To the surprise of many, Cody Martin rookie’s season went a lot better than many anticipated during last year for the Hornets. His defensive and playmaking instincts helped Charlotte overcome a lot of difficulties in his 49 appearances. Mitch Kupchak really believed in him and decided to spend the 36th pick of 2019 Draft for the former Nevada WolfPack player even if younger players who were thought could be of more value were still available.
James Borrego really believes in his play style and during preseason he used Cody Martin continuously from the bench. When Gordon Hayward injured his finger after the first two meetings with Toronto, JB promoted Martin as a starter to fill the role. It’s not wrong to consider him one of the first bench pieces of this team.
Martin fought for this, his play time was limited when the 2019 season began and he also made several appearances with the Greensboro Swarm. Hustle, defense and high IQ secured him a stable role in the Hornets rotations. For a young and scrappy team, a player like Cody Martin is really helpful because he can bring instant defense and playmaking without any kind of effort. The amount of possession he turned into our favor with his defensive position are countless.
The greatest problem with his game is three point shooting. During last year he was reluctant to shoot the ball from long range and this really hurt spacing while he was on the court. That is the reason why Borrego preferred to use him as a ball handler with good shooters around him. This is the key part of his game in order to succeed in the 2020-21 season.
Martin needs to shoot with consistency and confidence if he wants to keep his role in the rotations, especially with Ball and other ball handlers ready to eat his minutes from the bench. His shooting stroke looks good and the mechanics are clean, it is much more a mental problem than a technical one.
Despite this struggle he was able to display a good ability to cut and understand opponents defense. Add to this a good propensity with passing and that is a player that could not hurt an NBA offense in the best case scenario.
Martin is already 25 and that is the reason why he was so effective during his first year in the league. In his sophomore season it is likely he has the same effectiveness both defensively and offensively.
Haywards presence could really help his development as well. They are similar players despite the effectively savvy offensive skillset that Gordon has. Being near a good player like him could just make him better.
Borrego will keep on using him from the bench and is ready to unlock him as a starter if Gordon Hayward miss some games during the 72 game stretch. The hope is that Cody Martin can keep on bringing balance to every Charlotte lineup, playing with great effort and IQ. As we said, if he shoots better he is going to be great and could really helps the team win some more games.
This is gonna be the eighth season for Cody Zeller with the Charlotte Hornets. As the guys at the Buzz Beat pod said in one of their latest episode it feels like he has been with this team forever. Maybe it’s the hairline. Every player that was involved in the Kemba Walker era is not with the team right now, aside from Zeller. His presence is going to be be important for the young guys, especially in helping them usher in the new era of the culture of this team.
Zeller recently declared that he talked with Gordon Hayward before his agreement with Charlotte and he played a big role in that decision. His presence is felt with this team, even if he is not the most flashy guy.
As we enter into the 2020-21 season the most talked part of his game is three point shooting. Fans expected some development in this area for some time now, Zeller is slowly improving but he still has a long way to go before he is considered a respected long range shooter. During preseason he appeared a little bit more confident with his range and his stroke has looked better as seasons have gone along.
His offensive skillset and ability to play the pick and roll in different scenarios will give a lot of help to a guy like LaMelo Ball, who needs a consistent screen setter in order to be more consistent. Screen setting is still the best part of his game, and this is a great key for Charlotte as they will be a heavy pick and roll team with very few players that can create something without some kind of help.
Zeller will continue to be a good play finisher for Charlotte, especially around the rim. With athleticism vanishing day by day he will need to work on crafty finishes instead of power plays like he used to have back in the days.
Defensively he will keep on with his role as big part of the 1 through 5 switching scheme as he can handle smaller guys relatively well or even play a little drop in some scenarios.
Zeller’s contract is expiring this year, freeing around $15 million of cap space. This is a good news for Charlotte’s payroll because he is not the best fit with this young group, speaking of timeline and overall age. Front office will have different options with him during this season. First of all they can use his contract as part of some trade as the expiring $15 million is a great asset and he is still capable to contribute even on a good team. If the Hornets are not able to find any trade partner interested in him they could probably cut him at the deadline like they did last year with Marvin Williams or MKG in order to free him up if he wants to join a contender. Last scenario is Charlotte keeping Zeller the whole season and giving him a cheaper contract during the next free agency, exactly like they did with Bismack Biyombo this past summer.
Charlotte selected two centers during the second round of the 2020 draft because they know that the 5 position is missing a young and talented piece to develop with this core of players. The aim of the team could be the same during next summer and draft too, retaining a veteran like Zeller that knows the team could be great for the Hornets. That is my personal hope.
Production and impact by Zeller will be the same for this season as it was during last years. Physical condition will be the key for him; Zeller has not played a full season since his rookie campaign. This season has a really stressful schedule for every team and it will probably means that Zeller is going to miss a good amount of games due to rest or injuries. Expect a good amount of minutes played by Biyombo and, I hope, Vernon Carey Jr.
As we already underlined during the Jalen McDaniels season preview, Caleb Martin will likely be fighting with his former G-League teammate for the 10th spot in this years rotation. The motivation that can lead Borrego to choose the twin are really different from the ones we pointed out for McDaniels.
Caleb spent large part of 2019-20 season with the Greensboro Swarm, his main area of focus was that he needed to work on his shooting. Coming out from Nevada he had a very bad looking shot even if it was quite effective as he was considered a very capable scorer. With time and reps Martin tried to reach a much more sustainable motion for the NBA but the work is not finished, it will be necessary to prove his new motion can equate to an efficient shot during a real NBA season.
As is pretty obvious to say, three point shooting is the key for him to survive at this level and he needs to be comfortable with a fluid and effective shot. During last year final games of the shortened season, he produced some quite high three point percentages. Even if the sample is not very high that was a good sign for his NBA projection. In this preseason he was looking comfortable in a catch and shoot role.
Caleb, like his twin brother Cody, is capable of bringing instant energy when coming off the bench. He is more offensive minded than Cody and this could be really helpful for the Hornets during the stretch, especially in nights were the primary players aren’t performing well on the offensive side of the ball. Beyond three point shooting he has some handling ability that allows him to give some secondary creation and rim pressure with his athletic drives.
His good frame and length also allows him to be effective on the defensive end, especially because he’s able to consistently produce a high energy effort level. Caleb and his brother could really be considered the two best POA defenders on this roster right now, and that says a lot about the other members of the roster.
If he finds a good rhythm during the year he could be a perfect bench piece for the Hornets because of the offensive and defensive mix he can bring as soon as he steps onto the court. Age is probably the deciding factor here, Caleb is already 25 and for a rebuilding team like Charlotte it is probably better to bet on a younger player like McDaniels.
The fight between the two will surely be one to watch as both players produce a fun yet competitive style of basketball. Keep in mind that because of covid and a really hectic schedule James Borrego could make rotation less tight in order to avoid injuries and overload for the core players.
After a promising rookie season, Jalen McDaniels is now ready to establish his role into the Hornets 10 man rotation. In the end of last year he displayed a good amount of useful traits that he can bring to the table as a forward in todays NBA.
James Borrego and the front office opted to develop him with the Greensboro Swarm for the large part of the 2019-20 season and that appears to have worked out pretty well. McDaniels used that period to improve his body condition and his confidence with Charlotte schemes both offensively and defensively. The measurables and skillsets are there. The only thing in question is if when he gets stable minutes from the bench for this team can he be a reliable contributor?
The coaching staff, during preseason, made clear that the rotation will be composed at large by ten players, especially in the first months of this season. This means that McDaniels is actually fighting for his minutes with his former G-League teammate, Caleb Martin. During friendly games they were used alternatively as Borrego wanted to play the one who was more in a groove between the two. This could be repeated as the season progresses.
Nothing is set in stone and McDaniels will need to push on what he does best in order to find some sort of continuity. First of all, he will need to shoot the ball with consistency from the three point line. In his college career he wasn’t known for being a shooter, but as his NBA career has developed, he kept on working on this part of the game and that is paying dividends. Charlotte already has players who can handle the ball, score and create shots for others. As the 10th player on a rotation your main job is to turn your little opportunities into gold, especially with three point shots.
In the four preseason games his mechanics from distance looked great, a clear improvement from last season. Fluid, high release point, good legs positioning, you don’t see many 6′ 10” players with this type of coordination. I am pretty confident that McDaniels will be able to space the floor as requested for every minute he is playing with this team.
Offensively there is another great trait that the Hornets lack that he can bring from the bench, offensive rebounding. With his length and IQ he is always ready to contest the offensive glass and give the team extra possessions. Borrego stressed the importance of attacking offensive rebounds and McDaniels fits this roll better than the majority of the Hornets players.
The main reason they can give him a good amount of minutes is related to his unique defensive ability. As we said before he is really fluid for being a 6′ 10” player and that helps him in the 1-5 switching scheme the Hornets are trying to have right now. His length is also near perfect for a small ball five, as Borrego is trying to exploit PJ Washington into that role much more than last year. The mix of IQ, awareness, length and athleticism is really interesting with McDaniels and could make for a very useful player.
This defensive possession from his rookie year is really impressive. He’s always on point even if he is forced into different coverages by the opponents. If he keeps on improving his frame the ways that the Hornets could use him becomes very interesting. You could have with him as the power forward or even as a situational small ball five.
If it were up to me I am choosing McDaniels over Caleb Martin as the last guy to crack this year rotation. Age and defense are big factors into this decision, and his versatility could really help Charlotte on a day to day basis.
During the 2020 NBA Draft the Charlotte Hornets selected two big men with the 32nd and the 56th picks. Agree or not with this choice the team needed to address the void in the Center position. This strategy will probably take a long time to give some results but there is one thing that it’s worth to be underlined: using two second round picks for centers mean that the front office does not want to spend much money on a position which is considered not that valuable. This is surely a gamble by Mitch Kupchak and the team. Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo must act as role models in order to unlock their development.
Vernon Carey JR is just 19 years old and he is likely the player with more upside between these two. In his only season at Duke he was very productive on the offensive side, ending the year averaging 18 points and 9 rebounds. His skillset is pretty wide as he displayed a good post game while stepping out with some range. Defense is the key for him to survive in the league. During the summer he declared that he worked on his weight losing almost 30 pounds. His brief outings in the preseason confirmed that this new frame can pay dividends as James Borrego wants a player with good mobility in the center position.
Nick Richards, who is already 23 years old, should be much more ready to contribute especially on the defensive end. During three seasons at Kentucky he was the team anchor on defense and showed good instincts as a rim protector. Richards frame is NBA ready, his measurements were outstanding during the Draft Combine. Offensively he is very raw and will play a rim runner role in his first years in with the Hornets. During team interviews he declared that he is working on his three point range which Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari held down during his college years.
Their roles will probably be very similar during the 2020-21 season. As preseason displayed, Borrego is set with Zeller and Biyombo as rotation centers with some situational minutes to PJ Washington in order to unlock small ball power. Their development will probably be hurt by the absence of a real G-League tournament this year. Charlotte uses their affiliate team to give young players opportunities to grow and develop their confidence and game. In case Zeller starts missing some games because of his well known physical problems one of those two young centers will be thrown into the rotation.
Carey is the one with more hopes of growth because of his really intresting offensive skillset. The problem with him is that it is really hard to project him as a full time 5 with the defensive issues that he displayed during college: first of all lack of rim protection. His weight loss will surely give him more mobility and explosiveness in order to survive on the hard switching scheme used by Borrego.
Nick Richards is a high floor and low upside type of pick. There is not much room for development aside from his possible three point range addition. On the other side, he may be able to provide a good amount of straight defense, rim protection and rebounding as soon as he steps on a basketball court.
It won’t be that easy for them to settle into the NBA rhythm and physicality in this situation. They played their last college game a long time ago and they had a really small preseason window. Let’s not be rude with them and their production especially in the first period of this year. The Hornets already showed trust in their two rookies giving both of them the classic 4 year second rounder contract, front office knows and hopes that they could be part of this young group and contribute on the long term as they develop together.
As soon as the Hornets were awarded with the 3rd pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, a lot of talks started around the top projected prospects. There’s been a lot of back and forth between James Wiseman and even though he has his knocks he is a really polarizing young player. Let’s try to understand what Charlotte should do if he is available when they are on the clock.
James Wiseman is known for his impressive build as he is a 240 lbs 7′ 1” Big with a 7′ 4” wingspan. His frame stands out and is already at an NBA size at just 19 years of age. Unfortunately, too many times he is not able to exploit his physical advantages. The past season he played only three games at the University of Memphis because of trouble with the NCAA. This increased the uncertainty around his evaluation and hurt his draft stock. During this little stretch and in his high school years he displayed a good amount of issues both on defense and offense.
Defensively he has problems at reading the opposite offense and finding the right position. This is underlined when he needs to defend in space or during PnR situations.
The next clip is perfect to understand his problems. The opposite team targets him with various cross screens and he gets lost instead of switching and comunicating with his teammates. The reslut is an open three.
If you add these problems to his lack of lateral mobility the result is a bad defender in the league, especially with the direction the NBA is taking with centers on the defensive side of the court. Penny Hardaway tried to force Wiseman out of the drop coverage in the few games for Memphis but the result wasn’t great. In the next clip you can see that he was demanded to hedge during Pick and Rolls: his footwork is a mess and he is not able to move properly in order to execute the plan.
His inability to understand difensive angles will give him a ton of problems even in basic PnR situations. Too many times his positioning is worrisome and this aspect is going to be exposed at the pro level. Here you have a clear example:
Drafting Wiseman would force his team into the drop coverage, at least for his first years in the league. Optimism about him executing others defensive schemes is really low basing on what we have seen in his short basketball career. Going for this type of defensive organization would allow Wiseman to use his frame in a proper way as he could just sits near the basket and exploit his presence.
A lot of NBA teams go for drop coverage as it is way easier to execute by the centers in the league, but as the playoffs are going on stage right now we are seeing that it gets less effective moving torwards the final games of the season where the level is higher. Using your highest pick in recent history in something that would probably not be effective at the playoff level is not smart at all.
The frame really helps Wiseman during rim protection, but even with this fundamental he showed some issues. Too many times he is not disciplined and very jumpy on fakes as he gets beaten by way less athletic player. Instead of always chasing the big block he should try to stay vertical in order to be much more effective while protecting the rim, some examples of his impatience in the next video:
Offensively he is still very raw. His vertical spacing and rim running will obviously be there from day one in the league but for everything else the path is rough.
During high school he was playing with the ball in his hands a lot and this didn’t help his developement as a good rim runner. In the few games at Memphis he had his role changed and we saw some of his potential as a roll man during PnR. His technique as a screen setter is still raw, but again the frame really helps. Being able to play this type of game will be the key for him in the league offensively because it could open him different possibilities: rolling to the basket, being in position for offensive rebounds and maybe play some pick and pop game.
Penny Hardaway was aware of this aspect and designed different scenarios in order to help him setting easy screens that would allow him to roll to the basket without any problem. The clips display how he is not the most natural screen setter but as soon as he hits the defender the lane is open:
This still raw ability lead us to one of his biggest weaknesses on the offensive side: physicality.
As i said earlier Wiseman’s high school play style hurt a bit his developement and this is clear while watching him exploiting his physical advantage. Too many times he just doesn’t recognize the possibilities his body gives him and goes for a much more difficult style of play. Look at how he run away from some easy mismatches in order to shoot difficult fadeaways:
However this constant search for finesse plays has underlined some sort of touch potential in order to expand his range. During HS he showed some ability to shoot from the three point line, this wasn’t the same for his shortened college career but it is not impossible to see him expanding his range in that direction. His shooting form is okay, however he still needs to work on overall touch.
One of his best offensive trait is open lane speed. This aspect is too often cofused with overall quickness and mobility but Wiseman is just good at running in a straight line, whole different story for lateral mobility as we saw in the defensive part. His body is again the key here, his strides will allow him to follow transition and to play a fast paced game even in the NBA:
What will Mitch Kupchak do?
With the uncertainity around the first picks in this year draft and the problems we saw around this player, it will be possible to find Wiseman still available when the Hornets are on the clock with the 3rd pick.
As soon as Charlotte got the 3rd pick in the lottery, Kupchak did not lose time to clarify what will be the position of the team:
Kupchak stated that the Hornets are not in the stage to draft by position and will choose the best player available when they will be on the clock. The argument of “long time need for a Center” seems to not be in play for our General Manager but possibilities still exist. Let’s try to understand the motivation behind a possible selection of James Wiseman.
First of all Wiseman has a good media reputation as he was the #1 recruit for ESPN in 2019, he has been on the radar of scouts and draft analyst for a long time. Add this to his impressive body structure and you understand why he is always in the top of the most famous mock drafts. You really don’t see that many player physically gifted as he is , that’s why General Managers will feel a little nervous when they are on the clock and he is still available.
This whole upside cloud around him clashes with the film description we had in the first part of the article. Kupchak and his staff should really stay with their feet on the ground and follow what they saw during these years instead of chasing dreams about his potential outcome.
Another element that could tempt Kupchak at selecting him is that Charlotte Hornets best player PJ Washington is one of the best power forwards to pair with Wiseman considering teams at the top of the draft (Besides Draymond Green). PJ’s ability to read and react on the defensive side of the floor could really help Wiseman with rotation, even in hard drop coverage situations. On offense, we saw our number #25 showing great passing ability especially on dump offs to the other bigs. Wiseman on his side, could solidify the issues PJ has in rebounding and rim protection.
Lastly, picking Wiseman would ensure the Center position for quite a long time. Despite the great difficulties we described in the first part, he could be an average player in the league for like 10 to 15 years, even with hitting his medium outcome.
If you’ve been following, I am clearly against using our 3rd pick on James Wiseman. Drafting a Center with defensive and physicality issues that high is not the best use of your franchises highest pick in quite some time. Charlotte is in desperate need of a game changer, a star that can carry the team on his shoulder and Wiseman is not that type of player even if he has a little probability to reach a high ceiling. Kupchak seems to be on the same page as he’s stated a good amount of times that Charlotte is going to select the BPA when they will be on the clock, and I don’t think that guy will be Wisemen.
In the last thirteen games of this shorter season James Borrego displayed a good amount of changes in the rotation that allowed him to organize his offense in a different way. All Hornets fans still have in mind JB’s words about a fast paced team, shooting a lot of threes, and play a modern brand of basketball. Nothing of that has happened during his first two years as Charlotte head coach and this is widely related to the personnel he had to deal with.
NBA coaches have to change their style looking at where the team is good or bad, and that’s what Borrego did in the first two years. Things are changing in Charlotte, bad contracts are expiring and the front office is starting to build a team that is suited to JB’s play style through free agency and draft.
This year we saw the rotation being shaken with Kemba Walker’s departure and with the roster being built by mostly young players. As the season progressed players that had a big role in recent years like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams and Nic Batum were no more playing or left the team. That allowed JB to try out different things like having different solutions at the Center position or playing multiple skilled forwards that can handle the ball.
Borrego offensive mindset lean towards to what teams like Dallas or Milwaukee try to do, but to arrive at that level you need unique players with a good amount of talent in the roster and, you know, the Hornets just aren’t there. The thing with these ideas is that JB tried to push a bit more in the last games of the year, and we will try to understand what can be traslated in the future.
Offensive principles on the floor
Before we start it is important to underline that because of the lack of a true modern center it is not proper to talk about a 5 out offense, especially when PJ Washington is not out there playing the small ball center. For the majority of the time Zeller, Biyombo and Hernangomezwere on the court and no one of them is capable of stretching the floor. JB tried to solve this problem while using them for high screens or giving them the ball for DHOs or give and go situations with the ball handler, but that was not enough for the offense to be good.
In the clip we can easily see how Borrego tried to solve that problem. Zeller is at the top of the arc with the ball and the Hornets go for a delay action as on both sides of the floor the play can be run. All the player aside from the center are on the perimeter. Here Rozier fakes the pick and Graham does a great job moving the ball.
The heavy use of schemes like the delay action and the chicago action allowed Borrego to achieve spacing even without a true center to build a 5 out offense. It is much more proper to look at our offensive scheme as a 4 out, that still guaranteed the team to operate in some directions.
The first thing that impressed me with the new lineups and the overall organization of the offense is Devonte’ Graham percentage at the rim. During the year Te’ had a rough time at going and finishing at the basket, but as the season progressed teams tried to run him out of the 3pt line giving him the chance to be a better finisher. If we add this to the willingness of playing small and open the court we can explain how his percentages at the rim went from an awful 34.6% to a much better 41.7%. Numbers are still low but you gotta considered that he is undersized and that attacking the rim isn’t his bread and butter.
As we can see from the clip, the spacing was great during the stretch even with the problem of not having a consisten stretch 5. After a ghost screen by Miles, Devonte’ is able to go downhill and display his floater game, which improved too in addition to his rim finishing. Overall his 2P% went from a 39.7% to a good 46.4% during that stretch.
2P% is going to be the key for Devonte’ heading into the next season as we’ve seen the great impact he can have while shooting 3’s. Teams are adapting to his game and he need to be consistent in other areas in order to help the Hornets succeed, but he will need to be helped with great spacing and different schemes.
Another element that Borrego wanted to improve is giving Miles the space to get downhill easily and more often. Bridges started to have the ball in his hands in a lot more situations in his sophomore year and he showed a lot of problems at attacking the basket continuously. The main source of his problems is related to his inability to handle the ball, especially in traffic. That didn’t let him to show his explosiveness as he was forced to settle for contested runners or jump hooks.
In order to help him Borrego tried different situation with either him or PJ driving to the basket after some movement to clear the space and allow them to finish with less problems. In this action we have Zeller at the top of the key directing traffic and clearing the dunker spot, he plays the DHO with Bridges who just need to beat his man while the other players are on the perimeter giving him the right space. This also shows how much is important to have a 5 who can properly handle and pass the ball.
Another example of action used by Borrego is displayed in the next clip. Bridges has the ball at the top of the arc, Rozier and Biyombo cut in order to move the defense while Cody Martin goes for the ghost screen to bait the switch. Siakam focuses on Martin for one second and loses Bridges who has the space to finish with his runner.
The same principles were applied for PJ Washington. He has better handles and he is better overall at getting to the rim than Bridges, but they were treated the same way. As we can see in the next clip, after a ghost screen, PJ is able to go one on one with his defender and easily reach the basket.
Washington displayed good things during his rookie season, that’s why Borrego tried to exploit his versatility in order to discover new options. Using him as a small ball 5 was one of the keys for getting more spacing and to open new possibilities for the offense. Having a player as a 5 that has his characteristic can open a lot of scenarios for a team, this should be the key for the future moves roster wise. However no one is sure that he can handle that position for a ton of minutes in the future.
The next clip shows us one good option that a team can run with a stretch 5. We can see that 3 players are on the perimeter on the weak side, spacing the floor. PJ and Cody Martin play a side pick and roll in which the #25 pops out and, after the drive, he is in the corner hitting the three pointer.
With the departure of Marvin Williams, PJ was able to shift to the small ball 5 much more than the first part of the season. Add this to a heavier use of forwards like Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels and you have 5 players on the floor who can drive and space the floor. The possibility to attack the closeouts allowed offense to create better looks and to move the defense.
The next video is everything we would like to see for our offense going forward. 5 players that can handle the ball, shoot it and pass it. In this particular case we have three drives with a great ball movement in order to pursuit the best shot available.
The last offensive key opened by a good spacing is offensive rebounding. With Miles, PJ, McDaniels, and the Martin twins ready to attack the board it is easy to threath the other team, especially if this long forwards can get to the right spot running from the perimeter. Here you can see 5 players on the 3 point line, PJ included, with McDaniels and Bridges reaching the interior without problems as the shot goes in the air.
Transition to the future
The Hornets were not great on offense the whole year because an overall lack of talent in the roster. For the majority of the year Devonte’ Graham almost carried the whole offensive load alone but going on with the season opponents decided to change the way they defended the Hornets. This forced Borrego to try out different things, but he really needs the right personnel to pursue his ideas.
The roster costruction should follow the principles we underlined up here like pursuing skilled and versatile players with the ability to handle, pass and shoot the ball. Also, in order to play a proper 5 out offense you would need a stretch big that does what Lopez and Porzingis do for the Bucks and the Mavs. Easier said than done, but this should be the goal going forward while looking at both free agents or college players.
JB is a young coach which still does make a huge amount of mistakes, but he displayed some good ideas talking about offensive schemes, allowing him to have better suited players will surely make his job a lot more easier.