Playing anywhere other than Charlotte has been a house of horrors for the Hornets so far this season. The team is 1-8 away from home and face two tough eastern conference opponents on the road this week in Toronto and Miami. At 8-11 overall, facing two road games this week, and staring at a schedule that doesn’t ease up much until after the New Year, the Hornets are exactly where they didn’t want to be a quarter of the way through the season schedule.
Charlotte is facing a crossroads with its season and it’s likely going to take something unexpected to flip the script. Beating Toronto or Miami (or both) this week on the road presents quite the opportunity to turn the tide on what has been a disappointing season so far.
Unfortunately, the Hornets will have to battle shorthanded – tonight, at least. Kemba Walker has been diagnosed with what the team is calling a contusion to the left shoulder AC joint and is out tonight in Toronto. Michael Carter-Williams will start in his place.[There was extensive conversation about Kemba and his future in Charlotte in Ep. 45 of Buzz Beat Radio]
Speaking of Kemba, he’s struggled in the Hornets back to back losses. The captain has shot 14-33 (42%) from the floor and 3-15 (20%) from behind the arc in Charlotte’s two game losing skid following the three game winning streak. Kemba also hasn’t missed a game yet this season. Again, this means Michael Carter-Williams will start tonight in Toronto, but Kemba’s absence will also clear the way for some rare Malik Monk minutes. Monk has been in the Steve Clifford doghouse for mainly defensive reasons recently. A solid performance on both ends in a tough road game like Toronto might go a long way for the rookie.
@ Toronto – Wednesday, 7:30pm
The Raptors have gotten some surprisingly strong play from their core of young players this season. Second year players Pascal Siakam, Jakob Poeltl, and Fred VanVleet are providing Toronto with valuable minutes, while rookie OG Anunoby already looks to be the versatile lockdown defender many projected he could become during the draft process. VanVleet has filled in for injured Delon Wright and garnered the backup point-guard minutes.
Toronto has a 4th ranked offense and 12 ranked defense, per CleaningTheGlass.com. As good as the Raps have been in recent seasons, they haven’t been afraid to chuck inefficient mid-range shots, but this season Toronto is making a concerted effort to alter their shot profile. 34.8% of their shots are coming from behind the arc (6th in the league) and only 29.2% are from mid-range (27th) – that’s almost a 12% dip from their 41% FGA in the mid-range last season. Pretty obvious the Raps are attempting to make some changes in their offensive approach.
If Charlotte can get a strong game from Michael Carter-Williams and not get murdered in minutes that the bench unit is out there then this could be a close game late. Julyan Stone is probable for tonight, so he presumably will get some minutes at backup point-guard, but we could also see Monk there some as well.
How will the Hornets be able to create floor spacing without Kemba? MCW hasn’t been awful shooting the ball so far this season, but he’s only attempted 9 three’s on the year and the only other consistent threat from deep this season has been Marvin Williams. Here’s an idea – give Malik Monk some minutes.
@ Miami – Friday, 8:00pm
We’ll assume Kemba returns for this one, but it’s very possible the captain misses several games.
Like the Raptors, Miami doesn’t take many mid-range shots. 36% of the Heat’s field-goal attempts come from behind the arc (3rd) and 11.3% from corner-three (1st). After Miami gets past their lineup featuring the Justise Winslow ceremonial start, they’re able to get plenty of floor spacing on the court. That’s exactly why it’s imperative to take advantage of the Heat when they have Winslow and Whiteside on the floor together – that duo has produced a pathetic 92.3 ORTG in 226 minutes this season. But when these two go to the bench, Miami can turn into a drive and kick monster with their army of versatile guards.
If the Hornets lose Wednesday night in Toronto, there will be plenty riding on this game Friday in Miami. Falling five games below .500 this early in the season would bring some uncomfortable questions to the surface for this team and its fan-base.