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: 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.

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….

The Hornets Might Be Better Than You Expect

Attached is a screenshot of when I first wanted to write this article. October 14, 2019. However, I thought I was maybe *too* optimistic. Ultimately, I decided to condense my thoughts into a Twitter thread posted October 22nd. Then opening night happened, and now I’m fully bought into it. Right or wrong I need to plant my flag in this.

The Charlotte Hornets might be better than everyone expects. First, we need to establish the facts. The Hornets won 39 games last season, which is a lot considering how many we had to slug through. Mainly those wins came off the back of franchise leader Kemba Walker and sidekick Jeremy Lamb. The two were one of the best backcourts in the league last year. As we all know, the Hornets lost both players this offseason. Not great, Bob. However, the Hornets began establishing “Kemba and the ‘Avengers'” last year. The “core four” as I like to call them: Miles Bridges, Dwayne Bacon, Malik Monk, and Devonte Graham. These are indisputable facts of last season.

The Hornets brought in Terry Rozier to fill the starting point guard role. I truly don’t know how great, good, or bad Rozier will be during his first season as a full-time starter. In Boston, Rozier only started a few dozen games. From what I’ve seen of those games I am very much inclined to believe that Rozier will be a quality starting point guard in the NBA. Terry Rozier does a lot of things well and some things not so well. First, he’s a lightning bolt of speed. That was evident if you watched the first game versus Chicago. He is also a stat sheet stuffer. In my opinion he’s Russell Westbrook lite. In a bad game he had 7 points, 4 rebounds, and 6 assists. He has the ability to do nearly everything which means the gap between Rozier and Kemba is not as wide as most people make it out to be (I REALLY don’t want to compare the two). There are two big issues in Rozier’s game. Shooting and defense. Let’s not get this twisted, Terry Rozier CAN score at will. He’s a wizard at breaking down defenders. However the question is can he become an effective shooter. Finally defense is where things get confusing. There was a point in time during his Celtics tenure when he was the team’s best defender statistically, but no one knows if that was a product of the Celtics’ system or if he’s legitimately good. We will get answers to both of these questions throughout the season.

Next, Cody Zeller is healthy. For now. It was evident in the preseason and in game one how important having a versatile big is for the Hornets offense (more on this later). Zeller moves extremely effectively on the court and more importantly knows where to move. He is without a doubt our best big man. Health is the only concern for him as he has shown to be made of glass. Also friendly reminder that he is only 27 years old.

Thirdly, we all expect the Avengers to take a step forward, right? Then shouldn’t that equate to more wins, logically? This is the point that makes me laugh the most. We all saw how good Dwayne Bacon played last season. Miles Bridges showed flashes of being a cornerstone. Devonte Graham can be a very good back up point guard (especially if he shoots the three ball like he did against the Bulls all season). I think we all want Malik Monk to be good, and the front office seems committed to him by not trading him at last year’s trade deadline. Lastly, bring in PJ Washington who my goodness is one of the most fundamentally sound rookies I’ve seen. I disliked the selection during the draft for being a “safe pick.” Note to self: Safe can be good. From what we’ve seen so far, Washington can shoot the three, score around the rim, and defend. I’m so impressed. The problem with last year’s team is that players didn’t step up and contribute consistently. But now having the now “core five” seeing extensive minutes to learn and improve, they will have the opportunity to do so and I think we all expect them to.

Finally, the Hornets installed a brand new offense and it’s a good one. I loved the action that we ran during preseason and the pace we played during opening night. The new offense works perfectly with our roster. We run a five-out system that revolves around the big with everyone else working off of him. Out of this new system we get pick and rolls with Rozier and Zeller, DHOs or curl screen slashing with Bacon and Zeller, screen and replace with wings, and threes and layups. Coach Borrego talked about threes and layups a lot this offseason. This offense utilizes everyone on the roster effectively. We have a team of athletes that need to be in constant motion to see success. We’re going to need that kind of ball movement to create open shots. The assist numbers were crazy in Wednesday’s win against the Bulls: Rozier – 6, Graham – 8, Bridges/Bacon/Monk – 3 each, It honestly reminded me a lot of the Spurs. While the Spurs certainly had more talent than the Hornets, it’s the system that maximizes everyone on the court. I’ll do a full offensive tape breakdown later.

The over-under in Vegas this season was 23.5. This just felt low. I mapped out Charlotte’s schedule initially and I had them at a minimum of 21 wins. That is only assuming that we beat up on teams at the bottom. There are obviously plenty of games December through March that the Hornets can win based off of other team’s schedules (back to backs, for example), injuries, and flat out effort. All of these things in conjunction with the points I just laid out make it easy for the Hornets to smash the over.

2019-20 Player Preview: Miles Bridges

Miles Bridges’ sophomore season is arguably one of the most important second seasons in recent Charlotte Hornets history. Bridges will be asked to take a big step forward in his game and become the leader of the franchise. 

Going back to last season, the Hornets traded back to get Bridges in the 2018 NBA draft. He was the front office’s guy. So much so that the Hornets continued to heavily target him when he did not work out for them. While he started his rookie season coming off the bench as the team’s sixth man, he quickly expanded his role into becoming an every-game starter. Time after time Miles showcased his ferocious athleticism, which was his calling card coming out of Michigan State. He even participated in the dunk contest during All-Star Weekend in Charlotte. Statistically, Bridges finished last year scoring seven points a game, four rebounds, and an assist on 46% from the floor and a below average 32% from beyond the arc. 

Shifting towards this season, Miles Bridges needs to become an alpha. He’s going to have an opportunity on a bad team to flourish. The minutes he’s going to see this year will be plentiful, which is great because we all know that experience is the best teacher. If you follow him on social media, you know that he has this energy about him, and interacts well (that we can see, at least) with the other guys. I believe this is important because if the Hornets organization believes that he is a cornerstone moving forward he has to have the respect of the other players around him. 

There are two aspects to his game that I would love to see improved this season: shooting and defense. As I mentioned earlier, Bridges shot 32% from three last season, which isn’t great in today’s NBA for a wing. Head coach James Borrego’s new offense revolves around threes and getting to the rim. Bridges is great at the latter due to his athleticism and great first step. However, to expand his game to the next level he has to develop a respectable outside game, too. Imagine how dominant he could be should he get that going. Rozier swings to Bridges on the wing, pump fake three, drive and catch a body at the rim. Yes please. He has the tools to craft a diverse game, he just needs to sharpen them.

The second and more important thing is defense. Miles’ defense could use some work to say the least, which is odd given how athletic he is. His anticipation is a bit off, even when he’s the primary defender. He can get behind because his reaction step a tad slow. When he’s away from the ball he zones out or even loses his man entirely and gives up a bucket. The Hornets still do not have a lock down defender, which was a big problem for them last season when they could not guard a soul. Bridges’ stature, size, and athleticism gives him the assets to potentially become a great defender, but there are so many micro mistakes that make him frustrating to watch on the defensive end. The only thing that saves him here is just how athletic he is. It allows him to get burned and be able to recover in time to alter the shot or something of that nature. That cannot be relied on, though. 

I believe that Miles Bridges can become a star in this league. I truly do. However, he certainly has ways to go in order to get to that level. Watching him now, it’s clear that Bridges has the potential, but can he actually get there? This season is going to reveal a lot to that question, and I, for one, am excited to find out. 

2019 Player Preview: Willy Hernangomez

Willy Hernangomez is entering the fourth year of his young NBA career which has seen its ups and downs. This year I imagine will not only be his toughest yet, but also the most important.

Hernangomez has the potential to be the Hornets leading big man moving forward, but his has to play like it. However it’s not that easy. Depending on how head coach James Borrego uses his plethora of bigs (Willy, Cody Zeller, Bismack Biyombo) will greatly impact Hernangomez’s future with the organization and their belief in him.

Hernangomez is a traditional big, but has worked very hard on expanding his offensive game, stretching out to the three point line more and more. Last season he shot 38% from beyond the arc.

Offense is not Hernangomez’s problem, though. It’s defense. Often times he is late on rotating to protect the rim or is easily scored over. In 52 games last season he only recorded 20 blocked shots. I would classify Hernangomez defensively as a traffic cone.

His defensive concerns are important because last season, and presumably this season, the Hornets do not have great wing defenders which means rim protection becomes even more important that it already is.

Hernangomez has had a fantastic offseason. As a member of the Spain national team, the club won the 2019 FIBA Championship. Additionally, he has been in the gym all summer. I’m not throwing this in to push open gym propaganda, but rather to highlight Hernangomez’s willingness and desire to get better. You can easily tell how much he loves playing basketball which is important for young, developing players.

I’m hoping that Hernangomez is highly utilized this season for Charlotte. The organization needs to evaluate what they have in him moving forward. Is he a bench player or a starter? Can he become a viable defender? The only way to find out is to play him.

Hornets to Sign Terry Rozier

The Charlotte Hornets lost franchise point guard Kemba Walker yesterday, but have already begun their plan to “replace” him.

Per source, the Hornets intend to sign free agent point guard Terry Rozier once free agency begins at 6 pm EST. Ironically, a former Celtic. In addition to this, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reports that the deal is worth $58M over three years. The Nets, Celtics, and Hornets are exploring a potential sign-and-trade between the carousel of point guards: Kemba Walker (to Boston), Kyrie Irving (to Brooklyn), and Terry Rozier (to Charlotte).

“Scary Terry” was the 16th pick in the 2015 NBA draft, and his breakout came in 2017-2018 when he and the “Hospital Celtics” led the team to a game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. He averaged 11 points, 2.9 assists, and 4.7 rebounds per game on 25 minutes.

Rozier plays the point guard position like a glass cannon. Listed at 6’1″ 190 lbs, he relies on his speed to get downhill into the lane. He’s very explosive, but sometimes plays too fast for his own good, and is prone to mistakes. Additionally, he’s not the best shooter, shooting less than 40% from the floor for his career.

I still like this signing for a number of reasons. First, I think his age (25) will compliment the young core well, as that will be the direction the franchise intends to go over the next couple years.

Secondly, his game gels with second-year point guard Devonte Graham. Graham is a very steady flowing point guard, while Rozier as I said above is eratic. It will allow the Hornets to play multiple styles this season.

Thirdly, I’m just here for chaos at this point. I know a lot of fans already aren’t excited to bring in Rozier, but he’s a fun (and frustrating) player to watch, and I would rather have that while losing than no fun at all. Inject the chaos into my veins.

Finally, I’ve been saying for weeks that I want the Hornets to sign Rozier. Thanks for continuing to make me look start, Mitch.

2018-19 Season Review: Tony Parker

I wrote about Tony Parker earlier in the season when the state of things were much more optimistic in Charlotte. Parker had a lot of big games early on in the season and was key in helping us win certain games. In the new year, Parker continued this stretch of big games (20 points in a win against Phoenix and 17 points in a win against Memphis) but ultimately, he was shut down for the last 13 games of the season, as Charlotte focused on their youth movement. This was questionable at the time considering Parker was one of the only guys on the roster who could create his own shot, but ultimately Charlotte went 8-5 in those games which might say something about his value for the Hornets.

Parker gave the Hornets around 10 points on 46% shooting and four assists on the nights that he did play which is really solid for a backup point guard. However, Parker’s lack of three-point shooting ability (25.5%) and bad defense really did hurt the Hornets at times. Parker had a -5.3 box plus/minus which was a career low. To be fair to Parker, the lineups he was in with weren’t very good but he also was contributing in some cases to those lineups not being very good.

Parker was never at any point in his career a good defender but his lack of size and old age made him pretty bad this year. Now, defense isn’t the most important thing for backup point guards but his lack of mobility because of his age hurt more than if there was a younger player in his position. Additionally, many threes were passed up by Parker that would’ve helped if a league average shooter was in his position.

However, Parker brought other things to the table that made his signing defensible. His leadership was important in key moments when the Hornets faced adversity. In addition, he made several big clutch shots when defense would key in on Kemba at the end of games. Parker had experience that was defintely needed in those moments and he passed on a lot of wisdom to the young guys on the team. Parker knew how to run a team and that was something that had been missed from the backup point guard position for the Hornets.

Still got it

It was fun having Parker on the Hornets this past year because of the key moments he had (17 points in the 4th against the Nets) and I ultimately don’t think he was part of the larger problem of why the Hornets were bad. He helped bridge the gap for Devonte Graham and I think it was very valuable for Graham to have him as a mentor this year. However, I think the Hornets should move on from him this offseason. If we don’t re-sign Kemba, we need to focus on our youth movement.

Final Grade: Overall, I give his signing a C+. He showed up big in several games but didn’t really move the needle that much.

2018-19 Season Review: James Borrego

This is an in-depth review that features: expectations, philosophies, rotations, sets and plays, offensive breakdowns, defensive breakdowns, clutch performances, player development, and game prep. If you’re looking for something specific scroll ahead.

In May of last year, the Charlotte Hornets reached a four year deal with San Antonio Spurs assistant coach, James Borrego. Borrego, had been tenured with the Spurs twice and had stops in New Orleans as well as Orlando where he was the interim head coach for thirty games in 2015. Borrego stems from the Gregg Popovich coaching tree like many others such as Milwaukee Bucks head coach, Mike Buddenholtzer, Philadelphia head coach, Brett Brown, and Warriors associate head coach Mike Brown which made the hire of Borrego look great, even if the overall coaches pool was shallow.

Expectations

The Charlotte Hornets’ expectations this year were a fringe playoff team in the Eastern Conference after their two previous seasons resulted in a 36-46 record. The Borrego hire was meant to be a huge part in a franchise reset that also included new President of basketball operations in former Lakers GM, Mitch Kupchak. Borrego’s arrival was met with the classic Spurs organization halo effect. Borrego’s primary goal in year one was to instill some of the Spurs stable culture into the dysfunctional Hornets. 

Philosophies

Coming from San Antonio, JB brought some of their philosophies over as well as his own. From day one Borrego preached about getting after it on the defensive end. Borrego also said he wants to see a lot of ball movement, but understood that Kemba Walker would be the team’s leader. Lastly, he put an emphasis on player development and built a staff around that by hiring Joe Wolf to coach the G-League affiliate Greensboro Swarm and Jay Hernandez, who specializes in player training. 

Rotations

Rotations were easily the biggest frustration in Borrego’s first year in Charlotte. Outside of moving Jeremy Lamb to the bench in favor of rookie Miles Bridges to create a scoring attack with the second unit, Borrego found himself scrambling for lineups. The Hornets had eleven players start at least once, while really only facing one key injury in Cody Zeller, who was replaced by Bismack Biyombo. 

Additionally, coach Borrego had at least ten players who had multiple “DNP-coach’s decisions” or fell out of the rotation entirely at some point in the season. That is almost unheard of. The biggest offence to this was fourth-year player Frank Kaminsky who only appeared in 47 games. Thirty-five times this season Kaminsky was a DNP and sixteen times Kaminsky played less than ten minutes. When Kaminsky finally saw heavy minutes in the final twenty games, the Hornets went 10-10. Which sure is .500, but is better than the below .500 record they finished the year with. Kaminsky looked pretty damn good when he was on the floor.

Going along with this trend, the Hornets looked their best when Borrego finally let the young guys see consistent minutes during the final twenty game stretch. It only took them sixty games to try it. The young Hornets damn near willed this team to the postseason beating Boston, Toronto (twice), San Antonio, and Detroit in the process. What makes this worse is the fact that I, along with many others, pleaded all year to make this change. Borrego’s lack of ability to identify talent on his own roster is definitely the biggest cause of concern for year one. 

Sets and plays

Borrego brought some of that San Antonio flavor over with his offense which focuses on ball movement, dribble handoffs, and screening. This was especially important for the Hornets this season because if they wanted to win games they would need contributions from everyone on the court. 

Frank screen, dive, and pop

  1. Frank screens for Kemba to start then rolls to basket
  2. Marvin moves up to create a passing angle for Kemba on the reverse
  3. Marvin gets ball back from MKG in corner
  4. Marvin DHO to MKG in corner while Frank slides back up top
  5. Marvin penetrates then kicks to the open Frank for three

Hornets short corner exchange


  1. Marvin resets by kicking to Devonte
  2. Devonte drives and kicks back to Marvin
  3. Marvin drives inside and passes to Batum in the short corner
  4. Lamb drives and hits Batum on the replacement for three

Kemba dual option handoff

  1. Kemba is given two passing options with Frank or MKG
  2. Kemba passes to MKG then gets it back via handoff
  3. Kemba drives, Frank slips, and MKG pops
  4. As Kemba draws attention while driving it forces Bacon’s defender to leave Bacon open in the corner
  5. Kemba fires to Bacon who drives and finishes

Jeremy Lamb game winning three

  1. Kemba pushes up court and is met with a ball screen by Frank
  2. Frank then slips and trails
  3. Because Kemba is moving downhill quickly, he draws four defenders
  4. Kemba kicks to Lamb for three on the open wing… buckets

Hornets post up off switch

  1. Miles fakes a screen for Kemba then slips to the hoop because of the switch the Lakers do
  2. Kemba then ball swings to Willy at the top of the key
  3. Willy then throws a lob to Miles who is posting up Rondo for an easy two 

Hornets weak side three

  1. Devonte initially passes to Willy
  2. Devonte and Jeremy exchange spots on the floor
  3. Jeremy gets a handoff from Willy
  4. While Jeremy gets the ball Devonte cuts cross court to the opposite corner
  5. Jeremy swings to Frank on the other wing
  6. Malik screens the nearest defender of Devonte so that he [Devonte] can get an open corner three.

Hornets three across

  1. The Hornets start this set with Kemba up top, Devonte, Marv, and Frank alined, and Miles in the ballside corner.
  2. Marv screens for Devonte who cuts across to the opposite wing, free throw line extended
  3. While that is taking place, Miles cuts to the opposite corner
  4. Kemba passes to Devonte on the wing
  5. Frank then screens for Devonte
  6. Frank peels away to screen for Kemba
  7. Kemba moves towards the ball and receives a short pass
  8. Kemba drives and Marv crashes in from the opposite side and seals DeRozan for a dump-off bunny 

Tony Parker 2v2 jumper

  1. Batum and Zeller set a double screen to open up Tony on the left wing
  2. Batum clears opposite
  3. Tony receives a pass from Kemba then resets for a 2 vs 2 with Zeller
  4. Zeller sets a ball screen for Parker then rolls
  5. Parker drives left and can either take it himself or hit Zeller on the roll. 

Tony Parker drive and dish

  1. Tony has the ball left side while Kemba sets a rub screen for Zeller so that the defense is a step late
  2. Zeller then screens right for Tony
  3. Kemba clears opposite corner
  4. Tony drives and unfortunately Zeller gets tripped up
  5. Tony would normally be able to A) Take it himself B) drop off for the trailing Zeller C) Kick to the corner.
  6. He hits Kemba in the corner for three. 

Offensive Breakdown

Under Borrego, the Hornets finished 12thin offensive rating (111.4). Offensively, the Hornets were a force to be reckoned with. They finished 12thin field goals attempted, 10th in three pointers attempted, 11th in three pointers made, 9thin free throws made, and 2ndin turnovers. Charlotte saw improvements in the following offensive categories this season: FGM, FGA, 3PM, 3PA, 3P%, 2P%, FT%, Assists, PPG, and turnovers. There were many times throughout the year where the Hornets were able to explode and put on a stellar offensive performance. Borrego did a great job at implementing an offense that fits today’s NBA during his first year. 

Defensive Breakdown

Defense was the problem all year for the Hornets, which is ironic considering the emphasis Borrego put on that side of the ball and the recent past of Charlotte being a respectable defensive team. The Hornets lacked a perimeter lockdown defender and rim protector, and honestly anybody who could remotely defend in general. Naturally, this dug the team in a hole a number of times throughout the season. To further elaborate on this, the Hornets opponents’ stats increased in every single category besides two-pointers made, two-pointers attempted, and turnovers. Hint: These numbers should decrease, not increase.

Clutch Games 

Going into this season, clutch wins were one of the main things I wanted to see an upward trend in (games decided by five points or less). I knew the Hornets struggled in clutch games last year and felt like if they could improve that this year they would be in line to win more games. Unfortunately, no cigar. In 2017-2018, the Hornets went 8-13 in games decided by five points. This season, Charlotte finished 7-15 in those games. Considering how close the Hornets were to making the playoffs this stat in particular hurts. They had opportunities to win games and couldn’t. Is all of that on the coaching staff? Of course not. However, winning those games are what helps change the culture in the organization. Losing by twenty is never fun, but losing by two is as deflating as it gets for a middle of the road team. 

Player Development

As mentioned previously, one of Borrego’s key objectives for this season was to develop the young talent on this team. Jay Hernandez was a player development coach who worked with a variety of players during the pre-draft process. Additionally, he worked with and had a relationship with Kemba. Joe Wolf was hired to coach the Swarm in Greensboro, which the Hornets utilized frequently this season by sending Bacon and Graham back and forth until they were ready to be fully implemented into the regular lineup.

You already know the list of young players on the team: Malik Monk, Miles Bridges, Devonte Graham, Dwayne Bacon, Wily Hernangomez, and Frank Kaminsky. Specifically, I want to focus on Bridges, Bacon, and Graham. Miles Bridges made tremendous strides as the season progressed. It took him a while to find his footing, but he developed into a better defender as well as a shooter during this season. A great first step for the rookie.

As previously mentioned, Devonte Graham and Dwayne Bacon spent the year back and forth with the Hornets and their G-League affiliates. Graham, the second round pick out of Kansas, is a well-rounded point guard. He didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but he showed a great understanding of the offense during his rookie campaign. With the Swarm, he and Bacon dominated the G-League demonstrating they were above the G-League talent. Dwayne Bacon played exceptional for the Hornets. The traditional slasher, further developed his jump shot, and was able to extend his offensive game which makes him a much more lethal scoring threat. The Swarm proved to be beneficial for both players.

Game planning

The Hornets found themselves on multiple occasions lackadaisical in the first half. They started off down big then found themselves clawing back into the game in the second half. This alone takes so much energy where if they just started off the game ok then they wouldn’t need to rely on Kemba’s second half heroics. There were also a variety of times where an average role player would shoot the lights out against Charlotte this season. These things simply come down to game planning by the coaching staff. Knowing the opponent and knowing your own personnel.

The poor ways the Hornets would open up games was inexcusable for a team fighting for a playoff spot. One game prep item I did enjoy from Borrego and his staff was the opponent point per quarter rule they put in earlier in the season. The rule was they would try to limit their opponent to 27 points per quarter and if they did that they felt like they had a good chance to win due to their offense. I really liked this acknowledgement from the staff, especially due to their defensive struggles. This small adjustment gives the players a tangible goal for them to reach multiple times a game. Overall this is the area where I want to see improvement from most next season. Know your opponent, yourself, play all four quarters, all forty-eight minutes.  

James Borrego’s first year as the head coach of the Charlotte Hornets went as most first year head coach’s seasons go. There was a mixed bag between the good and the bad. The positives stemmed from player development with some of their young talent and the offense. The negatives arrived via rotations, team defense, and close games. All of that to say the Hornets increased their win total by three games last season which is a great sign and put together a competent NBA offense. To me, this was a solid foundational year for the Borrego-era and I’m looking forward to his continued improvements for year two.

Final Grade: B-. solid 80/100

2018-19 Season Review: Mitch Kupchak

Not a lot of people would give up Los Angeles for the city of Charlotte. Look at every free agent ever. The goal is to be a Laker, not a Hornet. Enter Mitch Kupchak, who realized property tax is a thing and that the best food in the country –not up for debate– is in the Carolina’s. What Charlotte isn’t the best at, and hell neither are the Lakers as of late, is managing their money and players properly.

It’s not too far fetched to suggest that Charlotte is in the worst position in the league — as far as their financials relate to the amount of talent that’s actually on the team. A lot of big money tied into a lot of poor players, creating a team that’s just good enough to beat the bad teams (most of the time) but just bad enough to lose to the good teams (most of the time). Ultimately ending up sitting on the outside of the playoffs looking in while simultaneously wishing they had better odds to win the lottery. Please pick a side.

Due to the mishaps of the past, it’s hard to judge Kupchak based on this season alone. However, I’m satisfied with what he was actually able to do with what he was given. Let’s rewind back to Summer 2018. Kupchak’s first act of business was to clean slate and bring in his own staff. While former head coach, Steve Clifford, who is currently in the middle of a playoff series with the Toronto Raptors and did have the Orlando Magic on top of the Southeastern division this season. I think most Hornets fan and even Clifford can agree that it was time to part ways with the former staff. The team had pretty much been maxed out with what it could do under Clifford and it was time for change.

Enter Borrego and staff. Not the sexiest head coaching hire of the offseason, but I personally think Borrego has done a decent job in his full debut as a head coach, again, considering what he has been given. While Charlotte did just miss out on the playoffs –on literally the final day of the season– the Hornets were competitive all season long and actually improved their record from the previous season by three games. Take that for what it’s worth.

Everyone knew there weren’t going to be many offseason acquisitions in the Summer of 2018, we’re poor, it would be foolish to expect otherwise. But somehow, thanks to a little French persuasion we were able to bring in veteran guard and and a potential Hall of Famer one day in Tony Parker, who proved to be a valuable piece on the team for most of the season.

I’ll say that the draft was a success for now. Miles Bridges is looking like he will have a solid future in the NBA and Devonte Graham has the makings of a decent backup point guard. Now, Kupchak did trad Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for Bridges, and he currently has his Clippers mixed up in a playoff series against Golden St., and the big question later on will be if we should have passed on Michael Porter Jr. like we did. The jury will have to wait.

For many fans the biggest disappointment from Kupchak came at the trade deadline. The Hornets name was being thrown into numerous rumors and it was made clear that we were not moving Kemba Walker. So it was assumed somebody would be coming to help Walker and push us into the playoffs. As we all know, nothing happened. Again, I don’t mean to let Kupchak off the hook for not being able to get things done this past season, but realistically, I just don’t know what you expect to happen here.

The deal for Marc Gasol was all but done but there was some disagreement that prevented it from happen. Rumors have it that Memphis wanted the 2019 pick to have no protections or that they wanted Malik Monk who was playing good basketball at that moment in time. Gasol is a good player don’t get me wrong, but I’m glad we didn’t budge for the package that was being offered. I’m unconvinced the addition of Gasol would have truly upgraded us all that much. Maybe we sneak into the playoffs, but we would probably just be in the same position that Orlando is in right now. Down 3-1.

This seems like a pass or fail scenario to me. He would have not passed had he failed in the draft, and signed someone far less useful than Parker. Standing strong at the trade deadline was also a positive to me, I’m sure MJ was breathing down his neck to do something ridiculous like trading for Harrison Barnes.

This offseason will be a big one for Kupchak. Can he move off of these bad contracts? Will he make a move for another star in hopes of retaining Walker? Will he even re-sign Walker? Either way, half of the fan base will be upset.

Final Grade: C+ But like a 79.4 that your professor wont round up.