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: Precious Achiuwa

I’ve seen a lot of people buzzing about Memphis’ Precious Achiuwa, so I wanted to see what all the hype was about. Let’s dive into his strengths and weaknesses and see if he actually makes sense in the lottery for the Hornets.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis, F/C, 6’9, 225, 7-2.5 wingspan

Offense

After watching the tape, I’m much more intrigued by Achiuwa’s defensive potential but I think it is still important to dive in to what he can do on the offensive end. This past year with Memphis, he was very productive and averaged 15.8 points and 10.8 rebounds a game and was the AAC’s player and rookie of the year. However, there’s only a couple of offensive skills that I’m interested in for his projection to the NBA: his offensive rebounding, shooting ability, and ability to attack closeouts.

At Memphis, Precious was a very effective offensive rebounder, grabbing three a game (11.4 ORB %). With his good timing and jumping ability, Precious was able to create extra possessions for his team. This has value and is one of the avenues that Achiuwa can provide a positive impact on the offensive end.

The big question with Achiuwa though and what will ultimately decide whether he can be positive on the offensive end is if he is able to shoot from distance. His college numbers provide a mixed bag as he shot 32.5% from 3 this past year on a little over one attempt a game. This is decent enough for a big who is growing as a shooter but his FT numbers are abysmal (59.9% on about six attempts a game). FT% has often been a good indicator for players that can shoot in the NBA so that leads to some caution but it isn’t the end all be all. Achiuwa’s form isn’t bad:

I’m not a shot doctor but I think with some tweaking he is a good bet to be able to shoot corner 3s at least and maybe some above the break. If he can become capable at above the break 3s, he can provide value as a pick and pop big. But again, I think he can serve as a spacer at the corners and with his quick first step, he should be able to attack closeouts:

Against 4s and 5s, Precious should be able to utilize his quick first step to get good angles to the basket and finish. If he’s able to shoot and be a threat, that’ll only make it easier for him as a driver and he can provide value as a catch and shoot or catch and go guy in the offensive end.

Other than that, I don’t see any other avenues for offensive value for Achiuwa. I’ve seen comps for him as Bam Adebayo or Pascal Siakam and I just don’t see it. I don’t see the passing ability/decision-making ability of a Bam or the ability to self-create like Siakam.

You just don’t want Precious making decisions on the court in my opinion. He only averaged one assist compared to almost three turnovers a game. He just isn’t a good decision maker:

I don’t see him being good as a short roll guy at all. He just doesn’t have good vision. In addition, his shot IQ is low and he doesn’t show a good ability to self-create:

He’s not the type of guy to create on his own (21.2% on two point jumpers this year):

This isn’t to hate on Precious. He can still make a positive impact on the floor. It’s okay to not be Pascal Siakam or Bam Adebayo. If Precious can fix his shot and shoot 35-37% from three on a decent enough volume he will be fine on the offensive end.

Defense

This is where the intrigue comes from for Precious. He’s a versatile defender who should be able to switch between the 4 and the 5. I think he’s a 4 in the NBA and don’t think he can anchor a whole defense but he should be able to play the 5 for stretches which gives him more value than if he was just a straight 4 or 5.

I’m really interested in Achiuwa’s weak side rim protection at the 4 position. He shows pretty good awareness and is able to utilize his length to get blocks and steals:

Precious is able to cover a lot of ground on the defensive end and his wingspan allows him to get his hand on balls that others may not be able to. This is just an awesome play here:

In addition to his rim protection ability, Achiuwa has shown some capability to be a good switch defender:

Achiuwa can be vulnerable sometimes as he gets shook here:

So I wouldn’t call him a Bam level switch defender but I think he’s definitely more than capable to switch and should be pretty good in that area.

With his versatility as a rim protector and a switch guy, I think Precious can be capably play both the 4 and 5 positions and should be a high level defender.

The majority of Achiuwa’s value in the NBA will come from his defensive versatility and I think he can really help a team on that end as he learns and gets more polish as a defender. How good he can be as an overall player in my opinion is if he shoots it. If he can, he provide value as a spacer and from attacking closeouts. I see him as a theoretical 3 and D big that would be amazing to have as a third big and probably should be able to be a starter.

I think the Hornets are picking too high though for a guy like Achiuwa. He is a first rounder in my opinion but not really a lottery level talent. And that’s totally fine. I think he will be a impactful player but I’d rather take a chance on a higher upside guy or get a guy that plays a more premium position.

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.

2020 NBA Draft Preview: Onyeka Okongwu

It’s not up for debate, Onyeka Okongwu is the best center prospect in this years class. He possesses the skills necessary to be an effective 5 not only during the regular season but during the playoffs as well. Let’s dive into why he is good and how he’ll translate with the Hornets.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC, C, 6’9, 240 pounds

Offense

During the college season, Okongwu was a very effective offensive player. He was able to average over 16 points a game on 61.6% shooting. On offense, his four main play types were post-ups, putbacks, cuts, and as the P&R roll man. I’ll talk about the most important three (imo) for his NBA protection.

Post-ups:

While at USC, Okongwu posted up for 102 possessions and was able to score 1.127 points per possession which was in the 94th percentile in the country. That’s pretty significant and on good volume as well. Okongwu isn’t going to be the next Embiid but his success as a post-up threat in college leads me to believe that he’ll be able to punish mismatches in the league.

USC ran this little rub screen every game to get Okongwu an advantageous post-up and he usually delivered:

Fronting didn’t work to stop Okongwu either. He finishes through contact here:

These plays aren’t overly complicated and it isn’t like Okongwu has this advanced footwork but it is another weapon in his arsenal. We’ve seen in the league the past years that some P&R bigs aren’t able to post-up mismatches which makes it easier for teams to just switch the action. With Okongwu, I think it is a good bet to make that he’ll be able to punish those mismatches with his strength and touch.

The Hornets often posted Cody Zeller, Marvin Williams, PJ Washington, and Miles Bridges in mismatch situations so Okongwu would fit right in.

Putbacks:

Onyeka is a strong guy and was pretty dominant as an offensive rebounder this year. He had an offensive rebounding percentage of 12.4% (3.3 offensive rebounds a game) and was effective with finishing them off as he scored 1.37 points per possession on putbacks which ranked in the 90th percentile. Watch him toss around his opponent here:

The Hornets were third in the league in offensive rebounding but only 11th in second chance points. Okongwu would help here as he is such a good play finisher.

P&R Man:

This will be Okongwu’s bread & butter in the NBA. He’s in that Clint Capela & Jarrett Allen mold. With Devonte’s wizardry as a passer, Okongwu will thrive as a diver in the P&R. While at USC, Okongwu was in the 78 percentile as a roll man.

Okongwu is a terrific vertical athlete and can catch in traffic as well:

Give him some space on the catch and he’ll make you pay too:

Not only does Okongwu score for himself in P&R but he has really great gravity as a roller that will help his teammates get open looks:

The Hornets have some pretty good shooters and with Okongwu in the mix, it’ll only help them to get better looks.

Okongwu has some passing feel as well. He’s no Jokic but he can find the open man:

This is probably my favorite pass from Okongwu. Such a good find:

Don’t ask Okongwu to dribble too much outside of one or two dribbles but he has such a great set of skills. He’s not going to be a star level offensive player as a big (there are only a few) but the skills that he brings to the table are very intriguing. He brings Capela’s roll gravity with actual passing feel and potential to post mismatches. Okongwu isn’t going to shoot but that doesn’t matter as much to me because he’s so good as a roll guy and offensive rebounder. You want him more around the rim anyways. Additionally, with a floor spacing 4 like PJ Washington, the fit is like a glove.

Defense

I love Okongwu’s collection of offensive skills but the defensive end is where he truly shines. Okongwu was 10th in the NCAA in defensive box plus/minus. His rim protection is his best trait (9.8% block percentage) but he can fit into a variety of schemes. Watch him hedge and recover:

Okongwu hedges out to impede the defender’s progress but has the movement skills to get back to his own man for block.

Again, Okongwu stops the defender and recovers and just swallows up his man for the block.

Okongwu can guard in drop coverage as well:

Stays between both the ball-handler and the roller and disrupts the lob easily.

Okongwu has shown some switch potential too. Here he guards TCU guard Desmond Bane:

Here he rejects Arizona guard Nico Mannion:

The shot blocking is Okongwu’s best trait though:

Okongwu ran the full court to get this block:

I mean look at this versatility. Stonewalls the post-up and stays with Oregon guard Payton Pritchard on the switch to get the block:

Okongwu can be legitimately terrifying on the defensive end. His weakest point as a defender probably is his post defense but it’s not like he’s bad at it, he’s just too small to guard guys like Jokic, KAT, or Embiid. Being that most bigs are unable to guard those guys I don’t see it as too big of a problem. Additional , with bigs it is a lot easier to deny them the ball in the playoffs especially. You can always get a bench big that is huge that can take those assignments at times.

Okongwu is easily the best defensive big prospect and it fills a huge need for the Hornets. The Hornets need a lot (lol) but defense was a huge problem last year (25th in defensive rating) and Okongwu would help them set an identity. With guys like PJ Washington and Cody Martin improving, adding in Okongwu would give the Hornets a really good defensive foundation.

Onyeka Okongwu is a prospect with few concerning weaknesses and fills a big need for the Hornets. Cody Zeller is a good defensive big but he just doesn’t bring the versatility that Okongwu can bring to the table. On offense, Okongwu brings that lob gravity that the Hornets haven’t really had which will open the floor for the shooters. Te’/Okongwu pick & roll with Miles, Terry Rozier, and PJ spotting is a really solid offensive foundation. All three of those guys can attack close outs when the ball is kicked out and have enough passing feel to make the next pass. Te’ can find all open guys and Okongwu can finish and find the open man as well.

We’re projected around the 7-10 pick and depending on how the board shakes out Okongwu will probably be one of the best options at the spot. While the Hornets will lack that offensive centerpiece, the Hornets will put themselves in a good position to have a great foundation for the future. Get lucky in the 2021 lottery and the Hornets could be looking at a pretty quick turnaround.

2020 Draft Preview: Cole Anthony

I’m a UNC fan so I’ve seen quite of bit of Cole Anthony. I’ll try to take out as much of my bias as possible. Being that the Hornets are tumbling down the standings (currently the 7th worst record in the league), it’s time to start to look forward at who we want to add to our core. Cole Anthony is one of those guys near the top of the board and I’m actually very intrigued by him and wouldn’t mind seeing him in a Hornets uniform. Let’s dive into why.

Cole Anthony, G, 6’3, 190, UNC

Offense

Cole’s role in the NBA will definitely be as a primary initiator. He can improve in the ball-handling department but he has a good, tight handle and a lot of moves in his bag. He doesn’t have the most explosive first step but he has a solid one and that mixed with his ball-handling ability allows him to get to the basket. Cole’s most important skill is his shooting though. Ironically enough, it hasn’t been pretty. Currently, he’s shooting 35.4% from the field, 31.6% from the 3 (7 attempts a game), and 73.7% from the line. The numbers are bad but there is a lot of context for this.

Cole’s situation at UNC isn’t the most optimal environment. First, Roy Williams, UNC’s coach, has long always played two bigs in the lineup. Cole often shares the court with UNC’s best bigs, Armando Bacot and Garrison Brooks, and neither are shooting threats. In addition to that, the other players that Cole shares the court with aren’t shooters as well. Only one other player other than Cole, Brandon Robinson, is a shooting threat, and he’s currently out due to injury. So, Cole at this point in time shares the floor with four other guys that can’t shoot.

*Anthony Harris never played in a game that Cole did*

Those numbers from three are just horrible. Cole constantly faces looks like this:

*Pictures from the Stepien’s Spencer Pearlman scouting report which goes way more in depth than I can.*

This is an extremely bad environment to be in and would hurt even the best scorer’s percentages. Cole isn’t as bad of a shooter as the numbers suggest. The numbers aren’t all on the environment though. Cole does have a problem with shot selection. He takes a lot of contested pull-ups and drives into multiple defenders. His situation is poor but there are lot of shots that he just shouldn’t take. Cole is a pretty special shooter though when his decision-making is good:

Cole has beyond NBA range and has the step-back in his bag. His shot-making is what makes him intriguing. He’s in the Damian Lillard mold in that his shooting gravity should be able to open easier lanes for teammates. His shooting opens up a lot for his own passing as he’s not an elite one a la Trae Young or Luka Doncic. He is a solid passer though and if he can shoot with volume and efficiency, his lack of elite passing won’t hold him back:

These are some really good reads from Cole. My favorite is the last one and is the type of flash play that you hope becomes more routine for him. He clearly is a smart player and good passer.

Even still, Cole’s decision-making has been pretty rough as whole this year. As stated earlier, he takes a lot of contested jumpers when he should probably make the extra pass. In addition, he does a lot of dribbling too much. With UNC having no other real creator, he gets doubled a lot and pressured and he tries to dribble through it all:

Cole has a tendency to dribble way too much. Some of it could stem from that he realizes he is the only creator on the team but either way, he just has to be better in those situations. In the last clip, UNC is up by 9 with a little less than two minutes left to go. The smart move would be to dribble it out and let that clock go down. However, Cole goes way too quickly and misses the shot.

The good thing is that there has been growth in his decision-making. His game against Duke was probably one of his best of the year. He made the correct reads majority of the time and took good shots. He also knew when to take over. He didn’t play a perfect game by any means but his growth from the beginning of the season is good to see and bodes well for his future in the NBA. However, he followed that up with 5-19 shooting and seven turnover game against Wake Forest. He’s obviously not there yet in terms of decision-making and it’s the big swing skill for him. If he can become a solid decision-maker, he has all-star upside. If he can’t, he won’t be much more than an average starter. It’s something to monitor.

Ultimately, Cole profiles on offense as a scoring PG. He has flashed the ability to score at all three levels and does a really good job of getting to the line (around seven attempts a game). With good decison-making, he can be a legit engine of a good offense.

Defense

Cole shines as a team defender which makes me a lot more optimistic of him as a decision-maker. He does make mistakes occasionally:

But overall, he’s been a damn good team defender:

Cole has shown the ability to be in the right place at the right time and collect charges. In the last clip, you can see what Cole Anthony could look like on defense when he’s locked in. He gets around the screen and stays in front of his man. Then, he helps down to cover the pass which forces the offensive player to throw an errant pass and turn it over. This is the type of high IQ play that has me excited about his potential on the defensive end.

He’s been up and down with his on-ball defense though which has been concerning:

It seems to be that his footwork is just bad so there might be room to grow but I don’t think he’ll ever be a legit deterrent on-ball on defense. However, his team defense could actually shine in the NBA. He also has shown some shades of rim protection:

Like, what PG is doing that? That play is incredible.

With what I’ve seen on tape, I optimistic that he can be a positive defender in the NBA. He’s only a one position defender but his defensive IQ should help him to disrupt offenses and make an impact.

Hornets Fit

So why are we looking for a guard if we have Devonte’ Graham & Terry Rozier? Well, I don’t see either having the potential of being an all-star level initiator. Rozier leaves a lot to be desired as a play-maker and pull-up shooter which limits his primary guard value. Devonte’ Graham is great as a pull-up guy and play-maker but can’t really score anywhere else on the floor. Therefore, the Hornets are still in need of a guy to lead the offense.

I really think Cole could be that guy. He’s a better play-maker than Rozier and has a more versatile scoring package than Graham (and Rozier really). The Hornets are missing a guy that can really put pressure on the rim and get good looks and shots at the line. Cole could potentially be that guy. With his good team defense and ability to shoot in off-ball scenarios, he could also be able to be on the court for stretches with Rozier or Graham.

At his best, Cole could be a Lillard type of player on offense (he probably won’t be THAT good offensively). He’ll be a solid passer on the offensive end with great shooting gravity and the ability to put pressure on the rim. On defense, he actually could be a positive (which is a rarity among PGs and is valuable) with his team defense and improved point-of-attack defense. If he doesn’t hit right, he’ll still be a stellar shooter I feel like and still add the team defense. However, his decision-making could hold him back and he could be a liability when defending other guards.

I’m optimistic that Cole will land closer to that optimal outcome. He’s such a smart defender that I believe that that should translate to the offensive end and he’s shown a lot of growth as a decision-maker this year. With his defense, he’s shown flashes of actually being good on-ball and if he can clean up his footwork, he could legitimately be good on that end. The Hornets currently have the seventh worst record in the league and I think they’ll pick around that 4-7 range. Cole Anthony would be a great pick in that range and would help us to potentially get the star that Charlotte needs.

PJ Washington: Rookie of the Year?

A lot of fans weren’t happy about the Hornets taking PJ Washington because they felt it wasn’t a “sexy” pick. PJ doesn’t have the potential to average 30 points a game sure but it’s not like anyone else at that pick position did either. What he is though, is a very versatile forward that has been incredible for the Hornets so far this year.

Offensive Versatility

Shooting:

PJ is having a pretty special shooting season. He’s shooting over 42% from 3 on over three attempts a game and has a sparkling true shooting percentage of 59%. He is terrific from the corners, over 54%, but his ability to shoot from above the break (37.5% on 56 attempts) sets him apart. Having a big who can shoot from there provides extra spacing for everyone else from the court.

PJ made 7 threes in his first NBA game. Teams have definitely taken notice and now recognize him as a legit threat from behind the arc. The reputation that he is developing is key for our guards who are trying to get to the basket. PJ’s quick trigger is key too:

Spacing in the NBA is as much about the reputation that the player has as a shooter as the percentage that a player is shooting. If opposing players view a guy as shooter, they’ll pay attention to the guy no matter what the percentage maybe. With his quick trigger, PJ is developing a reputation as a guy that’ll let if fly. Teams pay attention to that.

PJ is also really good at the rim. He’s good as the roll man in P&R and is bouncy enough to be a lob threat:

Even without space, PJ can finish. He’s really strong and has great touch:

Overall, PJ shoots over 71% from 0-3 feet out. He’s a terrific offensive big. Can shoot in the corners and above the break. Can pick & pop and pick & roll. He has shown some potential in attack closeouts as well and with his great finishing and shooting ability, that’ll be a great big. He’s as good as it gets when you’re looking for a guy to put next to a star on the offensive end. He also has some self-creation game as well. He scores 1.08 points per possession on post-ups which is in the 82nd percentile. He simply knows how to put the ball in the basket.

Passing:

It’s important to have as many high-level decision makers on the court as you can. Primary initiators start to get trapped when they get hot and a guy like PJ can help to alleviate that pressure. Would’ve loved to see PJ with Kemba 😦 . PJ is a really good passer as a big. He can serve as an outlet for initiators and makes terrific decisions. Look at these passing chops:

The last one is as good as it gets. I mean when you have a big that can make no-look passes, you truly have something special. Add this to his shooting ability and you have the potential of an awesome offensive player. His value will only skyrocket once the players around him get better.

Defensive Versatility

On-ball defense:

PJ isn’t really a true switch-guy and struggles sometimes with quick guards. Watch Musa get by him here:

You can see here that sometimes he gets stood up and smaller guys can go by him. However, he does hold-up well enough and can stay pretty well with wings and bigs because of his strength:

This will be really good to see because PJ struggled with Eric Paschall in their matchup before. PJ’s constantly learning and adjusting and that’s great to see and showcases his high IQ. Again, I wouldn’t want PJ out on an island with Steph Curry or anything but he’s capable and can matchup really well 3-4 and even some fives because of his strength.

Off-Ball:

This is where PJ truly shines. His instincts are terrific. His rotations are always there:

PJ has really good anticipation skills. While watching this week, I saw a couple plays where I thought “hey, maybe that was his fault” but every time on rewatch, he’s consistently in the right position. At the four, it’s really important to have a good back-line defender that can recognize what the offense is doing and make the right read. PJ is doing that already as a rookie. Just imagine when PJ is in his prime. He’s going to be an incredible defender and is already a positive on that end of the floor during his rookie year.

Overall:

PJ is just so cerebral and so versatile as a player. The Hornets really got a gem and PJ’s on track to outperform his draft position. He also should be in the thick of the rookie race. Guys like Ja Morant and Tyler Herro have the highlights of course and have been good. However, neither of them can match the two-way impact that PJ has.

PJ is third in PIPM among all rookies & first in Wins Added so far this season (per bball index). Catch all’s like that aren’t the end all be all, but they matchup with what you see on the court. PJ has consistently impacted winning on both ends of the floor and without bias would be my rookie of the year at this point in the season.

Terry Rozier’s “Rocky” Start

Terry Rozier is the most polarizing player on the Hornets. I’ve never seen a player enter a new city and immediately be criticized the way that Rozier has through his first 14 games into his Charlotte Hornets career. Mainly, I believe it is because of *who* he is replacing. Before the season started, I laid out a preview into the Terry Rozier experience, and not to parade myself, but I nailed it. Every single aspect of it, the good and the bad.

A very short recap: Pros: athletic, push the pace, rebounder, can get to the rim, and is a willing passer. Cons: up in the air defensively, ineffective shooter, misses open players (especially PnR) despite his passing willingness*.

* Wasn’t mentioned directly, but it was a concern I was aware about.

However, something I did not anticipate was the amount of turnovers and foul trouble. Rozier is averaging three turnovers a game (4:3 AST/TO ratio). He has also been in foul trouble throughout multiple games this season. Since Rozier is a player that relies on rhythm and pace, him having to go to bench multiple times a game because of fouling certainly doesn’t help his strengths.

Something that makes Rozier even more polarizing throughout the Hornets fanbase is Devonte Graham, or rather, best player in the world Devonte Graham???? Listen, I’m going to say this, and you might not believe me, but the Hornets didn’t expect THIS from Graham. No one, not me, you, or the front office believed that Graham could take his big of a leap in an offseason where he saw very limited action the season before. DG started out the year the hottest player in the league, and this skewed perception entirely into “well, why did you sign Rozier if you had this?”

Now I have something that’s going to blow your mind… but no one is going to tell you this… Rozier and Graham have almost identical stats. Both are shooting 41% from the floor, both are averaging three turnovers, Terry is a better rebounder, and Graham is a better facilitator. Of course, the thing that has separated Graham from Rozier so far has been three point percentage. ‘D3vont3’ is shooting 41%, while Terry is shooting 36% (which is relatively average). Both are shooting 14 shots a game, with Devonte averaging 18 points per game and Rozier at 16.

Of course, stats only tell one side of the story. Just watching the games Graham looks smoother overall. We can attribute this to multiple reasons. First, this is Graham’s second year with James Borrego. Obviously, Rozier is entering a new situation. Along those same lines, chemistry with the other players. The Hornets brought back 11/15 players from last year’s team. Of course there is going to be a familiarity aspect into it.

I think the main idea that everybody is missing, regardless of how you view the current point guard situation in Charlotte is that James Borrego LOVES his dual point guard backcourt. Last year he had some combination of Walker/Parker/Graham on the floor during games, and this year it’s Graham and Rozier sharing the court together. The two have been on the court together for 235 minutes this season, which is about 1/3 of all game time. They are both averaging 32 minutes per game. Regardless of who you want to start, it doesn’t matter because the two will both see the floor a ton anyways. If giving Graham that “starter” title makes you feel better, then sure, but it’s worthless in Borrego’s system.

I write this as someone who is already genuinely exhausted of the comparisons because of preconceived notions that were developed either this offseason or *checks notes* 1/5 of the way through a season. That said, I’m not blind to it. If anything, I’m more frustrated than you at Rozier’s inconsistent play because of how I view him as a good player. I get mad at the turnovers, heat checks, fouls, just like all of you. But I promise that he is not playing as bad as people make him out to be playing as. I realize the reality of the situation: a new player, on a new team, “replacing” a franchise player, with a second year player performing out of his mind. Like Aaron Rodgers once said, “R-E-L-A-X.” We’re winning games, and Rozier hasn’t even begun to hit his stride.

PS: You all wanted the Hornets to tank, and now you’re mad that a player is allegedly playing poorly. So which one is it, because you can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

PS2: If Rozier and Graham are putting up damn near equal numbers, then how is one good and one bad? Just something to think about….

Views from the Nest: Week 4

This week includes stats & thoughts from games against the Memphis Grizzlies, Detroit Pistons, and New York Knicks. Let’s dive in.

Malik Monk, Stock Rising

We got another good Malik Monk week and he’s starting to become more and more consistent. The strangest thing though is that it isn’t happening how we all expected it. He rained 3s on everyone in college so we expected him to bomb away in the league. He has his lowest three point rate of the his career this season and is shooting a career low from behind the arc at 31.9%. Instead of draining threes, Monk is living at the rim and in the floater range and is converting with great efficiency.

Monk is shooting 70% from 0-5 feet and 54.5% from 5-9 feet. He’s showcased his great touch in that five feet to nine feet range and his added strength this past off-season may have something to do with his better finishing numbers at the rim. Monk was never bad at finishing at the rim (58.9% from 0-5 feet past two years) but there has clearly been a significant jump. Look here:

Monk legitimately might be strong than Thon Maker but the man is still seven feet tall. This was a terrific finish through contact. Later, he finshes against a better defender in Andre Drummond:

This is a cliche term but the game is truly slowing down for Monk. He’s always had the crazy athleticism but the addition of these creative finishes is really good for his development.

Overall, it’s been really fun to see Monk’s confidence grow. He’s never been shy about shooting the ball but I think the two previous years you could see he was playing tentative and worried about coming out after making a mistake. Borrego has shown some trust in him and Monk has delivered with a lot better decision-making. Monk is defintely feeling himself now:

Deep catch in rhythm. No hesitation. Cash.

We want Monk’s three point percentage to go up because that truly unlocks him but I think it’ll come in time. The man has incredible touch and is a good free throw shooter. It’s good to see the other parts of Monk’s game grow. It was a rough start for my guy so it’s good to see him having some success:

PJ Washington’s Post-up Game

I was annoyed during the Piston game because Dwayne Casey decided to put Luke Kennard on PJ for some possessions to take away the three point shot and we didn’t take advantage of it. PJ can punish mismatches. However, we corrected this down the stretch against the Knicks:

RJ Barrett had a good game against us but he can’t handle PJ in the post. Our son is too good:

PJ has great touch. Next time down, they switch again and can’t handle PJ as he gets the foul:

This is what separates PJ for me from a regular 3 and D type. Along with his passing feel, PJ can legitimately score. He could post mismatches all day long. PJ gets about two post-ups a game and is in the 87th percentile out of all players. It’s a real weapon for the Hornets to use. This can be extremely valuable come playoff time (not this year but hopefully soon). Switching won’t work very well against PJ because he can post the mismatch. He shoots the 3 extremely well so he can pull bigs out and make space for drivers. PJ is so extremely versatile and I can’t wait to watch him grow even more.

Terry Rozier being used better offensively

Some of it was because of injuries but I liked this week that Rozier was always on the court with one of Devonte’ Graham and Malik Monk. Rozier isn’t a primary initiator type so using him in multiple ball-handler lineups is way better for him. Rozier is actually very good off the catch and he showcased that in Memphis with 33 points on 7-11 shooting from downtown. It’s kind of suprising but Rozier is pretty elite off the catch:

Hopefully, we can continue to use Rozier off screens and salvage whatever value we can get. It’s obvious that Te’ is better than him and we shouldn’t have given him that contract but it’s all in the past. Borrego just has to look to put him in the best positions to succeed and Rozier has to accept that role. Let’s hope he does.

Hornets Lineups

Batum actually wasn’t bad yesterday and had some really nice feeds to PJ Washington. This makes things complicated for me. I don’t like that Cody Martin’s minutes were cut for Batum. I’d rather our young wings (Miles Bridges, Dwayne Bacon, Martin) get all the minutes they can because they’re our future and it’s not as if we’re competing right now. However, Batum may be able to help some of our young guys be better because of his passing ability. I still think I come down on the side of play the young guys but it was good to see Batum do some nice things against the Knicks. He only scored 3 points but was a team-high +18 and dished out six assists. There is some value that he brings to this team. It’ll be interesting to see how Borrego handles the rotation.

Also, the new starting lineup (Graham-Rozier-Miles Bridges-Washington-Cody Zeller) is less of a disaster than the previous iteration but still a disaster. In 71 minutes played, they have net rating of -11.7. It’s the reason that we’re always coming back from down 10. We get off to horrible starts. Expect it to be continued to be shaken up.

Some interesting small sample size lineups:

Graham-Monk-Bridges-Washington-Zeller – +50.4 net rating in 11 minutes

Graham-Monk-Bacon-Washington-Zeller – +31.1 net rating in 11 minutes

Graham-Bacon-Bridges-Washigton-Zeller – +54.6 net rating in 16 minutes

Rozier-Graham-Bridges-Martin-Biyombo – +50 net rating in 17 minutes

I wonder if Borrego would ever consider moving Rozier to the bench. Graham and Monk being paired together to start off intrigues me and I’d like to see more of it.