2020-21 Season Preview: PJ Washington

After an extremely promising display in his rookie season with Charlotte, the expectations for PJ Washington going into his 2nd year are very high. With an increased role and the addition of elite playmakers on the roster, Washington should be primed to continue his development in a positive direction this season with the Hornets.

Last season PJ did just about everything well enough to convince us that he was an excellent draft pick who could do just about everything and fit the bill of modern day power forward. Shooting 46% from the field, 37.5% from three, 18th and 8th among rookies respectively. Not only did PJ display the ability to shoot effectively, but he showcased an arsenal of ways to put the ball in the hoop. Just simply watch the below video to see with your own two eyes.

The best part about is that he did so efficiently and with consistency. Ultimately he was robbed from the 1st team all rookie team. They put Eric Paschall on there instead of PJ, I mean cmon.

While Washington proved to be an effective player on the offensive end of the ball, on the defensive end he became a solid player as well. While he’s not the greatest interior defender or rim protector he can get the job done in a stint. His defensive ability has many believing (wishing rather) that we’ll be seeing a lot more small ball this season with Washington at the 5. If this tactic works that would be huge for a young team like the Hornets who like to get up and down the court with a sense of urgency.

So far this season we’ve had a roller coaster of a season from Washington that have had many concerned and calling for him to benched. On bot ends of the ball he was not up to standard and looking flat out lost on the defensive end.

The start of this season was a whole lot of that and instead of a whole lot of this.

We’re only three games in now so whoever was calling for PJ’s job was sort of jumping the gun with that, but I can understand the concern. The PJ Washington we saw in preseason and in the season opener against Cleveland was not the same Washington we saw last season or in the past couple games for that matter. However after the past two games against OKC and Brooklyn it looks like we’ve got our PJ back.

This season I’m looking for Washington to just continue his development in the path that it’s going. The team is going to ask a lot from him, he’s going to be looked at to do just about everything on the court, shoot, distribute, anchor a defense, rebound, small ball 5, and if he’s able to step up to plate and seize the opportunity then what we already know will be written in stone. He’ll be a good. maybe great player in this league for a very long time.

2020-21 Player Preview: Miles Bridges

When it comes to most young players, the fans of their team are usually more inclined to have a higher view of him that the rest of the league at large – displayed in drastically uneven NBA Trade Machine proposals and references to impressive yet innocuous performances on random nights in January.

However when it comes to Miles Bridges, the sides of the debate are actually reversed. Though the rest of the league remembers the All-Star Rising Stars MVP performance and the ferocious dunks he gives on a weekly basis, Charlotte fans are more likely to have a critical, sometimes cynical opinion of Miles as he comes into his 3rd year as a pro.

A lot of these criticisms of his game are fair, Bridges has even said as much himself, and it’s that character and ability to be his own biggest critic that influences many (most notably those around him) to believe that down the road he’ll be able to get it corrected.

The main problem for him to overcome is heightened given it’s importance in his role, that is his ability to shoot the ball. He is 33% on 3 point shooting for his career so far, which though already not ideal gets even more worrying when you dive deeper into his splits.

To be taking the most catch and shoot 3’s on the team and making them at such a low clip? A less than ideal situation, but one that will have to improve for Bridges to keep clocking big minutes for this team – especially given the number of initiators now on the team who’ll need to rely on him to get these shots to fall.

Whilst Bridges’ minutes will naturally go down due to his new role coming off the bench, making way for newly acquired Gordon Hayward to enter the starting lineup, the hope is that it could end up being the making of him.

His connection with new star LaMelo Ball was clear over the pre-season, and indicated that playing next to a guard with his style handling the ball may be more conducive for success for Miles going forward.

Defensively, the hope is that we’ll see less of the mental lapses that have caused issues over the last couple of seasons. It’s clear that Bridges has the build and makeup of a strong defensive player, but now the onus will be on him to start going out there and proving it as he grows more experienced as a player. Now that coach James Borrego has other strong defensive options at the forward positions with Gordon Hayward, PJ Washington and the Martin twins – the big question will be if Bridges can prove himself as someone you can play in those important crunch minutes, rather than a liability who the opposition will pick out to attack.

With a big summer coming up in 2021 as he becomes eligible for big money, this 3rd season will be huge in determining whether the former 12th Overall Pick is someone GM Mitch Kupchak will want to have in his long term plans. The issues he needs to correct are laid out, and with his attitude and will to succeed as outlined earlier, I wouldn’t want to bet against him getting it fixed and developing into a strong player for the team. He’s one of the easiest players to root for on our team, and I’ll be cheering for him hard this season.










2020-21 Player Preview: Terry Rozier

When Terry Rozier was brought over to Charlotte in the sign-and-trade deal last season involving Kemba Walker, I won’t lie, I was salty about it. I didn’t like it at all, especially the contract, and as the season went on I was never truly impressed with what Rozier brought to the table. This season however is a completely different case. At the time of writing this though it’s only been preseason (EDIT: 42 points in the first game LOL), Rozier’s approach to this season has me believing that we have a confident player who’s ready to show that he can be a pivotal piece on a good team.

Rozier’s catch and shoot ability has really jumped off the page to me so far this season, he’s got good shot selection and is making difficult shots. He’s also doing so with extremely high confidence. Last season he shot a personal best 40.7% from three on about 7 attempts per game. During the preseasons 4 games he went 12/22 from behind the arc, thats 54.5% and it looks wonderful. He’s looking like he can score from every level.

Transition 3s.

Floaters.

Middy pull-ups.

Tougher middy pull-ups.

Impressive reverse finishes around the defense.

Rozier is doing it all so far this season, and you just have to love it. You have to wonder what’s in the Hornets gatorade at times with how some of these guys are developing as shooters. We saw it with Kemba Walker, Devonte’ Graham, Caleb Martin’s form has improved, even Miles Bridges has become a capable shooter. Maybe this is nothing because it’s not like these guys were particularly bad shooters in college and maybe we’ve lucked out on development but it is interesting nonetheless.

Especially if you’re a contending team in need of a guy who is specializing in catch and shoot that could provide a scoring spark off of your bench. This piece was published on The Charlotte Observer questioning Hornets fans who think it’s a good move to trade Rozier. Sure those points are valid. Rozier could be seen as a veteran mentor to our young guys and losing him could stifle the development of LaMelo Ball who appears to work well with Rozier.

True points. I’ll look at it from the other side though. Say we wait until the trade deadline which isn’t confirmed yet, but is being targeted as March 25th. At that point in the year what if Ball has found his comfort zone and is creating his own shot and doesn’t need a guy like Rozier on the court to succeed. Wishful thinking, maybe? Charlotte still has Devonte’ Graham who I think can excel even more with more catch and shoot opportunities, and now theres pieces such as Gordon Hayward who we can lean on, Miles Bridges, PJ Washington, Jalen McDaniels, Cody and Caleb Martin to a lesser extent all can be competent three point shooters at a lower volume. Maybe you’re grasping at thin air with some of those names but it’s possible. Rozier isn’t unmovable is the point I’m willing to make.

Rozier’s contract is pricey, floating at around $18 million for the next couple of years. If Charlotte sees the development they like from their young guys, and they can move Rozier for an expiring deal, young assets and draft capital I think you just have to do it. On the other hand It may end up being another point guard that gets traded though with Graham being on the final year of his contract. Maybe it makes more sense to just keep Rozier and move Graham, that way you don’t need to bring in a bad expiring deal and you still get a good package in return.

Only Mitch Kupchak knows what will happens, but while he’s on this team I think we can all be excited for what Rozier is bringing to the table this year. He’s passing the eye test, stat test, and he’s wins before the game even starts with his pre-game attire. Consider me a fan.

Carolina Panthers GM Candidates

The time has finally come (again). Panthers fans around the globe; Twitter GMs, Teddy Bridgewater lovers, Ford F150 fans, and Cam stans alike can all come together (again). For the Carolina Panthers and Marty Hurney have agreed to part ways (again). The man who has held this team down in mediocrity for just about as long as I have been alive is finally gone (again).

We shall not bag on Hurney, enough of that has been done. We will only move forward to new beginnings. Starting with this article. It’s time to get familiar with some names who David Tepper should be looking at, and no, Louis Riddick will not be on this list. I do not understand the hype, sure he’s on ESPN, helped build Philadelphia’s “dream team” (for what that worth), dashing fellow, but this is the same guy who said Kyle Allen was the future here, thought Eli Apple was a better prospect than Jalen Ramsey, and also thought Solomon Thomas should have been picked over Myles Garrett who he thought should have gone 3rd. Everyone has misses but those are obvious gimmes, and he’s loud about it. I’m OK!

Moving on, when I’m thinking of who our next GM should be, I want someone from a winning organization, or at least an organization that has been trending in the right direction. Along with Tepper we want someone who will be analytically focused but there’s not really any way for me to know if they are or not, if any of these names hate analytics then I will scratch them off. Also, Tepper just wants the best of the best. So with that said let’s look at some names (in no particular order).

* denotes a minority candidate. New NFL rule rewards 3rd round comp picks.

Lake Dawson* – Assistant Director of College Scouting – Buffalo Bills

Mr. Dawson may be a name that rings a bell to Panthers fans as we interviewed him back in 2018 after Hurney’s return as interim GM. Obviously, we stuck with Hurney. Other experience for Dawson includes VP of Football Ops for the Tennessee Titans from 2011-2015, not the best years in Tennessee but the work he’s done in Buffalo since then has been excellent and with over a decade of experience and recent success, Dawson is sure to be one of the hotter names this year.

Terry Fontenot* – VP/Assistant General Manager-Pro Personnel – New Orleans Saints

Could we see Tepper dip into the Saints organization yet again? Last year we saw former Saints coach Joe Brady, brought in to be Carolina’s offense coordinator, and Teddy Bridgewater was signed to be the teams placeholder at QB for the season. Fontenot has been with the Saints for 16 years now, and yes as Panthers fans, we hate him for it. BUT, there is no denying the part he has played in helping New Orleans build a successful franchise. A pro scout for seven years, before being promoted to his current position Fontenot has played a crucial role in the Saints success, he even helps the Saints advance scout their opponents. I would not be surprised if he were on the Panthers shortlist.

Brandon Hunt – Pro Scouting Director – Pittsburgh Steelers

Hunt will be another top candidate during this years GM carousel. He’s been with the Steelers for a decade now and has been instrumental in rebuilding the defense into the respectable unit that is today. What I love the most is that Hunt was the driving force for the Steelers to go out and trade for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who is already a 1st team All-Pro in his young career. Someone who is not scared to make savvy trades is a big bonus for me. Tepper, being from the Steelers organization, may be one of the first to look Hunt’s way.

Mike Borgonzi – Director of Football Operations – Kansas City Chiefs

Touted as Kansas City’s secret weapon, Borgonzi has supposedly been a key player in building the Chiefs into the dominate force that they are today. At his best he is a supreme talent evaluator and plays a big part in the draft. Patrick Mahomes and that armada of weapons? That’s him. If Tepper wants the best of the best then there’s no better place to look than the Chiefs organization. He is the right hand man to GM Brett Veach and nothing gets done without Borgonzi knowing about it. If you’re in rebuild mode like the Panthers are, you would want a guy like Borgonzi leading the charge.

Luke Kuechly – Pro Scout – Carolina Panthers

Too soon? 100%. Would I love it? Absolutely. In my short, 25 years of life. Kuechly is the smartest defensive player I have ever seen play the game. Maybe the smartest overall. However we have no idea what a Kuechly draft pick (or really any Kuechly move) looks like as he was only signed to the scouting department back in June, but I would bet on him knowing what a good football player looks like. Tepper already has a cap expert in place to help with that end of things since Kuechly has no experience there. If you think age is a problem. Browns GM Andrew Berry is the youngest GM in the league at 32 (now 33). He was actually being looked at by Carolina just last year but Hurney was in place with that weird minimized role yet still the GM mumbo jumbo. Kuechly isn’t that much younger Berry, he’ll be 30 in April, the idea isn’t THAT crazy. You get someone who is close to the team and already understands the direction, loved by the fans, and just flat out knows ball. I would bet that Kuechly will be the GM of a team within in 5 years, and it might as well be this team.

2020-21 Player Preview: Devonte’ Graham

Devonte’ Graham, 6’1, 195 pounds, G

After a slow start as rookie, Devonte’ Graham had an excellent sophomore season and finished fifth in Most Improved voting. Te’ improved in nearly every category across the board this past year:

The big driver of Graham’s impact was his improved three point shooting. Te’ was a great shooter at Kansas so I expected him to be better than the 28.1% that he shot in his rookie year but I really didn’t see him bombing over nine threes a game. He’s a special shooter:

Te’ in transition. Cash.

Stepback Te’. Cash.

Te’ off a handoff. Cash.

Don’t go under on Te’ in pick and roll. Cash.

Every time the ball left his hands, I thought it was going in. Only three players played in at least thirty games, shot over nine threes a game, and made at least 37% of them: Damian Lillard, Buddy Hield, and our own Devonte’ Graham. That’s a special class to be in.

Te’ is also a special passer. He has great vision and has all of the passes in his bag. He excels at the pocket pass and for my money is one of the ten best guys in the league at it. He developed a good connection with PJ Washington on it which bodes well for our future:

As you can see, Te’ is a pretty special shooter outside the arc. Inside the arc, not so much. Te’ shot just under 40% on two pointers this past year. Only 13.2% of his shot attempts come at the rim and he only shot 54.3% there. In the floater range (3-10 feet), he only shot 27.4% from the field. He struggled a lot when teams sold out on his three point shooting and forced him to go inside.

In addition, even as the primary scorer for the Hornets, Graham shot under four free throw attempts a game. These are the areas that Devonte’ has to improve in to take the next step as an offensive player. The biggest area out of those that I can see him improving on is his shooting from floater range. Graham isn’t the biggest guy out there so I don’t see him improving too much at the rim or getting fouled a lot. You have to be a healthy Isaiah Thomas level athlete at that size for you to be really good there. However, a lot of good small guards have that floater in their bag. With his shooting ability, Te’ should be able to easily get into the paint as teams sell out on his shooting. That will allow him to get into floater range pretty frequently. He has to be able to hit those and take advantage.

The other thing I’m looking for is how Te’ works off ball this year with added ball-handlers in LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward. I hope to see his shooting leveraged a lot. He should be able to be really good as a spot-up guy and hopefully, we can even see him take advantage of his shooting gravity off-movement. Te’ was a pretty special player offensively last year and ranked in the top 15 in offensive PIPM per bball index. We can’t trust all in one metrics without context but I think it does give a good gauge of how good offensively he was last year. All of this value came with the ball in his hands though so it’ll be interesting to see how this shifts this year. It’ll be important to watch as we look at the Hornets long term outlook.

Overall though, I expect that Devonte’ will have another good year. Gordon Hayward should make it a lot easier for Te’ and will take a lot of pressure off. The other question in the room is that Devonte’ is entering the final year of his rookie deal. He is restricted so the Hornets will be able to match anything but look for them to get an extension done before it comes to that. He deserves it.

2020-21 Player Preview: LaMelo Ball

Well it appears the cat has finally caught the mouse. The cat being the Charlotte Hornets and the mouse being a player that we may consider a face of the franchise that is. Hornets fans around the globe will remember the 2020 draft night for a long time. For the first time in forever(?), things finally went our way and for most people, we got the guy who we thought was the best player in the class. That player being LaMelo Ball of course.

The question at hand is, can he live up to this hype?

Personally speaking, while I do have high expectations for Ball, I recognize that he also has his limitations and may not be a true #1 option on a contending team, feel free to prove me wrong of course. I think he’s your #2 guy. This isn’t a bad thing, all I’m saying is he may not be THE guy who you can look to when it’s a 1 point game with time expiring. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the potential to be an absolute stud. He does. It’s weird. I’ll break it down some more in the later paragraphs.

We all know his story by now, if you’re a basketball fan and you don’t, then you’ve been living under a rock. At just 19 years of age the kid has 6x the amount of instagram followers as the actual Hornets instagram account. Thats also more than Mavs superstar Luka Doncic, also right on the heels of back to back MVP Giannis Antetokoumpo. While only playing four preseason games, this kid can already be considered a “star” in terms of media presence. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Hornets highlights on big media sites this often before. Again, four preseason games. He hit back to back 3s the other day and that YouTube video has more views than Kemba Walkers best scoring highlights.

However this isn’t an article about Ball’s instagram followers and how many likes he can get the Hornets on Twitter. This is about what he can bring to the court and what we should expect this in his rookie season. Already laying the foundation of his stardom, it’s easy for some people to be blinded by who he is as a player. Talking to some people, you can infer that they haven’t seen Ball play since he was in high school. Thinking that he’ll have easy success from three point range, or that scoring at an extremely high clip is to be expected from him.

When in reality, most of us probably understand that just isn’t his game anymore. Although… he may think that it is at times. The first exhibition match against Orlando showed that he is not afraid to put some shots up and it truly was a joy to watch. He posted 18 points on 41%, going 4-9 from deep. That’s not too bad at all. It seems with each preseason game he’s got more of a feel for the pace of an NBA game.

In his first game against Toronto we saw him command the boards and dazzle us with his passing ability. Reeling in 10 rebounds and adding 4 assists. His ability to attack the ball at its highest point and immediately transition that into a fast break is extremely elite. Apologies for the quality, but it’s the only clip I could find. See below.

Raptors do a good job of getting back on D there but, he’s going to catch plenty of teams off guard starting breaks like that. Through these four games, Ball hasn’t exactly jumped off the stat sheet in terms of assists, but that’s not really his fault. Preseason sloppiness and unit rotations are likely playing a big role in that, once he inevitably gets into the starting lineup box score watchers may be very pleased. He processes what’s happening in the game very quickly. You can see on those football passes he just takes 1 quick glance and knows where to place it.

I’m not entirely sure he knows how to pass without adding flair to it.

The behind the backs and the alley-oops have all just been fun, and I love it. Scoring is probably the main that thing that I have some concern over. This is the reason why I stated he may not end up being a true #1 primary initiator, but it may not be as bad as I initially thought. He may not be lethal (yet) but in these past couple games, especially in the first Orlando game he’s shown that when he is set, he can get his shot to fall, as I said earlier, knocking down 4 deep balls.

Playing with Devonte Graham and Terry Rozier more than in the first two games worked pretty well for Ball. Having a guy on the court like Graham forces the defense to pay him more mind than Ball at the moment, giving him openings like above. The below 3 instances are probably the closest thing we have so far to him “creating” his own shot. Michael Carter-Williams lets him take that 3 pretty much but I’ll personally count that as a shot off dribble.

While everyone raved about that ugly jumpshot falling, I was more impressed by these three finishes at the rim.

Those are three layups that I honestly expected to see in games 1 and 2. While Ball was in Australia, I felt like I had seen enough to believe that he could be an OKAY finisher around the rim even though most people thought otherwise. With such a long and skinny frame he’s able to manipulate his body into odd angles to allow him to finish such difficult layups, but other factors cause him to not be able to create more of these opportunities. I feel like those layups should NOT go in, but he’s able to make it work and has done so before.

This may be what propels him into actual stardom. When that shot isn’t falling, can you still find other ways to score? So far, his floaters look horrible. It’s okay, we’ll work on that, but having the ability to get layups like those to go at such a young age I think is huge. Hopefully he can do so with some consistency.

Moving over to the defensive side of the ball I’m actually pleasantly surprised with him so far. Labeled as unwilling to play defense coming into the draft (for good reason), so far he has at least shown that he is willing to buy into James Borrego’s system and try on defense. It hasn’t been pretty at times and I feel he tries to play hero ball resulting in some open looks, but you can say for certain that he is active. He plays defense like he’s a high school free safety.

Loved this sequence from the Orlando game.

So that’s pretty much what I mean when I say he tries to play hero ball on defense. He’s over-helped and left Cole Anthony who was cooking from 3 wide open in the corner. He did this plenty of times during this game and got burnt for it. On this occasion it works and he gets the offense moving full speed in transition. If Cody Zeller doesn’t trip up that’s probably 2 points. On one hand I love the aggression but he has to be careful with who he tries to bait down there. Leaving MCW wide open in the corner is one thing, Cole Anthony is another.

He’s also been horrible in navigating screens, but that’s something we can work as he bulks up and just get more PT. Overall though, much better than anticipated. You would have to believe that his high basketball IQ allows him to play defense the way he does. Knowing when to swipe or knowing when to get in lanes can be beneficial, but smart players will kill him. He can’t leave a man like that playing against the leagues best. Also at 6’8 I would bank on him being at the very least a capable on-ball defender, being able to guard both the 1 and 2 and hopefully the 3 later into his career once the weight starts to come.

So what can we expect this season from LaMelo Ball? I would say what you already know. Get ready for a fun year. It’s going to be flashy, it may not be pretty at times, but this will be a league pass favorite for some non-hornets fans. His ability to push the ball quickly, extravagant passes and crafty finishing will leave many mesmerized.

On the other hand box score watchers may be put off. I wouldn’t expect a high scoring average from him. I could see around 12-14 PPG, 6 assists, 5 rebounds. I think that’s a pretty solid rookie season. I am in the camp that thinks he’ll win rookie of the year, but that may just be me homering. I think there’s going to be games where he just goes ballistic and drops an absurd amount of points, which will have voters making their minds up off of those few performances. Again, it’s only the preseason and his highlights are EVERYWHERE.

With all that said. Where can I buy some Big Baller Brand gear?

Hornets Offense In The Making

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.

Hornets offense in the making James Borrego

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 Hernangomez were 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.

2020 NBA Draft Preview: Scouting Top Big Ten Bigs

This week I’m diving more into some second round players and specifically, looking at some of the top bigs in the Big 10 this past year.

Jalen Smith, Maryland, C, 6-10, 225, 7-1.5 wingspan

Jalen Smith projects as a rim-protecting, sharp shooting big man. He has two of the most important tools that you look for in a modern big. The most intriguing skill for him is his shooting though. He has the chance to get it up with volume and shoot it in versatile ways.

With Maryland this past year, he shot 36.8% from 3 on 2.8 attempts a game. He was in the 75th percentile as a spot up shooter, 78th percentile on unguarded catch & shoot jumpers in the half court, and the 76th percentile in jumpers in the half court in general. He’s a really good shooter for a big.

Here’s Smith off-movement:

Smith as a trailer:

And Smith with a smooth pull-up:

As you can see, not only is Smith a good shooter, he can shoot in a variety of ways. Having him at your five will open up the floor tremendously.

Smith has also shown some capability of attacking closeouts which adds to his shooting value:

And a sweet post-move here:

Out of the three bigs, I think Jalen Smith has the highest offensive upside in the NBA as a scorer. I’m really intrigued into how he develops. He’s not much of a passer (6.1 AST%) but he should be a really good play finisher as a pick and pop guy and has shown some roll ability as well (90th percentile in rolls to the basket).

I’m not enamored with Smith’s rim protection otherwise I’d have him as a lottery level guy but I think he will be solid enough. Had a 8.2 BLK% this past year which was the best of all of the three bigs. He needs to get stronger to be a better defender but he has decent enough IQ to know where to be. He should be around an average center defender and that mixed with his shooting potential should put him into consideration at 32.

Xavier Tillman, Michigan State, C, 6’8, 245, 7-1 wingspan

Tillman has the highest basketball IQ out of the three bigs and has the most diverse skill set. His most intriguing offensive skill is his passing (three assists per game, 18.1 AST%):

Tillman should be a really good short roll big in the NBA. He makes really good reads and is able to handle it just enough to get to where he needs to go. He also has shown some ability to score out of it:

Tillman’s best fit on offense is with a long range bomber like Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, and to a lesser extent a guy like Devonte’ Graham. Those players get trapped a lot and Tillman can take advantage in the four on three situations that come from the gravity of them. Don’t really buy Tillman as a shooter ( 26% from three, 66.7% from the line, 32.4% on two point jumpers) but his passing and good decision-making should add value in the NBA.

Tillman is the most versatile defender out of the three. Don’t buy him as a switch guy as a whole but has shown some ability:

Tillman is also probably the best post defender in the draft:

And Tillman does well in the P&R:

Overall, Tillman is a really good defender and I think would be a plus on that end. It just comes to how much of a plus. He lacks some of the athletic ability and length that deters NBA caliber athletes at the next level. Bigs who have bigger size will be able to just score over him. However, Tillman would be excellent as a third big and could be a low end starter for certain teams because of his decision-making on both ends.

Daniel Oturu, Minnesota, C, 6’10, 240, 7’3 wingspan

Oturu has the physical tools to play center. Big and strong and has the longest wingspan out of the three. However, I’m worried about his feel and how his play style fits into the modern game.

Oturu was super productive at Minnesota averaging 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks a game. His physical tools should lead him to be able to block shots (7.1 BLK%) but I am worried if he’ll contest enough shots. While watching him I noticed a lot of shots where he doesn’t contest at all but is right there:

Out of the three, I’m the lowest on his defensive potential so I think he’d be more of a third big than a starter. As a third big though, he may be able to carve out a role as a scoring big. He is the most talented iso scorer out of the three:

Oturu is going to be productive in the NBA but I just worry about his overall impact. He’s not going to be Embiid or Jokic in the post so he’s not going to get that many touches however he should be able to be an efficient shooter.

But I don’t see the versatility of his jumper in the ways that I see it in Jalen Smith. I don’t think Oturu will get up enough attempts for it to matter. He mostly only shot wide open ones at Minnesota and only took 1.7 attempts a game.

Oturu has had flashes. This is a good sequence here for him:

Overall though, I see him more as a scoring big that doesn’t bring that much value on the defensive end.

I’d rank the bigs as:

1. Jalen Smith 2. Xavier Tillman 3. Daniel Oturu

Smith and Tillman are very close and Oturu is a distant third. Oturu has the worst defensive IQ out of the three and doesn’t have an easily translatable offensive skill like Smith’s shooting and Tillman’s passing. Tillman to me is the safest of the bunch because of his high IQ but I’d go with Smith because of his higher scoring upside. Also, because he’s taller than Tillman, I buy him more as a rim protector.

2020 NBA Draft Preview: Devin Vassell

Devin Vassell is the premiere 3 and D wing in the draft. The Hornets desperately need two-way players so Vassell fills a need. He has a little bit of upside as well. Let’s dive in.

Devin Vassell, Florida State, G/F, 6’7, 194

Offense

Based on me saying that Vassell is the premiere 3 and D prospect, you can guess what Vassell’s best offensive skill is. Vassell shot 41.5% from 3 this year on about 3.5 attempts a game. Based on how the shot looks, he should’ve got more attempts but Florida State runs an equal opportunity offense. Contested or not contested, Vassell is a sniper:

At 6’7 with a 6’9-6’10 wingspan, Vassell has the extension to get shots up over defenders. In the NBA, where defenders are a lot faster, having a shooter who can get shots up over good closeouts is very valuable.

Vassell has shown some off-movement shooting too:

There’s potential for Vassell to grow as a off movement shooter and with his length, I think it can really be weaponized in the league.

As far as self-creation goes, there have been mixed results. Vassell doesn’t really have the burst to get by defenders. His handle isn’t that great either:

I’m pretty sure even with improvement that Vassell won’t really be that good of a rim attacker in the NBA. With his shooting and defense, it isn’t too much of a big deal. In addition, there is a case to be made that he has some upside as a shot-maker off the dribble. He’s made some fluid pull-ups:

Because of his size, Vassell is able to rise up over defenders and not be bothered by contests. This could potentially make him more impactful than the typical 3 and D wing because you won’t be able to hide a small guard on him. He may be able to take advantage:

Vassell has even flashed some step back ability:

The goal with Vassell would be to bring him on slowly and just let him focus on shooting spot 3s and defending in the beginning. As the years go on, the team selecting him should help him to work on his handle so that he can weaponize his size as a shot-maker. Different players (this isn’t a comp I promise) but the team selecting Vassell should develop him like how the Boston Celtics did with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Vassell will never be Jayson Tatum but Brown could be a potentially higher end outcome for Vassell. Obviously not the same players, as Jaylen Brown is a better athlete, but Vassell could be in the same vein as a 3 and D wing that has shot-making capabilities.

James Borrego values three point shooting a lot and Devin Vassell would fit right in as a spacer. If he can tap into some of that shot-making upside, it’d be great as the Hornets only have Devonte’ Graham as a shot-maker right now.

Defense

Vassell is definitely a top five defender in this draft and has a case as the best one. He projects to be able to guard 1-4. He provides value as a point of attack defender, iso defender, and help defender.

His length is very disruptive guarding one on one:

He’s able to deny the post because of his length and strength:

He can use his length to block shots on closeouts:

His best trait is his team defense. His IQ is amazing and he truly blows plays up:

Vassell should be a really good defender right away in the league. He’ll be able to be good in any scheme and make plays happen. This past year he averaged 1.4 steals a game and a block a game (2.8 STL% & 4.1 BLK%). The Hornets need that too. They added PJ Washington and Cody Martin in last year’s draft and a Vassell pick would continue the run of good defenders for them.

With his three point shooting and defense, Devin Vassell is already a lottery level prospect in my eyes. The fact that there is potential for him as a shot-maker adds to his intrigue and moves up my board. The Hornets need to continue to add two-way players to build a good foundation on both ends of the floor. Vassell would be a great choice to add.

2020 NBA Draft Preview: Tyrese Haliburton

The Hornets are currently the eighth worst team by the NBA standings so it’s likely that they’ll be picking somewhere around there. Today, I’ll be diving into Tyrese Haliburton, a player who’s skill set would fit well with any team and could possibly be around when the Hornets pick.

Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State, G, 6’5, 175

Offense

When watching Haliburton, the thing that stands out the most is his passing. He has really good vision and with his size can get passes to places that others can’t. This past year, Haliburton had a 35% assist percentage at Iowa State. He’s a pass first type of guy:

Haliburton is a terrific P&R passer. Here, he makes sure to manipulate the big to get his guy and open basket.

More P&R craft from Hali:

The last clip shows Haliburton’s great basketball IQ. He’s able to manipulate the tag man to get the open look for his guy.

Haliburton’s also able to make the essential cross court pass for P&R operators in the league:

I don’t expect Haliburton to be a primary initiator in the league as he isn’t the rim attacker or P&R deep shooting threat that others are but as a secondary option, his passing and high basketball IQ should shine as a connector in the half-court as well as running secondary P&Rs.

Additionally as a secondary option, Haliburton should be a really good shooter off the catch:

Those shots are pretty deep, showing that he has NBA range. As a freshman, Hali shot 43.4% from three on about three attempts a game. As a sophomore and with a lot more difficult attempts, Hali shot 41.9% from three on almost six attempts a game. I think it’s a pretty safe bet to assume he’ll shoot and shoot well.

Haliburton has showcased some shot-creation behind the arc and in the midrange as well:

The knock on Haliburton is that he doesn’t showcase the necessary burst at times to truly unlock his passing. Here, Hali can’t really shake the big:

Also, Hali might be a bit too passive at times:

If you’re projecting Haliburton as a ball dominant #1 option, I can see what the issue would be. However, if Haliburton is used in a lesser role, these concerns are very much mitigated. In addition, Haliburton does showcase some able to get by guys and rim attack:

Again, I don’t think Haliburton has the burst to just get by everyone in the league. However, he has enough to be able to attack close outs well and score with the occasional pick and roll. He is by no means a liability in that regard.

With Haliburton’s three point rate (.667 as a freshman, .508 as a sophomore) and passing feel, I think he’d be a great fit with the Charlotte Hornets. Coach Borrego encourages guys to launch from deep and wants the ball to keep moving. Haliburton will be able to do both and do it well in the league.

Defense

As a defender, Haliburton shines more off ball than on ball. He’s not a clear liability on ball but he could be a bit better:

However, his IQ on the offensive end directly translates to his off ball defense as he is pretty awesome as a help defender:

His length is functional and impactful as well:

No one is going to confuse Haliburton with being a defensive stopper but overall his impact on the defensive end is a clear positive. His instincts are great (3.8 STL% and 2.0 BLK %) and he is always on his toes looking to make an impact on the play.

After drafting two smart defenders in PJ Washington and Cody Martin, Haliburton would fit right in as another good help defender. With some of the low defensive IQ players that the Hornets have, bringing in Haliburton would help to cover up for some mistakes.

At the end of the day, Tyrese Haliburton is a smart and good basketball player. I don’t think he’s going to be a star caliber player but for where the Hornets are picking, they probably won’t have the chance to get a player with that upside. Teams always need smart and good basketball players and the Hornets are desperately in need of some. Haliburton would be a worthy addition to the young core of Charlotte and would help them to build a great foundation if/when the Hornets are able to get a player with star potential.