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Hornets Sloppy in Preseason Opener

Associated Press

Game Summary

First off, before we hit on the game, let’s take a moment to acknowledge: the NBA is back, and that’s so awesome.

Charlotte opened its preseason slate up in Boston, in front of a crowd that was pumped to see the soft opening of the Kyrie-Hayward tandem. The Hornets — who started Kemba, Batum, MKG, Marvin and Howard —  fell 94-80.

The Celtics got some good looks early on with their side-to-side action; Irving and Hayward were heavily involved — back screens, split cuts. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did a nice job sticking with Hayward, though, who went 2-for-6 from the field.

On offense, the Hornets looked a bit clunky. Dwight Howard got a token post-up on the game’s first possession, which resulted in a miss; unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the last. Charlotte scored at a rate of less than 90 points per 100 possessions.

Some of that can obviously be attributed to preseason rust, but Charlotte’s offense looked much smoother with Cody Zell in — and it wasn’t even that close.

As is customary under Steve Clifford, the Hornet looked sturdy on defense — even before garbage time. Boston was held to under one point per possession. All of that is fine and dandy, but it was a little concerning to see Dwight lumbering around.

Dwight doesn’t have the foot speed or quicks of Cody, which — as Richie Randall points out — will likely lead to some defensive adjustments. Clifford wants Dwight at the hoop for rim protection, and that’s a good thing. But it will cause things to shift elsewhere on the chessboard.

It will be an adjustment on both ends with Dwight, too. Charlotte’s a good pick-and-roll offense, but when opponents try to trap or ice action with Kemba, Dwight isn’t the dance partner that Cody is, unfortunately.

Charlotte will have to try some different stuff when that’s the PNR battery — shorting pick-and-rolls, double staggered, Horns sets, and twists (rescreens).

The Positives

After electing to not play with Team France this summer, and instead workout stateside, Nic Batum returned to camp this season ready to roll. If Monday night is any indication, that looks like more than just talk, too.

Batum stuck a couple jumpers coming off pindowns, initiated some quality downhill offense and played decent assignment defense.

The other positives: the team’s bench wings, Jeremy Lamb and rookie Malik Monk. Lamb dished out three assists, and pulled down seven defensive rebounds — a stable of his game. He looked for his own offense and stuck two catch-and-shoot triples, which is big for him.

Monk shot just 2-of-8 and Charlotte was -4 with him on the floor, but he drilled a tricky jumper from the deep right corner. The Hornets also used him in some cool actions, including an ATO (after timeout) set where he set a flex screen for Frank Kaminsky, who got position on the opposite block and scored.

Kemba and Monk played very little together in this game, but when they did, I loved seeing Charlotte run some floppy action to get Monk a look off the ball — as we all know, this dude knows how to use a screen. I know everyone isn’t a huge fan of floppy (“it takes to long to run,” blah blah blah), but I’m a proponent, especially when it allows Charlotte to diversify it’s PNR-heavy offense.

Oh, one last thing: Cody Zeller is still a master screener. His offensive game is really a treat to watch.

The Negatives

It would be reactionary to draw too many conclusions out of one meaningless preseason game; however, man, Dwight Howard didn’t look great — on either end of the floor.

Howard had a rejection on Jaylen Brown (who looked bouncy!) in the first quarter, which was nice to see. But his pick-and-roll coverage left a lot to be desired.

Charlotte used a conservative approach, with Howard dropping into coverage, but he routinely lost Aron Baynes, who started at the 5 for Boston — in lieu of a small-ball lineup with Al Horford at the 5.

Regardless, Baynes shot 5-of-8 from the floor

This issues were two-fold. Charlotte gave Howard around a half-dozen post-up possessions — each one of them was a disappointment. I didn’t track this was precision, but I don’t believe he made a field goal on a post-up and recorded multiple turnovers. His best post possession came when he drew a shooting foul.

Howard also didn’t really get involved in the screen-roll game; he spent little time sprinting around, look for screen-dive situations. That’s problematic. Because if he isn’t doing that, or looking for offensive rebound opportunities, then he’s not adding much else. Factor in the opportunity cost of having Cody sit on the bench, and well, it’s not great.

Dwight was still one of the five of six best defensive centers in the league last season, but his athleticism looked zapped against Boston. Is this just one game, or is this a trend of things to come? Let’s hope it’s the the former.

Also, Frank Kaminsky appears to have made little to no improvement on the defensive end. It’s just one game, but this is a concern, too.

Numbers To Know

In all four years of Steve Clifford’s tenure in Charlotte, the Hornets have ranked No. 1 in the NBA in turnover rate — never exceeding 11.7 percent, according to Basketball Reference.

Charlotte, however, had a turnover rate of 17.3 percent.

The two biggest culprits for Charlotte were Frank Kaminsky, who looked lackadaisical with the ball at times and misread another play with Malik Monk, and Dwight Howard. Kaminsky and Howard had six and five turnovers each, respectively.

D12 was especially problematic on the low block; Howard looked creaky and slow, and Boston’s defense jumped on it.

Looking ahead

It’s super fun to have hoops (finally) back on TV and watch Kemba Walker play basketball, but this is just one preseason game. No need to make any conclusions…yet.

Up next for the Hornets: Wednesday, Oct. 4 at Detroit. Steve Clifford will get to coach against his former boss — Stan Van Gundy, who is a delight. This also means SVG gets to coach against his former star pupil, too: Dwight Howard.

Brian Giesigner (@bgeis_bird), Sports Channel 8 / Buzz Beat Radio