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January 31, 2011
Trend Watch
Turkoglu, Hornets Streak, Close Games

by Kevin Pelton

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Trending player: Hedo Turkoglu, SF, Orlando Magic

The storyline goes like this: After a miserable season-plus with the Toronto Raptors and the Phoenix Suns, last month's trade that brought Hedo Turkoglu back to the Magic has returned him to the role in which he thrived in 2007-08 and 2008-09, which has in turn returned him to relevance. The reality, when viewed in terms of statistics, is a bit more complex.

Season    Tm    Usg    TS%   Ast%   Win%
----------------------------------------
2008-09  ORL   .231   .541   .062   .522
2009-10  TOR   .181   .540   .061   .499
2010-11  PHX   .172   .567   .042   .517
2010-11  ORL   .164   .554   .078   .522

Undeniably, Turkoglu was used differently with Toronto and Phoenix than he originally was in Orlando. The limited possessions these teams had to offer Turkoglu hampered his offensive value, as reflected by the drop in his per-minute player winning percentage (only red-hot shooting with the Suns--42.3 percent from beyond the arc--propped up Turkoglu's performance in Phoenix).

The more interesting comparison is between Turkoglu's first stint with the Magic and his current one. Since Orlando now has more scoring threats--as ESPN's John Hollinger pointed out, every player in Orlando's nine-man rotation is a threat to score 20 points on a given night--Turkoglu's usage rate has dropped again. Yet he has still been a major part of the Magic's offense because of his work as a facilitator. Turkoglu has nearly doubled his rate of assists per play since the trade, and he is now boasting a career-high mark in the category. Not even during the 2009 playoffs, when Turkoglu was Orlando's primary pick-and-roll option due to the absence of Jameer Nelson, did he hand out assists so frequently.

What Turkoglu's own numbers don't show might be the most important reason why he has been more successful in Orlando: the Magic's ability to hide him defensively. The Raptors were excellent on offense a year ago but had the NBA's worst defense on a per-possession basis. The Suns were also near the bottom of the league defensively and were torched while using Turkoglu as an undersized power forward. Orlando, however, remains in the NBA's top five defensively.

Trending team: New Orleans Hornets

While the Hornets' winning streak came to an end Saturday against the Sacramento Kings, the impressive 10-game surge propelled New Orleans into fourth place in the Western Conference, meaning the Hornets would have home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs if the season ended today. Streaky New Orleans also began the year 8-0, meaning that over half of the Hornets' 31 wins have come as part of extended streaks.

By contrast, this stretch of wins was slightly more impressive. Buoyed by lopsided victories over the Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio Spurs, the Hornets won by an average of 10.5 points per game during the most recent winning streak, as compared to a +9.5 point differential during the season-opening streak. The opponents New Orleans faced this time around were more difficult than average, including contenders Orlando and the Oklahoma City Thunder in addition to the Hawks and Spurs.

Still, the two streaks were more similar than different. Both were marked by lockdown effort at the defensive end, which was not present during the stretch sandwiched between the two winning streaks, during which the Hornets went 13-15. Over the season's first eight games, New Orleans held opponents 9.6 points per 100 possessions below their season marks. During the recent winning streak, the Hornets were even more difficult to score on, holding teams an incredible 12.4 points per 100 possessions below their typical offensive rating. The league's best defense, the Chicago Bulls, has a defensive rating 8.1 points better than average.

New Orleans excelled in all aspects of defense during the winning streak, performing better than average in each of the Four Factors. The Hornets allowed opponents to make just 44.8 percent of their two-point attempts (matching Chicago, which also leads the league in two-point defense) and secured 78.1 percent of available defensive rebounds, which would lead the league. When New Orleans is focused and performing like that on the defensive end, the Hornets can beat anyone in the NBA.

League trend: Closer finishes throughout the NBA

If it seems like there are more tight games around the league this season than in the recent past, that's because there are. Including Sunday's last-second win by the Miami Heat over the Thunder, nearly 30 percent of this year's games have been decided by five points or fewer--the highest percentage at this point in the schedule since the 2006-07 campaign.

Season     <5    5-10    11+
----------------------------
2006-07   .297   .305   .398
2007-08   .274   .287   .438
2008-09   .264   .315   .421
2009-10   .271   .298   .431
2010-11   .293   .310   .397

Since the percentage of games decided by 5-to-10 points is similar to what it has been in recent seasons, there have been relatively few lopsided games with margins of 11 points or larger this year--just under 40 percent of all matchups fall into this category.

Five teams in the NBA have consistently gone down to the wire, playing at least 10 games decided by three points or fewer. The Charlotte Bobcats lead everyone with 12 such games, followed by the Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies with 11 apiece. The Hornets and the Boston Celtics have both played 10 games decided by three points or fewer.

At the other end of the spectrum, Orlando tops the NBA with 26 games decided by double-figures. The Cleveland Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Lakers all follow with 25 double-digit games, but the Cavaliers and Lakers have gotten there in very different fashions. Cleveland still has yet to win a game by 10-plus points, having gone 0-25 in those games. Only the New Jersey Nets, with two such wins, join the Cavaliers in not winning at least four games by double-figures. Meanwhile, the Lakers have frequently been dominant, going 20-5 in games decided by 10-plus points. The Lakers trail just the Heat (21-3) when it comes to double-digit wins.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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