I’ve always had the theory that star players should be good regardless of situation. That’s why they are stars. The other part of my theory is that "home-court advantage" comes from role players playing better at home. If a team’s best players are consistent at home and on the road, it makes sense that the difference would be with the second-tier players.
It would take quite a bit of time to compile data to see if this is true league-wide, but looking at it just from a Hornets angle is much more feasible. Here’s the data splits on how each Hornet has performed at home versus on the road. (I didn’t include Jeff Taylor, Jannero Pargo, or Noah Vonleh because they haven’t played enough)
TS% = true shooting percentage (like FG% but factors in 3-pointers and free throws)
USG% = usage rate, or the percentage of possessions taken up by a player while on the court
PIE = player impact estimate, or an estimate of the % game events a player achieved
In general, the two Hornets "stars" – Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson – saw a slight decrease in production and efficiency on the road. The players that saw the biggest bump on the road were veterans – Gary Neal, Jason Maxiell, Lance Stephenson, and Marvin Williams. Interestingly, rookie P.J. Hairston had the biggest difference positively on the road, but I’m not entirely sure why. Less pressure to perform in his home state, perhaps?
On the other side of things, Gerald Henderson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have been much better at home this season. Look at the difference in Henderson’s true shooting percentage -- he goes from excellent to miserable depending where he plays this year. What’s hurt even worse is while his shooting has gone down, his usage rate has gone up on the road. He’s using up more possessions while doing it much less efficiently. On the other hand, he's been so hot at home, his usage rate should probably go up there. Very interesting splits from Hendo.
Kidd-Gilchrist’s numbers are a little less alarming – his game isn’t really numbers-dependent, so a dip in true-shooting percentage is less harmful than others. And a lot of it can probably be attributed to his minute differential and the fact that his sample size is smaller due to his injury earlier this year. Perhaps over the rest of the year his splits will even out.
It’s unclear whether the Hornets plan on keeping Lance Stephenson or moving him, but if it’s the former, perhaps he can provide some value on the road. His identity in Indiana – and the identity of the Pacers in general – was all about toughness. If Stephenson can channel that on the road as the season goes on, that would be very useful for the Hornets.
This persona of Stephenson's doesn’t necessarily have to clash with Kemba Walker. There have been plenty of articles debating whether Walker and Stephenson can coexist – this won’t be one of them – but perhaps they don’t really need to. Obviously there is more to it than just raw on-court production for example, staggering them would probably require Stephenson to relinquish a starting role, but there is room for Stephenson on the second unit.
Right now, Gary Neal has been using up a huge number of the Hornets possessions while on the court, and it’s even more on the road. Over one-fourth (25.3% to be exact) of all of the Hornets possessions on the road while Neal has been on the floor have resulted in a Neal shot or turnover. Stephenson can take a big chunk of that and not interfere at all with Walker’s usage on the starting unit. Whether Stephenson taking usage from Neal is a good thing or not is a separate debate in itself, but there are minutes and possessions to go around.
Speaking of usage rate, it’s interesting to see Cody Zeller with such low splits both at home and on the road. He has shown at times that he is deserving of more minutes, but will need to look for his shot more often. He has a nice pick-and-pop jumper that he utilizes, along with his powerful drive to the basket, out of the pick and roll. But those can’t be his only offensive moves. High usage players are valuable – especially ones that can do it and sustain efficiency – and Zeller needs to work on expanding his offensive game.
He’s far away from being a Big-Al-usage monster, but the Hornets data shows that their offense has been Kemba-or-Al-do-something in the first unit and Gary-Neal-keep-shooting in the second unit. If the Hornets really want to make a run to the playoffs, they’ll have to find production from other sources, be it Zeller, Kidd-Gilchrist, or more shots from Hairston.
And speaking of playoffs, if the Hornets do manage to turn things around enough to sneak in, it’ll definitely come without home-court advantage. The numbers aren’t too pretty for some Hornets on the road – can they find a remedy over the next couple of months?