PJ Hairston & Cody Zeller had their best games and lead the Hornets to the semi finals.
Despite being the seeded #23, the second to last seed in the tournament, the Hornets have battled through to set up a quarter final matchup with the New York Knicks on Saturday. The Hornets have already lost once this summer league to the Knicks 95 – 72, will they be able to get their revenge? It doesn’t really matter, but the longer we stay in the tournament the more we get to see Vonleh, Zeller and Hairston play. So how did the big three fair Thursday against New Orleans?
31 MIN – 16PTS (FG 5-10 FT 6-7) – 7 REB – 0 AST – 2 PF – 2 STL – 1 TO – 1BLK
This was Zeller’s best summer league game by far, he made fewer mistakes defensively and showed some new things on the offensive end. One aspect of Cody’s game that he said he worked on over summer was finishing strong at the basket. Zeller didn’t have a single blocked attempt, he also appeared balanced and exploded to the basket when finishing. One particularly impressive play Zeller got out on the fast break and finished with a fierce one handed dunk, last year he would have tried to lay that up off the glass. If he can continue to finish strong at the rim he will increase his shooting percentage in the paint (52% last season) and draw more fouls.
Zeller continued to showcase his new post up isolation game, hitting a beautiful Dirk like fade away jumper. On another post up he finished with a nice floater over two defenders, showing a nice soft touch around the rim. Zeller’s height advantage over other power forwards should enable him to get turnaround jump shots and floaters off at a high percentage. Still, it wasn’t all good for Zeller as did throw up an air ball on one if his face up jump shot attempts.
Perhaps one impressive aspect which doesn’t show up on the box score was his pick and roll game on the offensive end.Zeller set good screens and consistently showed good timing on his cuts to the basket. Not only did he draw a lot of fouls on these cuts, but he also made the right pass after the defense had overplayed, unfortunately this didn’t show up in his stats with Zeller registering just one assist. Defensively Zeller had a much better game, he stayed out of foul trouble and had active hands while playing pick and roll defense. Zeller still needs to learn to use his athleticism better to defend the rim, but due to his below average wingspan it is unlikely he will ever become a prolific shot blocker.
29 MIN – 21 PTS (FG 8-16 3PFG 4-9 FT 1-1) – 2 REB – 3 AST – 3 PF – 2 STL – 2 TO – 1 BLK
Hairston also had his best performance of summer league shooting 50% from the field having averaged just 26% before this game. Hairston had 10 points in the first quarter, unfortunately as he become hotter, his shot selection got worse. Fortunately, Ewing sat him a little in the second quarter to send him the message. Again, Hairston showed some new ways to score offensively rather than just jacking up shots from beyond the arc. In the first quarter Hairston made a good “Effort” play where he ran the fast break and finished with a big put back slam. Later in the game Hairston ran off a curl and finished a nice alley oop, showing he has more athleticism than people may have thought. Hairston continued to show an ability to finish in the lane with floaters, he had one impressive “And 1” play which also showed his upper body strength.
A couple of times Hairston appeared to fade on his shot when it wasn’t needed, these often fell short and hit the front rim. It is important Hairston shoots a balanced shot whenever it’s possible, he must recognise how much space he has from his defender. Late on in the game Hairston decided to dribble the ball up the court, his poor handle was shown up as Russ Smith stole the ball of him in the backcourt. Defensively I remain impressed by Hairston, he has quick hands and a strong upper body which he puts to use.
Throughout the summer league I have seen his decision making improve every game, especially in terms of passing. Hairston has shown good pick and roll skills and has even passed up some open shots to find teamates in better positions. The speed that Hairston appears to be learning should give Charlotte fans hope, he has made major strides since game one of summer league where he looked like a long range chucker.
17 MIN – 6 PTS (FG 3-11 3PFG 0-1 FT 0-0) – 5 REB – 0 AST – 6 PF – 0 STL – 1 TO – 1 BLK
Fouling out in just 17 minutes, it just wasn’t Vonleh’s day. Unlike the last game where his fouls came challenging shots, at numerous times Vonleh was caught out of position or getting out muscled in a paint. With Noah only being 18 years old it’s understandable for there to be some inconsistency, hopefully he can bounce back in the next game. Apart from frustrating “ticky tack” fouls, Vonleh really struggled scoring in the paint against Jeff Withey and Patric Young. Withey in particular blocked three of Vonleh’s attempts and altered a number of his other shots. It’s important he learns how to finish against good shot blockers as he will be facing them every night come October. One trait of Vonleh’s which has stood out to me is his mental strength. His demeanour doesn’t seem to change whether he is playing well or really struggling. These qualities will stand him in good stead during the season where he will undoubtedly face adversity at some point or another.