When Injuries Happen (A Sad Stepfather's Story)
According to Basketball-Reference.com, which uses Dean Oliver's formula for player win-loss percentage, the three opening-day New Orleans starters with the highest player winning percentage were Tyson Chandler (.870), Chris Paul (.769), and David West (.617). Usually with three players who are such efficient players, a team will emerge from a season with better than a 39-43 record, except when the three players only play a combined thirty-eight games together. When that happens, a team experiences splits just like the Hornets did.
With Chandler, West, and Paul playing together, the Hornets were a much better offensive team than they were without all three of those players in the lineup together, to the tune of scoring 6.4 more points per 100 possessions. Although the Hornets were a better shooting team with the big three than without (52.9 TS% to 51.2 TS%), the real difference was in the offensive rebounding percentage department. The Hornets team that included Chandler, West, and Paul rebounded 31.9% of the offensive rebounds to be had and the one without them only 26.5% of the offensive rebounds they could have gathered in. As I have said on other occasions, a team can avoid wasting possessions, thus making the team more efficient, in two ways. The first is to avoid turnovers and the second is to gather in a high percentage of the offensive rebound opportunities the team has. More prolific offensive rebounding explains the Hornets' greater offensive efficiency.
In total efficiency, the Hornets outscored their opponents by .9 points per 100 possessions with Chandler, West, and Paul, but were outscored by their opponents by 3.9 points per 100 possessions when the three were not playing together.
Adding insult to the injury is the fact that the Hornets played their most difficult stretch without Chandler, West, and Paul. Of the forty-four games the Hornets played without the three players, twenty-seven were against opponents that would turn out to be playoff teams. In the other thirty-eight games, only eighteen were against playoff-bound opponents.
No combination of players saw the Hornets play well against playoff teams, but once again, the Hornets saw better performances with the big three players than without. Although they were outscored per 100 possessions either way, the Hornets were only done so by 3.8 points with and 5.7 without.
Next year, if injuries occur again, the Hornets should hope they happen to Desmond Mason, who provides them with no positive benefit when he plays anyway.