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.

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.

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.

Charlotte Hornets “BINGO!” Drinking Game 2019-2020

The Charlotte Hornets will most likely not be very good for the 2019-2020 season. The current win total for the team at Vegas is 23.5 according to some odds makers. However, we all knew this going into the season. We’ve had months to prepare for a potentially disastrous season.

The bright side to knowing ahead of time that we will be bad is that it opens up opportunities for us to be fun in the process. We have zero expectations, which means that we can have all the fun in the world because no one is going to care about us this season where all the attention will be on the new-look NBA.

All of this is to say that the Queen’s Guard is going to be your home for fun Charlotte Hornets this season starting with the introduction to Hornets Drinking “BINGO!” (21 and over, please drink responsibly). The “BINGO!” boards will consist of negative tendencies of the Hornets’ roster, poking fun at the play-by-play crew (who we all love), and some situational circumstances.

The rules are simple. Before every game we will tweet out who would like a “BINGO!” board for the game to participate. We will tweet one out to you. If an event happens during the game that is on your board, cross it off, and take a drink. If you get “BINGO!” You finish your drink (vertical, horizontal, diagonal). We will tweet out game updates. Be sure to follow us @TheQGB on Twitter, even though I’m sure you already are.

The point of this game is to provide us more entertainment value for what is anticipated to be a long season for Hornets fans. It’s more like a game that you play with your family when you playfully roast each other (until someone inevitably takes offense to something). We love the Hornets for the disaster they are. We want to see them successful just like you, but we’re still going to get these jokes off because comedy is a coping mechanism.

The current list of “BINGO!” spaces:

  1. Eric Collins says anything outlandish
  2. Malik Monk turnover
  3. Miles Bridges lost on defense
  4. Weak finish/lack thereof by Willy Hernangomez or Bismack Biyombo
  5. Willy Hernangomez traffic cone defense
  6. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist air ball
  7. Ill-advised Terry Rozier heat check
  8. Cody Zeller injury
  9. Bad Martin twin defense (two drinks for one)
  10. Any Kemba Walker mention/reference (excluding Celtics games)
  11. Dwayne Bacon bites on a fake
  12. Hornets blow 10+ point lead
  13. Random player goes off against Hornets
  14. Hornets lose by 3 or less
  15. Send PJ Washington to Greensboro
  16. Nic Batum turnover
  17. Marvin Williams misses *wide* open three
  18. Any of our bigs air ball a three
  19. Steph Curry mention/reference
  20. MJ mad or upset on bench
  21. Less than 20 points in a quarter
  22. Martin twin turnover (two for one)
  23. Terry Rozier misses roll man in a PnR
  24. Batum finishes in single digits in 25+ minutes
  25. Devonte Graham hard-brick three (long rebound)
  26. Malik Monk “WTF was that?!” shot
  27. Borrego preaches defense then team gives up scoring run
  28. Reference of how much we are paying MKG/Marvin/Biz/Batum
  29. Miles Bridges offensive foul
  30. Martin twins backstory reference (Grew up in NC, NCSt, Nev-Reno)
  31. Any vet plays more than 32 minutes
  32. “Kobe!” Kobi Simmons reference

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.