could certainly question the rebounding prowess of a Cody Zeller – Frank Kaminsky front-court. Under coach Steve Clifford the Hornets are yet to not finish first in defensive rebounding percentage (the team is in the first place again after the first nine games of the season) and it’s a notable part of Charlotte’s success on that end of the court.
However, only twice during Hawes’s career has his team secured the defensive glass better when he is on the court than when is off it. Both of those times it was a meager advantage of +0.3 in DefREB%. In 2011-12 Philadelphia was at its worst at defensive rebounding whenever Hawes was on the court. In 2012-13 they rebounded the best when Spencer sat on the bench.
A trend of the team being better at rebounding with Hawes off the court is present this season as well.
Thus my answer would be that Hawes isn’t getting the job done any how. You might as well roll out Zeller at center (update on my feelings about him having to be a small-ball center – he is 0 for 11 on shots outside 10 feet for the season and the team again had a great fourth quarter when benching Al Jefferson to play Cody in the game against New York) and have Kaminsky at power forward alongside him.
There is positive on/off data concerning Hawes’s defense (we give up 5.5 points less per 100 possessions with him on the court rather than him on the bench) but I’m dubious about it meaning anything. I’d guess that it has more to do with him almost exclusively facing reserve line-ups and his on/off buddy being the always mediocre defender in Al Jefferson, against whom he is then slated in this stat.
Getting beat down the floor and then sealed by Kyle O’Quinn or allowing Lou Amundson a free lane to the basket is unacceptable. These guys aren’t exactly prolific scorers. This is pretty much giving away free points.
The two games before the contest at Chicago (which Zeller missed out on due to an ankle injury thus affecting the rotation) posed a small bright spot regarding his minutes as Clifford specifically subbed Kaminsky in to close out the first half with the starters.
But his minutes remain very lowly for a college senior who supposedly should be ready to play right off the bat. I mean, if Kaminsky doesn’t deserve minutes is there a rookie ready for them on a Steve Clifford team?
How good do you think are the best bigs ever in the 3-point era who averaged less than 11 minutes per game in their rookie season when being at least 22 years old? The stand outs are guys like Blair Rasmussen, Elden Campbell and Ervin Johnson (shout out to Marcin Gortat, however, the career paths of such Europeans tend to differ from NCAA seniors). Solid players but not exactly the peak level of play we hope Kaminsky could reach.
You can also look at the guys who qualify for such filters during the last few years. There’s not a freaking rotation player on that list. That says something. And it is alarming. If one believes in Kaminsky as a player, he should be playing more from a historical standpoint.
The Decline of Al Jefferson’s Role
At the end of my last piece, I questioned Al’s place within this more three-point happy team and whether he couldn’t complain about his lack of touches and lesser role in his contract year.
Here is some data that showcases his lesser involvement in the offense, especially after we just saw a 23-minute, 2-10 FG, no-action-in-the-fourth-quarter performance versus the New York Knicks.
|Season||MIN||Front CT Touches||Front CT Touches per 36||Post Touches||Post Touches per 36|
(Data per NBA.com and its SportVU player tracking data)
Do note that the drop is visible both in total touches and in touches per 36 minutes. Not only is he a lesser part of the offense due to him playing fewer minutes, but also when he is out there we are relying on him less from a frequency stand-point.
|Season||FGM||FGA||FG%||PTS Per Post Touch||Free Throw Attempt Rate|
(Data per NBA.com and its SportVU player tracking data, and basketball-reference.com)
The drop in quantity has coincided with a drop in quality. Despite being in visibly better shape than last year, Jefferson has struggled so far on offense. From time to time he’s had problems of converting easy bunnies around the basket.
What’s even more concerning, the struggles in his beloved post game notwithstanding, is the free throw rate (free throw attempts/field goal attempts, per basketball-reference) I specifically included in that table. Jefferson has always been a low-rate free throw shooter as the concept of his game is to trick and evade defenders with his wily moves.
He is number two on the all-time list of centers/power forwards with seasons of attempting more than 12 field goal attempts per game, yet having a free throw rate worse than 0.21 (click on the screen-shot to be re-addressed to this specific basketball-reference search):
So far he’s in uncharted territory with that rate of 0.091 for a player with such usage. That spells trouble. He isn’t scoring in the post and he isn’t getting to the line, and partially that is because his shots are starting to come from places further from the basket.
Big Al has attempted 46 (17 for 46, 37.0%, on them) field goal attempts between 8 and 16 feet from the basket. Only 47 shot attempts have come from less than 8 feet. Go back to his great 2013-14 season and you’ll see that then he nearly shot twice as many field goal attempts from that closer area (719 from less than 8 feet, 363 between 8 and 16).
There really isn’t a reason for such a version of Al Jefferson not to get the Carlos Boozer treatment. You would rather have the Kemba Walker–Jeremy Lin–Nicolas Batum three creating around Cody Zeller pick-n-rolls in the fourth quarter than have the declining Al out on the court.
It will be worthwhile to continue monitoring these numbers and actually see what’s the interest level for him in the league after his contract expires next summer.
This new, in-tremendous-shape Marvin Williams is unrecognizable. He’s taking threes (4.4 per game, 5.0 per 36) and knocking them down (42.5%) at a career-best rate. He’s flying up and down the court for a couple of athletic offensive rebounds or blocked shots every game. And he is among our most frequently used switchers on the defensive end comfortably switching from a power forward to a wing.
This clip is a testament to the whole team’s approach and not just Marvin himself. It was an absolutely beautiful episode, sans Kawhi Leonard nailing the three despite all of the effort. And it goes to show you what could we achieve on defense when combining our Thibodeaun schemes with such precise switching.
Marvin, meanwhile, has reached new heights in SportVu’s rim protection stat. Opponents have made only 41.9% of their baskets when attempting a shot within five feet of the basket and Williams is there to defend it.
It has been achieved by him channeling his inner MKG and flying in for swats from the weak side or on fast breaks:
Or how about this clutch possession against the Knicks? I don’t think we would have expected Marv contesting a jumper then blocking two more put-back attempts last season. This was awesome:
Perhaps, my personal favorite came in the game at Minnesota. Williams gave no ground to the bigger Adreian Payne in the post, successfully defended the shot and then sprinted down the court to set an unexpected screen to free up Jeremy Lamb for a jumper.
It was my understanding from what our announcers reported that Williams made some changes in his training regiment and paid more attention to his whole physique, while beforehand he used to mostly lift to strengthen his upper-body. Either way, it is visible in the way he moves and has allowed him to become a much more versatile and suitable pseudo-power forward who can play minutes at both forward positions.
Running Our Variations of the Hammer
I loved the irony of us starting the game at San Antonio with our own version of the “Hammer” set. The “Hammer” (a weak-side flare screen for a corner three) is, of course, a pet play off of Gregg Popovich’s Spurs playbook.
Additionally, one must appreciate the willingness of our coaching staff to draw this up late for Jeremy Lamb at Chicago.
We haven’t run it much, yet, first off, it’s way more creative than the repeated Kemba Walker pick-n-rolls with Al from last season. And, second off, it’s a great contemporary NBA set as it encapsulates the most effective shot (the corner three), misdirection and the necessary switching of sides of the court against today’s defenses.