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Catching up with the Hornets – Holiday Recap

Like all of you, we get busy with real life over the holiday season here at QCH. Let’s take a look back on the Hornets during the past few weeks and what opportunities lie ahead for a team that refuses to give up on a playoff birth.

Hornets win in Golden State

The Charlotte Freaking Hornets won in Golden State! Not one human on planet earth saw this coming. Golden State was without Steph Curry, but who cares? The Hornets regularly suck in games against the cream of the crop in this league, so this result was more than refreshing.

Charlotte didn’t light the world on fire offensively, but they played the style that Steve Clifford has built into this franchises DNA. Rebound the ball, take away opponent second chances, and don’t turn it over. Golden State was only able to manage a 100.0 ORTG for the game, as the Hornets limited their opportunities at the rim and from behind the arc – 50% of the Warriors field-goal attempts were from the mid-range.

This was a flash in the pan game for Dwight Howard. He was able to go by Zaza Pachulia when he caught the ball outside of the paint, and simply bully rookie Jordan Bell when Golden State tried to unleash the small-ball look. D12 finished the game with 29 points (10-15 FG), 13 rebounds and 7 assists. Easily his best performance of the season.

No clue why the Warriors kept bringing an extra defender, but surprisingly, D12 made them pay with the pass on numerous occasions.

And, of course, in any big game for the Hornets there must be a Frank miracle shot.

If nothing else comes of this season, NEVER FORGET, Charlotte won in Golden State.

Charlotte positive trends

During the past 5 games, Charlotte has begun to trend in a positive direction, especially on the offensive end.

For starters, the Hornets are making shots from the outside. In the past 5 games, Charlotte is 37.2% from behind the arc – 1.9% better than their season average.

Charlotte is also pounding the offensive glass – many speculated this could be an area of improvement and exploration for the Hornets entering the season. The 26.8 OREB% tallied in the past 5 games is a top-3 rate in the league over the course of the season. In 4 of the past 5 games, the Hornets have been in the 70th+ percentile in OREB% – Sacramento was the one exception, but consider that a throw away since every Hornets shot went through the net – seeking an advantage via offensive rebounding is clearly becoming a strategy for the Hornets.

The Hornets crashed on the offensive end like wild banshees in Golden State. D12 killed the Warriors with 4 clutch offensive boards in the second half of that game.

Watch Treveon Graham park himself in the left short corner instead of clearing to the opposite corner after the post-entry to JOB. Again, this is a strategy now.

Same thing here. Graham occupies short corner with Lamb also crashing.

Keep an eye on this trend for Charlotte. It’s a market inefficiency roll of the dice, but worth it for a team that has struggled offensively as much as the Hornets have this season.

Kemba returning to form

For most of December it was a real struggle for the Captain. The body language wasn’t the same, many speculated his shoulder just wasn’t right (as may be the case) and even more time next to D12 following the Zeller injury was wearing on Kemba. He still almost averaged 21 PPG in December, but it wasn’t in the efficient manner we’ve grown accustomed to with Kemba – 39.5% FG, 32.2% 3FG, 4.9 APG, 2.0 TOV. Something was beginning to feel different.

In the past 5 games Walker has begun to show life again. 40% from the floor, 36.6% 3FG, 6.0 APG, 2.0 TOV. If it’s been said once then it’s been said a million times – Charlotte asks Kemba to do a ton. It’s not easy to do everything on the offensive end, and with D12 in the fold this season, it’s been easier for Kemba to become passive offensively. But not recently.

Setting his defender up and using the incredible speed to zoom to the rim.

Putting defenders on their heels by contorting his body in 100 directions at once and ramming them into ball-screens. Welcome to the league, rook.

The Kings pick-and-roll defense is a joke, but Kemba showed some awesome vision in Sacramento – 10 assists for the game. Check out this nifty bounce pass all the way across the floor as he reads Kings help defenders.

The Hornets backup point-guard situation has been a mess for the past few seasons, and this one has been no exception. Michael Carter-Williams, to be fair, has been awful.

But give Stephen Silas some credit – he has started staggering the starters more often. Especially Kemba and Batum. Kemba has been the first starter off the floor following Marvin and MKG, and then he’ll come back first with the rag tag second unit of Lamb, Graham, Kaminsky and JOB in the 2nd and 4th quarters. That lineup has shown some life recently – 17 possessions (extremely small sample size): 111.8 ORTG, 88.2 DRTG, +23.5 NETRTG. Only 22.2% of the offense is attempted from the mid-range for this group and the chances at the rim vs. behind the arc are split. This is the way we see the best offenses in the NBA operate, so what the second unit with Kemba is doing is vital due to the fact that it gives the Hornets a very different look.

The floor is so spread that even Frank Kaminsky is able to go by a scrambling Blake Griffin. Hey-Yo!

Like I said, small sample. But let’s keep an eye on this frisky lineup fold from Silas.

Nic Batum – eternally inconsistent

Just two weeks ago Batum took one field goal against Toronto. One. The guy getting paid $20-mil+ per year now and for the next four took one shot in a freaking game. I’m screaming as I type this!

Breathe in, breathe out. Okay, I’m back.

Let’s be clear, Batum can be an asset for Charlotte. A player who can handle the ball, has vision and is able to relieve Kemba of ball-handling duties is valuable. But he can’t disappear as much as he does. Any form of Nic Batum consistency could mean a very different Hornets team.

It’s clear that Batum has really struggled to fit in next to Dwight Howard. The amount of touches that D12 demands over the course of a game wears on teammates, but it appears to have affected Batum the most. After hovering just north of 23.0 in his first two seasons in Charlotte, Batum’s Usage Rate is down to 19.0 this year.

Below is a chart of Batum and his offensive production by play type this season.

For a player that’s offense is as evenly distributed across the board as Batum’s, he’s just not very good at anything. Not only that, but as you’ll see in the chart above, where Batum spends the most time is where he’s least efficient. Ouch.

When he’s aggressive, flying off screens like he actually wants the ball and is playing with confidence, then stuff happens.

Aggression is never a word you’ll use to describe Batum’s game, but when he fights to get to his spots rather than getting knocked off balance so easily, he actually looks like a player that could be difficult to defend.

Consistency continues to be the key for Batum. He’ll be 30 years old this time next year, so if it’s ever going to happen for the Frenchman, it better be soon.

What lies ahead

As ugly as it’s been for Charlotte, there is still opportunity to climb back into the playoff hunt during the coming weeks.

During the next month (14 games), Charlotte will play 9 home games vs. 5 on the road. The team will have 3 rest advantage games, equal to the 3 rest disadvantage games they’ll play. The Hornets will have 2 back-to-back games during this stretch. Either Oklahoma City, a team Charlotte has already beaten on the road, or Washington, is the toughest opponent during the next month. The next 14 games can certainly a successful recipe for a team that has been riddled with inconsistency this season.

Charlotte has no choice but to take advantage of this break in the schedule, as the trade deadline will quickly follow on Feb. 8 when Rich Cho and the Hornets front office will assuredly face difficult decisions.

Stats from this piece are via NBA.com/stats and Cleaning The Glass.


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